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Screwed Up Beyond Belief, Part II

By ex-Pastor Dan --


BORN AGAIN: THE EARLY YEARS  

My Big Sister  

Just a few months later, as the initial shock of my brother’s, tragic death was wearing off, BAM…….my sister, Joyce, was diagnosed with Poliomyelitis. She became one of thousands to contract the dreaded ‘POLIO’ virus that was sweeping across America in the Early 1950’s. At this time there wasn’t a vaccine or any known cure.
The Angelus Temple, Church of the Four Square ...Image via Wikipedia
Many of the people (mostly children) who came down with polio ended up being permanently paralyzed or worse, they ended up dying. The disease attacked the spinal cord and mainly exhibited itself in legs that were deformed or under-developed. But, if it happened to attack the part of the nervous system which controlled breathing, the prognosis was not good. That poor individual would spend the rest of their life in an ‘Iron Lung’ or be sent home to die, a slow agonizing death.

What was God doing? Had mother not felt his chastening? Was Dickie’s death not enough? Did more blood need to be spilt; another life sacrificed?

Of course this kind of thought seems ludicrous to sane minds, but to a grieving, superstitious, delusional and grief-stricken mother, God had made his point….HE wanted EVERYTHING! He wanted her, her family….her LIFE! She must be ‘sold out’ (old Pentecostal phrase) to the Lord - totally, completely, slavishly and eternally; HE must have it ALL! What could she do? God had taken her firstborn son and now he was pulling her only daughter away from her. So she made a wager with God. She promised that if he spared her daughter, she would give him her baby boy, Danny (me).



My sister’s recovery took many months. It lasted long enough that I can recall going to the County General Hospital to watch her get her therapy, in a huge, indoor pool. It was steamy and stunk of wet, sick humans. I did not like that place! We had to walk down long corridors that had horrible sights and sounds! Each door would hold another terrifying sight – heads sticking out of giant machines (iron lungs); people in wheel chairs; children with steel clamps and braces on their legs….the sickening, mixed-up stench of food and medicine!

The worst days were the ones where we would follow Joyce’s hospital therapy with a stop by the cemetery. Agony upon agony, pain upon pain, guilt upon guilt…and the FEAR – I can’t describe the total fear and dread that I lived with, as a three year old! Was this going to happen to me? Would I have to spend my life in that horrible iron lung? Was God going to get me too? I did not want to be that boy in the big, grey breathing machine. I wanted the dreams of me lying in a casket to stop…..please, please make it stop!!

Oh God, I hate this recall! I am shaking as I bring back these long buried memories….the horror, Oh, the torturous horror! Hospitals and cemeteries, death and dying! Screams and cries and the hushed tones of concerned doctors and nurses, knowing that there was really nothing more that could be done. The faces…. the twisted, pain-soaked faces……Oh God, where are you??



Joyce was lucky (or blessed as mom would say), she survived. But, she was left with damage to her left leg. It remains a bit thinner and shorter than the right one and she had to have surgery when she was a teen-ager, to lengthen a ligament, so she could walk without pain. Now that she is into her sixty’s, she is experiencing PPS (Post Polio Syndrome). Unfortunately God didn’t complete his job of healing her back in 1954! But, her life being spared was enough of a miracle for my mother and she kept her promise, she handed me over to God.

JUST LIKE SAMUEL

I was dedicated to the Lord at three years old, in a ceremony that is normally performed on infants. The Catholics have infant Baptism, the Jews have infant Circumcision, and the Pentecostals have infant Dedication. My mother placed me into the hands of God just like Samuel was given to God, in the Old Testament story. As Samuel was given to Eli the Priest, to be raised in the Temple, my mother ‘gave’ me to God. She used to read me the Bible story and tell me of my dedication. She made it very clear to me that I had been given to God for His service. As always, the undertone of fear and the pressure to be perfect, hit me right between the eyes. I got the message loud and clear, “Danny, you are God’s special boy and he is watching you.”

In the tradition of the Four Square organization, I was dedicated in a church that was pastored by a woman minister. Sister Singleton was by all accounts a wonderful and strong woman, much in the tradition of her fearless leader, Aimee Semple McPherson. Aimee Semple McPherson was the founder of the Four Square Gospel Movement in America, whose headquarters (Angelus Temple) was located just one hour away, in Los Angeles. I would travel to Angelus Temple, later in life, to see special ministries and musical events (such as Katherine Khulman and Dino at the Piano).

I was dedicated to the Lord at three years old, in a ceremony that is normally performed on infants. [...] I got the message loud and clear, “Danny, you are God’s special boy and he is watching you.” I don’t remember much about the old 4 Square church in Ventura, except the prayer room (where mom spent most of her time) and the platform, which was filled with the women of the Choir. All of the ladies wore uniforms (long dresses that reached well below the knee) of white with blue collars. The collars were long and extended down from the neck (sort of like an un-tied neck tie). Upon each long collar there was an emblem; the number 4 inside of a square. I remember mom wearing it proudly and I remember seeing it hang in her closet for many years after we left the Sister Singleton’s church.

