Campfire

Then Robby and I splashed out to the bobbing dock. We dived in.
The
lake did not wash away our worry. At twilight, we caught up with Neil
on the way to supper. First impressing upon him how moved we had been
by the morning’s service, we shifted carefully into an expression of
our distress. “Oh, by the way, are we going to hell if we don’t confess
every sin right away?” we asked.

Walking
beside us, he explained that God’s love for us was His reason for
being. “Love of that kind begrudges nothing,” Neil said. “Simply honor
Him by asking for forgiveness whenever you can.” Then he smiled at us.
“And don’t fret about the stray sins; nothing slips by Him, and neither
will you.”

Neil
had drawn a straightforward, two-step path to salvation: forgiveness
and respect. Heaven looked much more accessible. The earlier sense of
joy flooded back, and I felt saturated with relief.

That
evening the humidity finally receded, and while much of the camp slept,
some of us remained awake around a diminishing bonfire. Neil was there,
and Robby, of course, sat beside me. Like ghosts, two sisters in Holly Hobby pajamas reappeared suddenly out of the darkness. One carried a book.

“Whatcha got there?” I asked, fracturing the quiet.

“A
couple days before camp, two guys stopped by our house to give us this
promo book,” one of the sisters explained. “And talk about their
church, The Jehovah’s Witness.”

Pious
snickers circled the fire. We knew from our sermons that Jehovah’s
Witnesses were somewhere on God’s priority list between Mormons and
Satanists.

“And
we brought it here to burn.” She handed the book to Neil. He lay it
across his lap, opened it at random, paused, and then with all the
satisfaction and disgust of a man peeling away a scab, he ripped a page
from its gluey spine and tossed it into the fire where it curled
defensively. He then passed the book to the boy beside him who did the
same.

This inexcusable act of defacement singed and then consumed my new faith. To me, books, good or bad, were sacred objects.

A
tiny but determined sense of self-assurance swelled within me as the
burning ritual continued. “Hitler burned books!” I wanted to shout. But
every glowing face, including Robby’s was wild with the sacrificial
zeal of Antinomianism.

The
book made its way to my hands, and my opportunity to extinguish this
righteous pyre with a discussion of forgiveness and respect arrived.
Robby, my bookworm kin, warmed my side, but youth cooled my heels.
Sheepishly I passed what was left to Robby, willing him to pass it on
again, but he tossed the remainder into the pit, and I burned with
disappointment.

Ten
years later, a major in biology at the U. pushed God out of my heart and
into my brain, and so the final remnants of my relationship with Robby
drifted away like smoke and ash. Ten years after that, a newspaper
article concerning Herald, now a minister, reached me. Herald and his
congregation were protesting the imminent removal of a Ten Commandments
monument cemented outside a public building in the Great Plains. I
looked for a photo, or even a mention of Robby, but found nothing. I
wanted to know if he’d added children of his own to his father’s
expanding family. If so I’d ship them a boxed set of The Chronicles
Of Narnia
for some summer reading, along with an old snapshot I have
of Robby and me standing against the lake.

 

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