(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)
ah was born an' raised in Whitewater Kinyon, a township in th' Great Smoky Mountains. Don’t look it up on account o' yo' won’t find it on th' map.
An' thet’s on account o' callin' it a “township” might be stretchin' th' truth a mite. It was mo'e of a settlement, whar ah grew up wif mah kinfolk.
We was a God-fearin' lot. Mind yo', ah was a rambunckious yo'ng’un, known t'cuss sumpin fierce whenevah ah got bit by a coon ah co'nered.
An' then thar was th' time mah gran'pa caught me smokin' mah co'ncob pipe on th' Sabbath. But thar was nothin' in me thet th' applicashun of a leather strap t'a much-disrespecked po'shun of th' anatomy c'dn’t drive out.
Gran'pa Zerubbabel—thet was his name—was pretcher at Whitewater Fust Bappist Church of th' Fire-Bappized. We called it “Fust Bappist”—right up thar in trimenjus, han'writ letters—on account o', among other thin's, it was th' only bappist church in town. Heck, it was th' only church in town. An' thet’s on account o' th' town was mo'e of a settlement.
So ah grew up reckonin' thet Fust Bappist was th' one true church. Fack is, befo'e ah was 16, ah didn’t knows thar was a wo'ld on over thet last hill yonner on th' ridge.
(Mind, yo', we wasn’t some backwoods bunch of fundies who thunk th' earth was flat. Yo' kin’t grow up in th' Smokies believin' th' earth is flat. Fo' whutevah else they was, flat they wasn’t!)
But thet’s befo'e mah wo'ld was turned upside down. When ah was 16, Phineas—mah second cousin twice-removed—brought me a pair a-tickets t'a Dolly Parton corncert downrivah a piece. He got them fum a cousin of a cousin of a cousin.
So, on th' pretext thet him an' me was gwine out t'hunt down Hogzilla, we made us a trip t'th' sprawlin' metropolis of Cobbly Nob, Tennessee.
Wal, let me tell yo'—I’d nevah did see th' like of it befo'e. Whuffo', some of th' buildin's were upwards of two an' three sto'ies high! “Skyscrapers,” Phineas called ‘em—wif a knowin' cock of th' haid. Yo'’d git a crimp in yer neck jest tryin' t'take it all in, as enny fool kin plainly see.
But ah was in fo' a real shock. Shet mah mouth! As me an' Phineas were haidin' fo' th' concert hall, af'er axin' fo' direckshuns at th' five-an'-dime, we stumbled acrost t'other Fust Bappist church. As yo' kin rightly imagine, ah was dumbstruck.
How in th' wo'ld c'd thar be two Fust Bappist churches? Which Fust church was th' fust Fust church?
ah near ‘bout lost mah faif right on th' spot. ah was so upset thet, all through th' concert, ah c'd hardly keep mah mind on Dolly’s rhinestone bodice, dawgone it!
Finally, ah decided thet th' only thin' t'do was t'go on an expedishun fo' th' one true church. This hyar might take me t'some mighty exotic an' far-flung regions of th' globe—like Chattanooga, Tennessee—but ah w'dn’t stop until ah eifer foun' th' one true church o' died a-tryin'.
Unfo'tunately, th' trip t'Chattanooga lef' me even mo'e cornfoun'ed. Fo' not only were thar a whole lot a-Bappist churches, but thar were a whole lot a-churches by other names as fine. Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, an' Four-Square—t'name a few. Not only thet, but ah foun' out thet thar were diffrunt kinds of Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, an' Anglican churches!
In attendin' an evensong at one a-them Anglican churches, ah larned about Anglo-Catholicism, So, ah told mahse'f, whuffo' not hoof it straight t'th' source?
ah then went t'a Roman Catholic church. Thar th' priess nodded his haid in agreement. “That’s what happens with Bible Christians,” he said. “Chaos! Utter chaos!”
Af'er explainin' t'me thet Leo XIII had ruled Anglican o'ders t'be invalid an’ all, th' priess assured me thet th' Church a-Rome was, indeed, th' one true church, foun'ed by Jesus Christ. It went straight back in time t'St. Peter, prince of th' Apostles.
He hisse'f swum th' Tiber menny years befo'e, havin' been one a-them “Bible Christians” befo'e he sar th' light an' came back t'th' waitin' arms of Mammy Church. ah thunk about joinin' th' Church a-Rome, too.
But then ah had a talk wif t'other priest. He said thet Mt 16:18-19 was jest an etiological lejund t'explain Peter’s name-change af'er th' fack. “Only former fundies who brought their precritical views of Scripture along with them to Rome suppose that Jesus ever spoke these words,” he said. “Cradle Catholics left those superstitions far behind with Vatican II,” he added.
Af'er thet ah had a talk wif yet t'other Catholic priest. He was a sedevacantist. He had been o'dained by some Frenchy guy by th' name of Archbishop Lefebvre. He told me thet th' present pope was pow'ful an anti-Pope.
Befo'e ah went t'Chattanooga, ah hadn’t even heard of th' pope, much less th' anti-pope!
He also told me thet this hyar was nothin' noo. Thar was a strin' of antipopes durin' th' Middle Ages, an' no one knowed fo' sho'nuff who was th' real successo' t'St. Peter!
Feelin' at th' end of mah tether, ah then turned t'th' Orthodox Church. Wal, leastwise ah tried.
But which of th' nine o' ten rival patriarchates sh'd ah submit to? Sh'd ah become Greek Orthodox o' Russian Orthodox? An' which one was th' real Russian Orthodox church—th' Orthodox Christian Church of Russia, o' th' Russian Orthodox Church Abroad?
Now ah felt like an o'phan. It was inough t'make a grown man cry.
ah went t'th' public library an' began pourin' on over books on th' churches of Christendom. ah was on th' brink of despair when ah ran acrost a book intitled th' Kebra Negast. Thar ah larned thet th' Abyssinian church was th' one true church. Axum was th' Noo Jerusalem. Th' Negus (empero') was th' noo Solomon. An' Ethiopians were th' true Jews.
ah hitched a ride t'Noo Yawk, an' stole aboard a supertanker boun' fo' th' Persian Gu'f—livin' on rat meat an' rainwater fo' th' durashun of th' journey.
We disembarked in right purdy, downtown Mogadishu.
Af'er thet ah rode by camelback t'th' outskirts of Ethiopia, an' then rode a mule t'Axum, t'meet wif th' Atang (Keeper of th' Ark of th' Covenant). He direcked me t'Abuna Yemata Guh. Once agin ah rode by mule.
At long last ah beheld th' true church, atop a precipitous ambas. Mah redempshun drew near.
Fum whut ah heard, th' hollered out interio' of th' monolific church was jest large inough t'accommodate th' 13 true believahs then in exissence. Now ah c'd finally partake of th' true sacrament of th' true church an' truly be saved. Extry ecclesiam nulla salus!
It was a steep climb, straight up th' sheer face of th' mountain, as enny fool kin plainly see.
Sweaty an' breathless, ah made mah way t'a ladder of dry branches, an' had one han' on th' ledge leadin' into th' church when a branch snapped fum unner me, which lef' me wif thet “sinkin'” feelin'.
Durin' th' six-hundred an' fif'y foot drop t'th' valley below, two thunks crosted mah mind: “Eff'n ah had it to does all on over agin, I’d brin' me a pareechute,” an' “Mebbe Fust Bappist Church of th' Fire-Bappized wasn’t sech a bad deal af'er all, ah reckon.”
Unfo'tunately, mah meditashuns were interrupped by a rude rendezvous wif gravity.