Questions of a Curious Nature

Hello friends. Here's the first two chapters (in blog form) of Questions of a Curious Nature: The Incredible Interviews of Annabelle Farrow.

Chapter 1: Annabelle Farrow

To publish something is a declaration of boldness, a clear statement that what you have put into print is worth reading. The idea of those words taking permanent flight into the reader’s consciousness should be a weight handled gently and wisely by the writer, like the rescuing of some fallen bird by a gracious parent. Writing about the work and personality of someone publicly revered and adored only increases the burden to handle each word with precision. Add the topic of religion, and you potentially create a work of devastating results. Nobody wants to unveil for enduring scrutiny a work poorly representing a religious icon.

Annabelle Farrow lived in front of a camera lens, broadcasted into our lives with a familiarity we normally reserve for a faithful friend or caring relative. She shared her heart with a vulnerability rich in weakness and honesty¾so we were willing to give her our hearts as well. Biographies and documentaries produced by respected peers have highlighted the diverse sectors of the church who regarded her as a heroine of the Christian faith. Her ability to weigh her words, to not take offense, and to treat everyone with an authentic civility made her almost universally accepted. She had the ear and the eye of rich and poor, young and old, red and yellow, black and white. And even though many families kept Annabelle a welcome spot in their living rooms, her personal life always remained personal. Some say the intensity that made us love her also kept us separate from her.

Since her absence, there’s been both a void in the world of engaging and gracious Christian thought and a hunger for more of who she truly was. This book is offered to satisfy that hunger. It contains much more of her story than has ever been heard, much more of her work than has ever been shared, and much more of the mystery surrounding her disappearance.

Annabelle Farrow was born in Stafford, VA, a suburb of Washington D.C., in 1967 to Gene and Irene Farrow. Gene was pastor of Mossy Creek Baptist for eight years before Annabelle’s birth, and Irene played the organ every Sunday, doubling as part-time secretary. They fell in love as volunteers at a Billy Graham Crusade in Louisville, KY after he bluntly pointed out their names rhymed, and she very publicly rolled her eyes. He started seminary, and she began teaching piano lessons to inner-city kids. They loved their little church and shepherded it with gentleness and respect as it grew in depth and width to a sincere congregation of about two hundred.

They raised Annabelle with the same love and respect they showed the people of the community, and she became a precocious child, constantly bombarding every listening adult with a myriad of questions. Her parents went to Rio de Janeiro twice a year, every summer and every Christmas, to work with a church plant serving the local widows and orphans. Those trips were formative for Annabelle even though she often griped about the hassle. In spite of her whining, she learned to appreciate people different from herself, but also, and just as importantly, she saw her parents regard the needy people of Brazil as more important than the traditional “vices” (her word) of the holidays. Early on, those vices were the source of her complaint, what she resented sacrificing. I believe the experience of those upended values and her parents’ willingness to reject expectations eventually set fire to the embers of inquisitiveness and exploration simmering in young Annabelle’s heart.

It was a painful irony that she lost both her parents at age fifteen on one of those trips when a local gang used the neighborhood church to demonstrate their dominance and power. Others have covered this tragedy as a turning point in her life, and I agree with them, yet I think the biggest impact was an internal steeling, a resolve that she would live a life honoring to her parents.

She moved in with relatives for the rest of high school and pursued her love of journalism and media through classes and internships in the greater D.C. area. Mossy Creek Baptist hired a young and charismatic Pastor who, just two years out of seminary, grew a Baltimore area youth group from twelve to over one hundred in six months and soon instituted the same principles with her parents’ congregation. Annabelle served there on and off through college and eventually decided to find another church home. When she left, the congregation held four services every weekend with a total attendance of over two thousand. She always denied the change in size as the preeminent reason she left, but she also never shied away from saying it was a factor.

She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland with a degree in Communications and double minors in Broadcast Journalism and Public Relations. While there, she worked every summer in various capacities and offices on Capitol Hill and captained the debate team in addition to serving on Student Government her last two years.