The dye was cast, the deed was done and I now belonged to God. Like Samuel, I was raised in the Temple, but my Priest would not be Sister Singleton, or any other 4 Square, woman preacher. My priest would end up being the Reverend Albert Douglas MacManama, pastor of the Oak View Full Gospel Lighthouse. This old, hard-core, childless Scotsman would become my surrogate father and the most influential person in my ‘spiritual’ life.

MOVING TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

I’m not totally sure what happened at the Four Square Church. Either Sister Singleton left or perhaps died, but without her there, my mother felt it was time to find a new church home. I think that she wanted to find a church with a male pastor, to fill the spot in my life that my father refused to fill – that of being a Spiritual Leader and a Christian. Thank goodness my father never followed my mom into the church. He was a good, hard working and loving man. I would draw much from his example, later in life, when I began my exodus from Christianity. I only wish he could have lived long enough to have seen the man that I have become….I like to think that he would be proud of me (damn, now I’m weeping again).

Tears dried, moving on………..

Ahh, the Oak View Full Gospel Lighthouse – “There’s no place, anywhere near this place, just quite like this place………….so this must be the place!” Brother Mac used to quote that all the time in reference to that big, white, faux-lighthouse structure. It was the largest building in Oak View, California. He was so proud of that name – Full Gospel Lighthouse – it said it all! In front of the church building there stood a giant bill board where he would post new, catchy phrases each week. Things to make people “stop and think”. Things like, “If you think it’s hot here….” Brother Mac would declare, “We preach the Whole Gospel here! Not just the convenient gospel or the partial gospel, but the FULL Gospel, hallelujah! We take ALL of the Word; the Good parts and the Bad parts, the Pleasant and the Fearsome; God said it, I believe it and that settles it! Glory be to God!” Brother Mac had a lot of favorite quotes and sayings.

What the Full Gospel meant is that we believed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that they were still relevant for today. In practice, we mostly believed that if you could speak in tongues, you had received the FULLness of the Spirit and therefore you were a FULL Gospel Christian.

The Full Gospel Lighthouse is where I grew up. We started going there when I was 5 years old. I started school that year and I started my new life as a dedicated soul to the most-high God and to his servant on earth, Brother Mac. I was in church with mom, every time the doors were open. I knew every detail of that building (the piano and organ, the balcony, the staircase up to the ‘lighthouse’ bell tower – the hole in the wall behind the pulpit, where people would get dunked). I would sit near the old, under-the-floor heater, in the prayer room, while mom would perform her ritual of weeping, wailing and tongue talking. I was her little angel, dedicated to the Lord’s work.

We would be at church from 9:00 on Sunday morning (half hour before Sunday School started) until about 1:00 PM, when the prayer room and altar call activities had finally waned. Only to be back at 5:30 for choir practice before the Sunday Night Service, which would end around 9:00, unless we had a real ‘gully-washer’ after the sermon (gully-washer is an old Pentecostal term referring to how rain washes out the gullies from all of the junk and debris that had accumulated in them, during ‘dry’ spells). I can remember many times that we didn’t get home until after 10:00 P.M. and dad would be furious! Then there was Tuesday night Prayer meeting, Thursday night Bible study and Saturday night Youth meeting.

I was really into music as a kid. I sang in the Junior Choir and wrote my first gospel song at age 8. That was also the year that I became ‘BORN AGAIN’. I guess that eight years old is generally recognized as the age of accountability and I didn’t want to disappoint mom and Brother Mac, so I asked to be baptized then. Of course everyone was thrilled! “Yes, yes, by all means, it’s not too early to take this step. We’ll baptize you next Sunday night.” Brother Mac was only too happy to take me one step further into my total dedication and spiritual brain-washing.

FATHER, SON AND HOLY GHOST

The water was warm (ah-ha, that’s what that under-ground boiler was for!) and had steep steps leading into the large ‘baptismal’ tub. Brother Coleman was there along with Brother Mac (I guess Brother Mac needed help with the larger folks coming after me). They had on long white robes that floated up to reveal their rolled-up pants and no shoes! I felt embarrassed that I had seen Brother Mac’s bare legs and feet! Should I be looking at that? No, get your mind on Jesus….it’s your turn! “I now Baptize you, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Hooo-ly Ghost…..Aye-Man!” Yikes, Brother Mac grabbed my nose and pinched it shut….what the …..backwards into the water, ker-plunk….who’s got me? Oh, Brother Coleman is heaving me back toward the surface……I’m up! Hallelujah! Yes, Hallelujah…..everyone is shouting and praising God. Brother Mac is speaking in tongues and Brother Coleman is grinning (I had never seen him smile before). “Thank you Jesus, thank you” I managed as they sent me up the stairs and into the arms of Sister Mac and a big, white towel. It was over; in the blink of an eye…I was cleansed of all my sins. I was clean… (I had water in my ears!)

The crowd was singing “Thank you Lord, for Saving my Soul. Thank you Lord, for making me whole. Thank you Lord for giving to me, thy great Salvation so rich and free.”

Mom was pleased and so proud. I had done a good thing. I was a good boy. I had accepted Jesus into my heart. The devil couldn’t get me now. I was all God’s! I WAS BORN AGAIN!!

Next Episode – The Call

Previous episode: My Big Brother


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