My high school Latin teacher gave all of her students Roman names that she thought captured their personalities. The Goody Two -Shoes kids got noble names like Cincinatus, Claudius and Germanicus. I was tagged “Robbie Nero,” the bad boy who fiddled while Rome burned. As all readers of RIR are trained in classical history, surely dear reader you also know that Nero persecuted Christians by impaling them on stakes as an ancient form of street lighting. Ouch. Remarkably, despite official persecution by my namesake, by 64 AD, the ranks of Rome’s “Christians” had swelled. It seems that these followers of “the Way” had something that made folks want to “join up.” More on this later.
My journey along “the Way” started with my father ( the white guy, not Barry White), putting me to bed and placing his hand on my forehead and reciting the 23rd psalm and other prayers. Along the “way,” I have had many experiences, but before I get too far into this narrative, let me get my bona fides out of the way. I am woeful sinner, and IF I have any talents or virtues, these are gifts from God, I didn’t have anything to do with them.
Before you get hung up on the irony of a guy named after Nero writing about Christianity, full disclosure, Tyler Walker and I did burn down a building, smoking cigarettes when I was 11, so, uh, there might have been a wee bit of empirical evidence that led to the moniker Mrs. Johnston gave me. When Pop put his hand on my forehead and told me my prayers, it was as though I was cloaked with a warm, comforting shield of love. I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church, was an acolyte, have been an usher, a vestryman, taught confirmation classes and Youth Group. I have been in multiple adult bible classes for years. I have been the only honky at black church services and black church picnics. I have seen people speak in tongues. I think I have witnessed a miracle. I have heard countless people give their testimony, and have been moved to tears. When the choir sings the Doxology, I almost always feel the presence of the Holy Spirit move through me. I have been to “holy roller” churches and seen preachers do the “Earnest Angley” thing where dozens of people drop like flies and fall into a deep sleep. I think I know someone who was demonically possessed (I’m serious). I’m fascinated by the study and history of Christianity. I ask my Jewish friends questions about Judaism. When the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormans knock on my door, I invite them in and talk to them ( sometimes I tease the Mormons about their clothes). One would think with all this exposure I have had, I wouldn’t be such a loathsome scoundrel?
Even though I have witnessed what many might label the “supernatural,” these surprisingly are not the events that have “rocked me” or made the biggest impact on me. There are people I know and have known who have a “divine countenance.” They are filled with the Spirit, and they just have Jesus inside of them. You see it in the way they talk and act. They don’t have to draw attention to themselves, because YOU are just drawn to them.
One such person is my brother, Fat Wally. If he and I don’t talk everyday, we talk several times a week and have long discussions about current events, history, literature, sports, philosophy and of course Christianity. The son of a bitch can read about 10,000 words/minute and has a photographic memory, but it is not his knowledge, logic or ability to recite facts that I “witness.” It is his being.
Wally was diagnosed with leukemia over Labor Day weekend. He was in the hospital for about 50 days straight. The first round of chemo didn’t work, in fact things got worse after chemo. Yet, Fat Wally was at peace, you could see it on his face. He took an interest in all the nurses. (Oh wait, bad wording, not that kind of “interest,” he didn’t goose them or make any sexual comments, as his reprobate brothers Ken and Brick would have surely done). He knew their names and all about them. He was just so kind and gentlemanly and peaceful. He had a divine countenance. It made an impact on me. This is the type of quiet testimony I have witnessed before. Without even trying, Fat Wally’s manner just screamed into my consciousness; “Jesus is Real!”
FW is home now and in remission. He soon will go back to the hospital and have the docs transplant some new stem cells which will grow a new batch of bone marrow, and we expect a full recovery. I am sure his 50 days in the hospital were a real pain in the ass, but it was a 50 days I won’t forget because of the impact he made on me, and I am sure others.
If y’all want to pray for Fat Wally, I am sure he would welcome it. He’s always been jealous of my good looks and athletic abilities, so please pray that he might get better looking and be more athletic like his younger brother; oh, and if you want to pray about the leukemia thing, that would be ok too.
In closing, I would just like to clear up one matter. Our acolyte instructor at St. John’s in Warsaw was a recovering alcoholic. When I was a teenager and all the wine in the vestibule went missing, unfortunately Mr. Johnson got blamed for it and lost his job. It seems appropriate for me, after all these years to finally say to Mr. Johnson……ooops, shi-t happens, get over it! ( I told you I was a rotten scoundrel!).