It was the perfect storm of those experiences that washed Annabelle up on the shores of the local access television show “Poli-Talk” (Annabelle often poked fun at the terrible name by squawking like a parrot and saying “Polly Talk! Polly Talk!”). The show tried its best, with limited contacts and budget, to put together a round table of stimulating conversation about the current issues in DC. It sounds biased, yet I think history and the tapes will bear this out; Annabelle Farrow was the only stimulating thing on that show. A prominent Senator, flipping channels late one night, noticed her intellect, way with people, and ability to read the conversation and “chase the right rabbit.”

 The rest of her public story is known to most of you: her rise to prominence in the “secular” and “Christian” (she always made sure I added quotation marks to those polar designations) media world  as a passionate interviewer, an engaging writer, and an honest face for a public Christianity whose image she had seen splinter into “a thousand quibbling and selfishly askew pieces.” Her appearances on the biggest stages with the biggest names articulating the biggest ideas are easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection willing to make the effort.

Her career crested when CNN offered her own hour to anchor in primetime, and then the unthinkable happened . . .

Annabelle Farrow disappeared.

I’m writing this book for many reasons, but one of them is to let you know, in part, what happened. Hopefully, it will bring closure to those of you who loved her. So, who am I, and why am I the one writing this book?

My name is Malachi Evans, and I was Annabelle’s “techie” from the very beginning. I ran camera for her in the field, mixed sound for her audio interviews, and was always a part of her team no matter where she was or what she was doing. If you want to, you can go back and look at all the fine print credits in everything Annabelle appeared in, and you’ll see “Malachi Evans” there somewhere.

But I need to tell you something more than that: Annabelle Farrow was also my best friend and my bride of twelve years. Our life together was rich with the realized hopes of shared dreams, some planned in the idealism of youth, yet many of them pleasantly unexpected. This book is not about me, but allow me to fill in a few more spaces for you.

I grew up an African-American in South Carolina in a community still nursing wounds from its history. My mother was a deaconess in one of “those” Pentecostal churches, and my father was the preacher. I list him second because he left us when I was twelve for another woman when momma found out about the other two. We moved shortly thereafter to suburban D.C. to be near relatives who went to a church like ours back home. Our entry there was seamless, and momma got back to, as she called it, “just singin’ and servin’ the Lord!” My mother remained a remarkable woman to the end, strong and faithful. Until Annabelle came into my life, she was my only hero.

I met Belle for the first time when she traveled out to our little congregation doing research for the article “Racial Integration in Spiritual Communities,” an article for her underground Christian newspaper at the university. You can probably guess the story from my perspective. I saw the cute nose and deep blue-green eyes, like a perfect ocean I always told her, hair pulled back in her classic ponytail, the shade of brown that speaks of living things in hidden forests. You knew her beauty. But did you know she could sing? Most white people visiting a small black church for the first time will slide into the back row and try to clap and sing along looking like six year olds steadying their bikes for the first time without training wheels. Not Annabelle. She sat on the front row and moved to the music with a rhythm that you’ve got to have from the inside out. And because I played bass that day and not drums, I stood on her side of the sanctuary, and I got a front row seat to that voice.

The spark for me didn’t just come from the voice and the beauty; I loved the sharpness and vitality radiating off her like heat on a parking lot in August. You could tell when you saw her on TV or heard her in a conversation that this girl had it. But to see her face-to-face, and I’m sorry for those of you who never had that privilege, was to be in the presence of someone who walked in an otherworldly way, as if she could walk on water if she wanted to, and I would not have been surprised if she did. As for what she saw in me, I’m not quite sure. Here was this beauty, this almost too good to be true female, and she gave me more than the proverbial time of day. She always said she knew at our first meeting that I appreciated her for the “whole of her and not just the parts,” but how she could tell that when I felt like a woodland animal trapped in midnight headlights is another mystery of Annabelle Farrow.

Our majors at Maryland dovetailed¾her the journalist and communication prodigy and I the jack of all audio visual trades. We formed what we felt was a God-ordained harmony of gifts and talents, and I was content to use my passions to support the radiant melody emerging from her heart.

We married simply in an outdoor chapel two years later, right after she was discovered on Poli-Talk, with my mom and a few of her relatives present. We decided to keep our names and our marriage a secret, both for the fun of it and to try and work together. We both sensed she would not be living in obscurity, and we wanted to increase our chances as much as possible. Our plan worked, and we were always together, a source of constant joy rather than friction. It got easier as she gained sway within the media world, and the whole scenario remained exciting, the thrill of hiding a secret marriage in a public workspace.

