February 17, 2008
By Ira Stillwell, Augusta, GA

The greeters tried to smile to welcome me in, but it was evident by their body language that they were judging me with my every step. As I entered the threshold of the sanctuary, I could feel their religious tongues wagging around me, as if to immerse me in their eternal damnation and send me to the deepest depths below. I continued to walk. The woman in the third row from the back glanced at me, turned away, looked back and proceeded to pull her husband’s hand more tightly around her, in an attempt to protect herself from my visual evil. Seeing these men and women sit together was different from what I had ever been used to, and it almost felt wrong to me. Men and women should be separated into different groups to worship. Nonetheless, I took a deep breath, reminding myself that I was here to learn, to accept, and not to criticize.
The pastor stood in front of the congregation, smiling and glowing, the religious aura oozing from between his white, pearly teeth. These teeth were inevitably the untainted steps which guide his pulpit directly to heaven. I took note of the way the light hit the pastor’s wife sitting in the front row, a veritable halo reflecting off of her perfectly straightened golden locks. The images which these religious leaders induced were deliberate, each move they made appearing calculated and premeditated. I sat down, slightly surprised by the ease with which my body sank in my seat, and I felt guilty for being comfortable in a place of worship.

The sanctified music began to down fade. The pastor stood a little straighter, fixing his blazer and tie and clearing his throat in an attempt to draw attention to himself. “Thank ya’ll for comin’ here today to celebrate the rebirth of our very own Samuel Karcowski. Samuel has been a part of our church family for twenty years and can now be called a son of the Lord. Samuel is a great leader in our community: negotiating business deals and providing financial and emotional support to those in need for countless months. We are very lucky to be partners with him for eternity.”

I noticed an uncomfortable adjustment of bodies sift through the congregation. In the row of pews to my right, two women exchanged exasperated glances during which the first rolled her eyes and the second proceeded to clear her throat in an unnecessarily loud manner. It was evident by the demeanor of the people that this man was not at all the man that the pastor had just described.

The pastor kneeled beside the large tin bath in which Samuel sat. He ran his fingers through the water and flinched for a half-second, as if to adjust to the temperature of the water. In the corner of the room, a drip-drip-drip became louder and louder in my ears. I looked around to see if anyone else was bothered, but no one seemed to notice.
I jerked into consciousness as I heard the constant drip-drip-drip of water hitting the floor. It was so loud that I could not sleep anymore. I opened my eyes but could not see. I did not understand why, so I attempted to lift my hands to my face. I realized they were tied behind my back. I tried to stand up, but there was intense pain in my arms, legs and back, and I could not find the strength to move. I sat in dark, damp silence and could only feel the room around me, cold and lifeless. There was no sound other than a drip-drip-dripping noise. This dripping resonated throughout my body and seemed to mimic my heart beat- speeding up when I breathed more heavily and getting weaker as my breath shortened. This noise sounded distant, as if it were in a corner and never stopped. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a switch click, along with the sound of a gun being loaded and then- footsteps. They reached me. Hands turned me over, untied my arms and blindfold and sat me up. An intense wave of relief passed through me. I was overjoyed because I thought I was being rescued. Instead they laid me down on a stretcher and tied me up yet again. The drip-drip-dripping pounded through my ears.
“This is a time of celebration when we commemorate the baptism of a beautiful young man who has recently taken Jesus Christ into his heart and life as his lord and savior and the forgiver of his sins. According to Romans 6:4, ‘We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ From this point forward, Samuel and anyone else in this congregation who chooses to make Jesus Christ the leader of their life and forgiver of their sins is a new person. A changed person. A child of God. You must give up your old ways and lifestyle and live a pure life, being the salt and the light of the world.”
He turned to Samuel, covered up his mic and said “Are you ready?”
“Do you know why you’re here?”
I didn’t reply.
“Look at me, you bastard.”
After many minutes, I raised my eyes to his level, locking with his yellow, gaunt glare.
“Let me ask you again. Do you know why you’re here?”
I shook my head no.
“You’re a lying son of a…”
He raised his camouflage-laden arm up and I immediately flinched. The other man in the room stepped forward and stopped his hand from hitting me.
The pastor forced a smile to come to his lips which then evoked happiness throughout the congregation. He motioned to the worship team to begin playing “Every Move I make” and the choir stood. The drip-drip seemed to stop, being masked by the music. The pastor ran his hands in the water again. The song ended and he addressed the people of the church, “Do you all acknowledge, as witnesses of this baptism, the sacredness and sanctity of this act? Furthermore, do you all, as the body of Christ, agree to guide Samuel in the way of the Lord?” The congregation murmured a weak “yes” to both of these questions. “Do you, Samuel, acknowledge that the act of baptism symbolizes the death of your old self and rebirth in the Holy Spirit?” Samuel nodded and seemingly feigned conviction. “Then, by the Power vested in me, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The pastor grabbed Samuel’s head in his hands and pushed him down into the water and the congregation clapped faintly. I gagged.
I took a breath. The second man quickly tried to calm the first down, which I later learned to be Sgt. Bigsby. Bigsby began again saying “You are here because you have been classified as an enemy of the state. Do you have anything to say about this?”
I opened my mouth to speak but he immediately turned his back to make a statement to the other man.
“As God is our witness, here this man was unwilling to share any information or deny any charges made against him on this Thursday the sixth of June, two thousand and six.”
“I bet we could get something out of him…” the second man said as he shuffled through his bag. After a few seconds, my face was covered with plastic wrap and I began to suffocate. After completely covering my head three times, one of the men poked a hole where my mouth was, and I began to gasp for breath. However, two breaths later I ingested water along with the air. I struggled moving my body quickly and in harsh jerks- no avail.
I did not understand the actions that were taken at the church this day. These people, however, will not discourage me from my desire to understand what Americans believe in and how they are justified in their actions. I was only able to breathe again when Samuel was lifted from the water. I had to leave this place of worship. As I rushed to the door, I turned for one more chance- a chance to understand. I locked eyes with Jesus-I stared-I waited…
Then, I turned and left.

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