“Wake up! Dixon Baptist needs you,” Arthur said from my living room on the other side of my British flag half-door.
Shadow rolled over and groaned. He looked at his clock but his sleeping mind could not make it out. The sun was still shining, which meant he was not supposed to be up yet. He leaned up on his elbow seeing the bottom half of Arthur’s legs.
“Fuck man, Dixon Baptist got me this morning. What time is it?” Shadow said.
“It’s six in the evening, and evening service is at eight,” Arthur said with a chuckle. “Come on, I want to show you something.”
“Is it in my living room?”
“Not even close,” he said.
“Then I will see it next week,” Shadow said.
“Yeah probably,” Arthur said. “Get up. I need you. And you are going to want to see this.”
Shadow had fallen asleep at one, after morning service and lunch. If he got up now, he would get five hours of sleep and have to work the graveyard shift ’til seven. But today would be one of the best days of Shadow’s entire life. It would bring him the Holy Grail.
And he would lose his soul in the finding of it.
Arthur was calling, and Shadow loved that man. So up he got, and made it to the car.
Arthur weathered all the cussing and the attitude with a laugh. He pulled into the church parking lot, and he and Shadow stumbled into the front door of Dixon Baptist.
“What do you want to show me?” Shadow said.
“It’s right in that room,” Arthur said, pointing to a tiny room off the main hall.
“What is it?”
“It’s your class. It’s your students,” he said. “You’re the new youth minister.”
Shadow laughed. “Right.”
“There are three of them. The three kids, Middle School and High School age, and they are waiting for you,” Arthur said.
“I can’t be a youth minister!” Shadow said. He was awake now.
“Tell me why, and try not to cuss.”
“I have not been to, what do they call it?” He motioned with his hand, “Priest school.”
“Seminary,” Arthur said with his easy laugh. “And no, you missed ‘priest school’ but those kids don’t need a priest. They need a light. And Jesse, you are on fire.” He reached his hands in my direction and rubbed them together like he was warming himself at a camp fire. “Raging and warm. They need a light. Tonight you are that light.”
Shadow stared up the hallway scared.
“Take a breath.”
Shadow took a deep breath. “I don’t know what to do.”
“Be yourself,” Arthur said.
Shadow looked at him like he was mad. “Myself?”
“That is all I am asking.”
I walked into the room and all three kids smiled. They beamed, and Shadow realized he was their hero. They looked up to him, but he remembered stick fights and sex, cans of gas and fists. They did not need to be looking up to him. They did not need to see him as a guide. He wanted to walk right out, but he had nowhere to run. So he sat.
“What’s up, yo?” Shadow said.
The three of them giggled.
“I’m not ready,” he said. “Not ready for this class, not ready for this life. I am not the person I would choose for you to be listening to. I have no wisdom. I have little grace. But I am here. I am here and I am going to give you all that I have to give, at—” He looked at his watch. “God damn, is it 6:30?”
“Okay, it’s 6:30, so I will reach into my bag of holy tricks and do a little diddy that my mother taught me. Anyone got a Bible?”
Shadow looked at all three of them sitting with their Bibles in front of them.
“You don’t have a Bible?” a girl asked. Her frizzy brown hair and freckled face smiled at him and he laughed.
“One, I didn’t know I would need it. And two, I think it is holding up a table leg in my apartment.” Shadow grinned. “Shut up and hand over your Bible,” he said.
They all laughed.
“Don’t remember how old I was when my mom taught me this trick. I have always found it to be the very voice of God.” That was a lie. He had heard of this in passing and never done it. But he lied, stood the book on its binding, and held it closed. He placed his thumbs on the closed pages, then looked up at them and grinned. “Want to see the Will of God?”
He opened the book to a random page with his eyes closed and dropped his thumb on a verse. “We take this completely out of context. We bring our life and our heart to it and we see if it talks to us.” He laughed. “If it fails us, I will bring cookies next time. If not, you bring a friend. How’s that shit sound?”
They laughed and nodded.
Well, the verse was perfect. It was about a man unprepared to be leading the people of God, not ready to speak God’s word, but forced to do so nonetheless. Jonah maybe, possibly Moses. See, this happens a lot in the Bible. The wrong guy, the worst guy for the job gets it. And though they fight it, and they argue, they are always perfect for teaching the Word of God.
We talked about how I was not ready to be their youth minster but this Bible verse was telling me to do it anyway. I told them I was the worst guy to listen to about the Lord, but here I was in His temple, talking to His followers and fumbling my way through it.
Shadow promised to be there again. And again. He told them he would play it out as long as he could. He was with them.
But that was a lie. That was a big lie.