I was happy. Genuinely happy. I had a wife that only daydreams and writers ever create and a job that allowed me to be me. But Annabelle developed a holy restlessness, a desire to go beyond the everyday interviews, weekly podcasts, and inspirational segments on nighttime programs. Her walk with Christ became something more, something with wings. It came to a crescendo one weekend on a getaway in the Outer Banks; she came in barefoot and wind-shaken from an early morning walk along the shore.

“Kye, there’s a substance to the fire in me, a Presence and relationship that isn’t perfect but is nonetheless more real to me than those waves out there. And I look at Christianity in this country, and I see nothing but pale shadows of what could really be.”

I pause here where the story starts to change--Annabelle in a state of agitation, taking ponderous walks on beaches and wrestling with a world of people she felt refused to look beyond themselves--for my multi-faceted disclaimer on this book: I want you to know I release this work fully aware of the implications, and even the complications, when trying to put together, in the purest state possible, the missing years of Annabelle Farrow. I would not consider myself of equal ilk to her wit, her intelligence, or her masterful way with words. This volume will, thankfully, contain as little as possible of me and as much as possible of her words and thoughts.

It took this long to release a book for many reasons but mainly due to the immense pressure to do it right. And doing it right meant, for me, a complete honesty. By complete honesty, I mean sharing with the world what I wasn’t sure she would want me to share. At this point, you may think I am talking about our marriage or some unknown scandal that led to her disappearance.

I am not.

This disclaimer is not just acknowledging the inadequacies of my ability to convey Belle and her work. It is also a claim to you that I’ve written what I know, what I saw, what I experienced with Annabelle Farrow. My accounts may be met with disbelief and skepticism. This book has not collected average interviews, rather the incredible interviews of an incredible woman. I choose the word “incredible” with purpose and deliberation, and though it may have lost its true meaning to overuse, I hope these pages will bring the incredible to light. I hope your minds will embrace that which may only be called other.

I said I was unsure whether she would want me to share these things; my lack of confidence exists not because she doubted whether the work was ready, but because she wanted to make sure of your readiness. I share now in the hopes she would agree with me.

So, the question I’ve delayed addressing, and the one for which you probably purchased this book, is: what happened to Annabelle Farrow, the fiery young woman of faith, the darling of the American public and journalist at the top of her field? I answer that question now, as well as I can, with the story of how it unfolded for me as well.

It was a night not long after the Outer Banks trip, and the deadline for the debut of the CNN show approached. We were putting in long hours in the editing and board rooms, dissecting and debating at times what seemed like every second of every piece. My spirit flagged, and my body began to protest from new depths of exhaustion. I don’t know how Annabelle did it, but she would just toss her hair up in that messy bun, grab more coffee, and fire away with another question or better angle. The show was going to be great, yet, as she worked, her gaze would sometimes wander, and when she had a snatch of time, she would ask me with a sense of seriousness, almost humorous in its intensity, a random question, usually some form of, “What if I can ask more of us all?”

That same night, Annabelle shook me awake, startling me out of an exhausted, comatose sleep. I squinted, disoriented, into a predator gaze, her eyes already locked onto mine. The lamp by our bedside cast a shadow across us.

“Belle, what are you doing? Is something wrong?”

“Do you trust me?”

“What. . .what time is it?”

“3 a.m. Do you trust me?”

“Wha—yeah, I, I trust you.”

She nodded once and reached down beside the bed, pulled up my favorite gear bag, and placed it lovingly next to me, like a mom returning a misplaced stuffed animal to a fearful child.

“OK,” she said “go back to sleep then. I think I’ve been offered a way to ask more of us all.”

It was just as surreal as it sounds, but as a testimony to my tiredness, I fell asleep again without inquiring why I was awoken or interrogated about my belief in her, or why my gear bag now rested under my arm.

The next time I awoke, I found myself ushered into an interview that you will read about in the next chapter, the one where she interviews Fear. Not some trendy California kid whose parents named him Fear or some Neil Gaiman fan who renamed himself in radical zeal but Fear itself. Blame FDR for personifying it first; Annabelle just got the interview.

