Fearful Faithful

It’s sitting on the table next to my chair and I’m afraid of it.  It all started during the Easton Book Festival.  I feel sorry for those people who have to stand on the street corner and pass things out for a job.  In Manhattan I used to see them being completely ignored by swarms of people passing by.  They’re only doing their job.  I made a habit of accepting their chits, and even if they didn’t mean anything to me, I felt that the person handing them out might have experienced a small measure of satisfaction that someone accepted what they were offering, and had said “thank you.”  In Easton back in October, my wife and I were heading to one of the venues to hear an author talk and a guy was passing out paper, and I accepted one as a matter of habit.

It was a Chick tract.  If you’ve been reading this blog a while you’ll have run across the concept before.  Jack T. Chick was a cartooning evangelist.  He drew hundreds of tracts and comic books that formed a steady diet for me, growing up.  Although they looked like cartoons, these intolerant, Fundamentalist tracts were quite often very scary.  Especially to the young.  More than once I’d spiral into a childhood depression after reading one.  Although it seemed simple—say the prayer at the end and you’d be saved—how could you be so sure?  The disturbing contents stayed with me long after the sixteen pages were done.  Now, as an adult, I was being offered a road back to a childhood I fervently wished to avoid.

I stuck the tract in my pocket and forgot about it.  When I got home I emptied my pockets and found it again.  Curious, I was tempted to read it.  I know, however, that doing so will only drag me back to a memory of younger days when a kind of terror permeated my days.  And nights.  My theology, which was formed of a mosaic of these tracts (what child really listens to sermons?), was a scary one indeed.  It was populated by demons, Catholics, and servants of the Antichrist.  Anyone who wasn’t straight and pretty waspish was a threat to my eternal salvation.  Is that somewhere I want to go again?  The tract sits, unread, on my table.  It reminds me of the abuses to which religion might be put.  And I’m thinking I might start refusing free handouts on the street once again.

Chick Trick

Yesterday was our local town’s Earth Day clean-up day. I have always thought we lived in a clean town, and generally it’s true. When you look closer, however, the litter becomes all too obvious. Now, I know the purpose of this exercise is to get rid of pollution—my family filled five trash bags in the morning’s jaunt. As I reached for a bit of paper, I instantly recognized that I had found a half-torn page of a Jack T. Chick tract. Jack Chick is an old school Fundamentalist who draws some of the scariest cartoon evangelistic tracts imaginable. He is personally responsible for many of my childhood nightmares and phobias. Even as an adult, I still find myself believing, at some level, the tripe he serves up at the food of salvation. Children, you see, are extremely vulnerable to suggestion. Chick unremittingly claims we all deserve to burn in Hell, literally, and that only those who buy his version of Christianity can avoid it. He scares me. Instead of putting the torn comic strip in the trash, it went into my pocket. I needed to exegete it.

As a child I purchased every single Chick tract available from our local Christian bookstore. I was terrified of Hell and absolutely wanted to make sure I had double-covered every single base. A Chick tract can be read in a matter of minutes, but they can stay with you for decades. The one I found yesterday was one I’d never read. It consists of part of pages 5 and 6 of a black-on-black violence story involving a seriously looking tough guy called Ice Man. As the story opens, in media res, a photograph of “the preacher’s boy” is on a cell phone. Ice Man is seriously pissed off, and on page 6, in a drive-by shooting with an assault rifle, blows the young man away. His death, as in most Chick tracts, is violent, but bloodless. Chick spares most of the blood for the cross, where, sometimes it trickles eerily down over the repentant sinner.

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If I might be forgiven for some textual criticism, in which I might be guilty of a modicum of eisegesis, let me guess that the preacher’s boy had been suggesting that Ice Man change his sinful ways in the previous lacuna. In a fit of Icy rage, the PK becomes a sacrificial victim. Most likely, by the end of the pamphlet, Ice Man will have come to realize the evil of his ways and will end up on his knees. Depending on Chick’s mood that day, he may even end up dead. One thing is certain, the story will attempt to scare a youngster to a life of righteousness. The area where we were gathering trash is on the relative “wrong side of the tracks” for my little town. Some real violence does occur here, but it is mostly out of sight. Having grown up with Chick tracts guiding my every thought, I wonder if somebody got the message before it was too late. I see this torn page as a small sign of hope.