He asked them to look at their lives and find a way that this verse was talking to them. Told them God was always talking to them, or that was what he had been told. He told them if what he heard was right, then this verse spoke to all three of them. If he was wrong, he would bring cookies. If he was right, they had to bring two friends.
The next week Shadow was even more tired. Had been up with a friend after morning church and had gotten only three hours of sleep. He was exhausted until he stepped into the room and found twelve kids looking at him. Twelve kids ages thirteen to eighteen were waiting in his room.
No table in that room could have sat them all, so he folded it up. He had the biggest of them help him set it in the hall and out went all the chairs. He sat on the floor and leaned against the walls. They joined him, and he looked at all of them.
“Bible is still at home holding up the table leg, so one of you dudes have to hook me up. Anyone got a fucking Bible they can loan me?”
Gasp. A few giggles. Then silence.
“Was it the fact that the youth minister doesn’t have a Bible, or the fact that I am a flawed man, was raised in a foul-mouthed house and it will be a cross I carry all of my life? Which was it that shut this whole fucking room down?”
“The shirt actually,” a boy said.
Shadow looked at his shirt and grinned. “Well, my dad could beat up your dad,” he said reading the words on the shirt. “Now, Bible. I’m exhausted and I need the word of God if we are going to get this thing started.”
Samson after his epic battle with a thousand men and the jawbone of a donkey. “And when this cat was done breaking that many skulls, he was so tired,” Shadow said. “I am working on three hours of sleep. I am exhausted without sleep. But also with work. With my friends. With not having a girl. With my mom—she is a bit of a bitch—with having no money. I am so tired of so many things. But this guy had to have been tired at about say, skull six hundred, right?”
Wide eyes and they nodded.
“So I guess if God can get this mutha fucker through the last four hundred, he can get me past my mom’s pasta,” Shadow said.
They talked about the things they were challenged with, the things that blew them out, that exhausted them. They came up with lists of things.
“Next time you get as bad as me, when you get as tired as I am right now, pray. See how it turns out. See if God gets you over the hurdle and around the pasta.”
The next week I came to Arthur with a problem. The room was not big enough. No room in the church was big enough. I had nineteen teenagers and nowhere to put them.
He hugged me. Told me to use his chapel. He grabbed the back of my neck. “I’m so proud of you,” he said, and Shadow had a father. For that night. He had a father who was proud of him.
When Shadow stood at the pulpit and looked down at the nineteen faces looking up at him, he took a deep breath and knew he was in over his head.
“Who has a fucking Bible for me?”
It was the next night when Arthur came over. Shadow was alone on the couch reading the copy of Le Morte d’Arthur that Harvard had given him so long ago. It was a present Shadow was not supposed to get that year.
When Shadow opened the door, Arthur lowered a look on him that steamed and hissed with rage. Shadow knew Arthur wanted to hit him.
“Come on in and say whatever you are going to say. Or punch me, whichever brought you over tonight.”
See Guinevere had said the wrong name at the wrong time. She had called out for Shadow when she should have been wrapped up in Arthur.
“I never touched your woman, man,” Shadow said. He was heartbroken. He was shattered. When he looked at this man, he knew it was all over. The youth group, the Holy Grail of Dixon Baptist, was lost. It was all over.
“I grabbed her,” Arthur said. “We stopped and got up and I grabbed her by the arms and slammed her against the wall.” He clenched his fists. “I left the house, got in the car. I just wanted to drive, and I ended up here.”
“What are you going to do?” Shadow said. But he meant, what are we going to do? How are we going to fix this? Because it is all so fucking beautiful and for just a moment God was real. God would never let something this perfect be shattered by one woman’s lust. How can we patch this thing back together? Because this is my life now.
But when Arthur looked at him, Shadow knew it was all over.
“You have to keep coming to the house. Keep visiting her when I am gone. Keep coming to the church. If you walk out on us now, we will fall.”
Shadow agreed, but he didn’t.
None of them stayed but my kids.
Arthur left Dixon Baptist with his wife and his children and was scooped up by a church out west. Dixon Baptist still stands. They got a new pastor and they still hold meetings every Sunday morning and evening. They made it.
The change was good for Arthur and his family. Bigger church. No side job. More money. This was God’s work. This was all God’s Will.
This was supposed to happen.
Shadow was a pawn. God’s pawn. The piece the Almighty used to move both the church and Arthur’s family onward.
All that was lost was the nineteen kids who came to see Shadow minister to them. All that was left in tatters was Shadow’s faith. The Street Rat was a holy man for about two months, a clergy man for three weeks, and then he was cast out. His hate for God began and he started down a path of flame.
See it is not being used as a pawn that has Shadow so furious.
It is the number. The number he will never know.
How many new kids showed up the next week?
How big was the Holy Grail?
What did it do to them to know that their Moses was not coming back?
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.