Still with me? Let me set us up for the rest of our journey and give a straighter answer to your questions: Annabelle Farrow disappeared from public life to pursue interviews that she felt would help her answer the curious questions of why those who called themselves Christians tended to wander through a fallen yet vibrant world. Why did they pursue instead a life where “hobbies had become gods, and God had become a hobby?” These interviews were her intended opus, which she planned to reveal to a waiting public, a nation filled with Christian congregations she hoped would finally hunger for something more than getting by and passing though. She knew those church buildings held many sincere and nice people, yet people whose lives had semi-consciously become content with the cardboard boxes and wrapping paper while the wonderful gifts from above sat neglected and unknown.  Interviews that transcended categories of personhood, bent physics, and skipped through time. Conversations with icons, concepts, and representatives for many of the popular worldviews and prevalent conditions of American Churchianity.

She hoped to one day start a corrective swing to what she considered the imbalance of our practice in Churchianity—to swing it from “a place of sensationalism, complacency, consumerism, and the theoretical” to a place of “tangible relationship where more grace, more humility, more thoughtful passion, more enduring faithfulness and more God-led creativity abounded.” Her hope was to come out of hiding and silence and one day air these interviews as a series of shows entitled The Pendulum Sessions. There came a second disappearance of Annabelle Farrow, however, one that I will share with you if you can make it with me far enough on this trip.  But right now I come to you, after many years of meditation in isolated places and frequently one-sided prayer, with a deep peace--just recently arrived--to let the world know the story of the silent years of the beloved journalist who was my own beloved in truth.

I offer this collection of interviews with a sense of excitement, some lingering fearful doubt, and a deep ache of loss. I regret that she cannot share it with you personally or in the format she desired (more on that later), but I hope these conversations will be as meaningful to you and your spiritual formation as they, and she, were to mine.

I give to you now Questions of a Curious Nature: The Incredible Interviews of Annabelle Farrow.

Malachi “Kye” Evans, Spring 2013

Chapter 2: Fear

I arranged this book to give you a sense of those missing years, of Belle’s work and the interviews we did. It is not chronological all the way through, but the first interview we conducted during the new journey is the one you’re about to read. This is the interview that started it all. Afterwards, Belle told me she was required to do this one first, and that’s all she would say.

This interview establishes the crazy world we entered when we disappeared from public consciousness as well as setting up some themes that will rise to the surface elsewhere. The content of this conversation relates to all believers. We are scared of so many things, including our own faith and simply the unknown. So as we enter into these conversations Annabelle collected, I wanted us to look Fear in the face (kind of) and dismiss it from our journey in this book.

The interview could not have started any worse for me, awoken at 3 a.m. with the “Do you trust me?” question and the gear bag placed under my arm. I had fallen right back to sleep.

I awoke again, this time outside in the middle of a forest lying on my back, surrounded by musty smells and foreign sounds amidst a close darkness pierced only slightly by a fickle moonlight.

My eyes went wide, and I began to kick like I just realized I was drowning, dry leaves crackling like frying bacon.

Belle’s hands and voice appeared with urgency,“Kye, Kye! Breathe! It’s ok. It’s ok. You’re with me. You trust me, remember?” She pressed on my shoulders and chest, shushing me like a mother with an infant fighting sleep.

“Malachi, these next few moments may be the most surreal of your life. Just breathe, and listen to me. Remember our first few years of covering events and getting scoops? Living spontaneously, throwing the gear in your beat up Corolla, and driving ungodly hours to random places just to get the story? Kye—Kye? Do you remember?”

“Yeah, yes, I remember.” My voice sounded like a child’s, hoarse and thin. I could not stop swallowing.

“Well, that’s what we’re going to do be doing again. On a whole new level.”

“Belle, we’re in the woods. What are we doing in the freaking woods?”

She let loose a deep sigh. “We’re chasing the leads, Kye. I’m getting the stories and interviews that I think will help me answer the questions I’ve been wrestling with—“

“Belle, we’re in the woods. Answer that question: Why are we in the woods?”

 “This is where the story is, where my subject for the interview wanted to meet. I don’t like it either Kye, but we’re not in the position to set the agendas or set up studios. This new work is all in the field and all anonymous for now.”

“I didn’t have much say in this, and you know I don’t get stubborn about much, but I’m not sure I want to start a new life of going to sleep and waking up in the woods.”

“Believe me, Kye, I never intended—“ a branch snapped, and the sound of something large thrashed in the underbrush. She straightened up quickly from her crouch beside me, looking around frantically. I rolled up onto all fours and then scrambled to my feet.

“Did you remember to bring a flashlight?” I asked in a whisper.

“No flashlights allowed. Only one lantern. It’s in your bag,” she replied.

“One lantern, another rule,” I said.

The forest went silent after the sudden noise making it all the more ominous. I rummaged in the bag for a moment; my hand clasped around the cold metal of the lantern and pulled it out.

“Hang it high on a tree,” said Belle.

I turned on the lantern and looked for a proper branch to hang it on; I felt vulnerable, hand in the air, chest exposed, eyes looking up rather than watching around me for the source of the noise. The trees peered down like I was some bug they captured in a jar, spindly branches like arms waiting to reach in and grab me.

The lantern gave us a small radius of clarity but really just accentuated what we could not see. I had broken out in a sweat all over despite the chilly night. The only sound was my strained breathing, coming out in small bursts of white steam. I hate the woods at night.

“Lantern hung.  Now what?”

“Oh Kye, I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m just kind of following orders on this one.”

She put her arm around my waist, and I pulled her close, our heights always allowing her to rest her head right near my heart. We waited that way for three or four minutes, but it seemed like an hour—an hour in a horror movie with an expectant tenseness where you just know something is going to jump out and make you scream.

This time the noise was more subtle. Another snapping of a twig but smaller and much closer. Right behind us. “Get the camera out,” said Belle.

“The lighting is going to be terrible,” was all I could think to say.

(I was right—not only did the whole thing feel like a found-footage horror film, it looked like one too—grainy and unsteady. I was shaking worse than I realized.)

ANNABELLE FARROW (AF): Ok, we’re here. I know you’re there. Show yourself.

FEAR (FR): Why, my dear, I already have.

Only my love for Belle held me in place when that voice spoke. Afterwards, I could only describe it as a snake crossed with a cat, a snake coiled to strike and a cat in that low-to-the-ground predator stride it has when slinking toward cornered prey. It was a hissing whisper of a purr, and every hair on my body stood at attention. I wasn’t sure where the voice was coming from, so I just pointed the camera at the least sinister looking tree. I hate the woods.

FR: I’m already with you. See me in the silence; feel me on your necks. Watch me dance in each other’s eyes. Hear me throb in each heartbeat and cling to every breath. You should not have come to this place, Annabelle Farrow. You may never leave.

AF: I have come to ask you questions, Fear, and you will answer them. I was promised you would answer them.

Belle’s voice was not her usual confident tone, but I still sensed the steel beneath the quiver. I was shaking badly and praying Fear would not expect me to speak.

FR: You were promised I would answer? Of course you were. But did you know the cost?

AF: What cost?

FR: Every one question of yours that I answer, I get to ask you three questions in return.

AF: That hardly seems fair. What if I don’t want to answer your questions?

FR: Oh, I don’t want you to answer my questions. My power resides in the asking, not in the answering. I just want the questions to settle into your soul, burrowing deep into your mind, infecting every thought, paralyzing every action. And I do believe I just answered two of your questions. So here are my six then: Do you really know what you’re doing? Who are you to interview me? Who are you to think you have anything worthy to say? What if no one ever sees these interviews? What if it’s all in vain? What if Malachi leaves you because you’ve pushed him too far?

Silence, again. We just stood there, our breath coming out in little puffs under the lantern’s light. Was she processing the questions? Gathering her resolve? Or planning to leave? Would I ever leave her?

FR: You see, dear, you’re not ready for this. Lie down and go back to sleep, I promise to make the nightmares the kind that are easy to forget.

AF: I’m not leaving. What are you afraid of?

A laugh burst from me at the surprise of her question, foreign but comforting all the same. Ah, Belle, you don’t like to be pushed around. What a great question. I even think I heard a hiss of frustration in response.

AF: Answer me.

FR: I’m afraid that Christians will grow up and learn what trust and hope and faith really mean. And my next three for you: Don’t you worry about becoming like your uncle, paranoid and suicidal? It runs in the family you know. What if that voice in your heart isn’t the Holy Spirit? What if it’s just your mind talking back to you?

AF: My turn. How do you control people?

FR: I find their insecurities, and I feed them. I feed them until they are so large all they can do is find some kind of security blanket to hold on to—a habit, an indulgence, perhaps a job or a child or a spouse, some thing or person they clutch on to with the white-knuckled grip of their souls. I love security blankets. I love night lights. It lets me know I have still won. They pour their hope into those thin sheets of cotton, thinking they’ll protect them somehow, scrambling to cover their feet so I won’t get them; all the while they only feel safe when the blanket is just right and the halos of their nightlights reach far enough to illuminate the most fearsome of shadows.

But I’ve already won. Locked into a battle with me, no one can ever walk forward in peace and trust. Every decision becomes a selfish one of self-protection. Now, what if I snatch away your blanket Annabelle? What then? Even now you’re reaching for those bible verses from your youth—don’t you realize they are simply the crutches of the weak and naive? The night and the unknown still scare you, don’t they?

AF: Why do people isolate themselves and hide their fears?

FR: That’s easy. You’ve created a world where you’re not allowed to have fears. The strong and successful are lifted up as icons—the doubting and the fearful are looked at as defective believers. Of course, I feed the insecurities with things like, “You’re the only one who deals with this,” and “What if they knew?” and “Your faith may not be real if you’re struggling with this.” Things like that. You’ll never share if your very salvation is at stake. I rummage in their past, finding secret moments they try to keep buried, the ones they can always see if they look, bringing them into their consciousness every time I smell weakness. Don’t you remember your past Annabelle, the things you’ve done? What does God think about your secrets? What would Malachi think if he saw what you hide in your heart?

AF: How do you affect whole churches then?

FR: So many ways. Much of the power plays and conflicts in churches are simply nursed fears being given reign in conversations.

But mostly, I make every member feel like they’re the only ones not getting it. I particularly run amok in small groups, flashing into everyone’s minds pictures of the absolute horrors of vulnerability. And if someone does share from their heart, exposing their true selves just a bit, I pounce and make the group go silent or awkward or, even worse, I make everyone feel obligated to share things that don’t relate at all or are full of clichés, and then I scream, “See! See! See what happens when you open up like that?” I watch them all freeze then, praying madly on the inside that some easy question will come up or some speeding up of time will take place.

Oh, I spend time with everyone during each week. I take every mistake and magnify it in their minds. I fill their minds with assumptions and expectations—every glance and every word I manipulate to make the community of God’s people isolated by fear of what others are surely thinking. You’d be surprised how many church folk deal with some kind of anxiety attack before attending worship services. It’s hard to worship the Lord when irrational thoughts are sitting on the throne.

I even make pastors feel desperate—desperate that their preaching is weak and diluted, that they need to add more passion, more conviction! Raise that voice! Look those people in the eye! Make them feel the weight of it all! Oh, why are you even preaching? You barely got through seminary, you don’t remember any Greek! Who are you? And my words seep into their sermons, bringing me into the seats and into their hearts. Suddenly, the shepherds are berating their sheep out of insecurity and the need for some immediate affirmation that they deserve their role and their pay rather than speaking from the nurturing trusting heart developed in Christ.

People smiling and singing and saying how fine they are, all the while walking home again knowing they aren’t really that special and believing they’re obviously missing something. What a delightful question to answer! And for you my dear, what right does a woman have to be so bold and upfront and ask such questions? Haven’t you felt like you’re always at the kiddie table when it comes to this whole Christianity thing? Don’t you still feel childish asking questions like this?

AF: Very interesting. I’ve long maintained that having an intimate group of believers, sometimes no more than three or four, carrying each other’s burdens, changes the range and understanding of what it means to know God. When we cherish each other’s vulnerability and hold it as a sacred thing, and reciprocate in kind, we form bonds that make it hard for someone like you to take hold, Fear. Unfortunately, we don’t create many conducive environments for developing those bonds. But perhaps that’s for another day.

FR: That wasn’t a question.

AF: It wasn’t meant to be. I’m not interviewing you for your vanity or mine. I have a theory about where you get your start in churches, so here is another question for you, especially since you mentioned me being childish: How do you operate with the children in the church?

I heard what sounded like the warning hiss a cat makes when being approached by an unknown dog when Belle asked this question, as if Fear were angry, the only time I sensed any kind of emotion other than a smug and devious confidence.

FR: This interview is just about over, I believe.

I spend much of my time with your children and their teachers. Very good, Annabelle Farrow, I can see by your eyes where your theory lies. You see, if I can weave myself into the very fibers of what they call salvation, then it becomes all the easier later to create a culture of fearful worshippers, cowering under blankets they’ve been trained to hold their whole church lives.

It’s really quite brilliant. Which of you children want to go to heaven and be with Jesus on streets of gold? And which of you children want to burn in forever fire with the bad old devil? Oh, you all want to go to heaven? Well, let’s pray this prayer and all be good—real good—or else you might end up in that bad place. Oh, you aren’t sure if you’re good enough or believe enough? Well, you better believe a little harder and do a little more or give a little more. And after every sin, I bring up those Sunday School lessons, those VBS pleas for salvations, so many rooted in fears and terrors of the eternal!

And what happens to the folks who made decisions in fear? Well, they keep me at a distance, by being busy or singing louder than the whispers. As long as you don’t sit in the dark, you’ll never have to deal with your fears. Their morality becomes the very dreaded thing they swear it is not—a works-based structure to keep the hounds of hell at bay. And I don’t need to tell you that many of your young become young adults who go away to colleges and universities and see the pacifiers and security blankets of their faith and discard them—not because their faith has grown; oh no, they do it thinking the blankets themselves are the faith. I have distorted it all! I twist the very essence of honoring God and holiness into a stunted thing of scaredy-cat behavior modification. And now, here are your final three questions: Don’t you see how big this really is? Don’t you realize all of your work is in vain, a throwing of a tiny pebble at a massive ship coming to dock? What do you hope to accomplish with your isolated and pathetic interviews?

AF: I will answer that question. I mean to shine a light in the darkness, the kind of light the darkness does not and cannot understand. I want to shout the truth that there is nothing to fear and blankets are only blankets, which are keeping them from experiencing the peace and trust they were made for. I want people to comprehend all the truths of the light—that perfect love casts out fear and God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline. I want them to know vulnerability is beautiful and relationship with God cannot be rooted in irrational fear. And if no one listens, I will live it out anyway!

I want them to know that no one has ever had all the answers! It is OK to wrestle and struggle and even doubt sometimes. Loving parents welcome the questions of the child who wrestles to make sense of the world, to find their place in it and to do right by their parents—even when the questions are asked sometimes with security blankets gripped in the dark. Human parents delight in those acts of trust, and that is what those questions are. So then, how much more does our God love us?

The last statement was yelled at Fear, and I don’t think Belle meant for it to be a question. She got no answer regardless and no three questions hurled back at her. There was only the abrupt reply of branches snapping and the distinct sound of air being forcibly moved, like opening the sealed doors to a business in winter, when the whoosh lets you know the windy coldness is behind and warmer moments lay ahead. It was like that sound, only grander¾not the air of a foyer being moved, but the wind in the woods being forcibly drawn away.

I looked at my little bride then in that circle of poor light, hands clenched into sharp fists, feet planted in banks of leaves, her slender frame leaning forward as if keeping balance on a rocking ship. One strand of her deep brown hair had escaped its place and was slowly swinging forward with every breath of steam coming from her mouth. She took one last deep breath, reaching up with a hand to tuck the errant hair back with the rest. Her whole body relaxed then, and I had the distinct image of a gun being lowered and a finger coming off the trigger.

She swung her eyes on me and said, “I certainly hope you didn’t film the whole thing like that.”

I was standing there with the camera rolling, pointed down at an old mossy stump. I closed my mouth and turned off the camera. “No, no, I definitely got it. Whatever it was.”

“It was the beginning, Malachi. The beginning.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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