Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chapter 3 -- An Amish in Cumorah

Chapter 3

An Amish in Cumorah


Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD. -- Jeremiah 23:32.


Father Jeremy’s overnight bus arrived in Lancaster early the next morning. Lancaster was in the Amish country, and while Jeremy understood that they were an austere Christian faith, and farming people who didn’t drive automobiles and lived apart from the modern world, he knew little more of their ways and was curious. He alighted and went into the station. A clerk pointed him to a map on the wall of the local area, and gave him general directions to where the Amish dwelled.

He walked a couple miles west, and felt such a peace about the land that he decided to take a longer wander therein, keeping lookout for a church or shops. He had gotten on a good ten miles when he crested a hill. About a quarter mile ahead he saw an intersection, and just beyond that a figure approaching along the road from the north. It turned out to be a young man, and they reached the corner at the exact same moment.

There was nought they could do; they had to acknowledge each other. Father Jeremy was met by a lad about twenty, who extended his hand and said: “How do stranger? My name is Ephraim.”

“Jeremy,” he replied. “Much obliged.”

“You’re not from around here,” Ephraim observed.

“And you are,” Father Jeremy rejoined.

“Water?” Ephraim asked, offering the canteen he carried.

Jeremy was parched, and could hardly conceal his relieved delight. He drank copiously then thanked him. “I didn’t realize how thirsty I was.”

“Have as much as you want,” Ephraim answered. “I can refill it from the brook if you want more. Are you headed west?”

“I am,” Jeremy replied.

“I’ll walk with you awhile,” Ephraim said, and they commenced. “What brings you to my part of the world?”

“I’m just curious about the Amish and their church and your way of worship,” Jeremy said. “That’s what I came to see.”

“I can tell you all about the church. First of all, don’t wear the wrong suspenders into the wrong district. They’ll excommunicate you.”

“Excommunicate?” Jeremy exclaimed.

“That’s what they just did to me. That’s why you see me out walking the road instead of working in the field. I’m supposed to be out thinking about what I’ve done.”

“And what was that?” Jeremy asked. He was absolutely piqued.

“They have all these rules, nothing but rules, and lots of them don’t make sense,” Ephraim explained. “There’s over two hundred different Amish districts each with their own regulations about suspenders. You can imagine the confusion. Some wear two suspenders down the back, some wear one suspender in the back and two suspenders down the front, some wear one suspender going from the one side of the back to the other side of the front….”

“And?”

“And I was adjusting them on leaving one district and entering another, and they broke. I had to hold my pants up so I used them as a belt. Everyone likes wearing belts the best and no one is allowed to wear them because of the rules, so I think they were even madder because they were jealous that I was comfortable. Sing a couple hymns in English, preach the word of Jesus, have your suspenders accidentally snap and you’re excommunicated. That’s my life and this is my house up ahead. Do you mind if we stop in there?”

“Not at all,” Jeremy replied. “Lead the way.”

“I had to face the elders yesterday,” Ephraim continued. “The bishops of the church. It was terrible, heartrending, silly, boring and tiresome. All we want is to serve God, and the church is saying, ‘You can’t go to Bible study, you can’t go to prayer meetings, you can’t speak to other people about Jesus, and because you refuse to quit you are a wicked person, and we are going to put you away from us.’ We don’t commit adultery, practice idolatry, fornication, hatred or drunkenness, but they count us with and treat us like those who do.”

“How did you explain yourself?” Jeremy asked.

“I confessed that I was going to prayer meetings and Bible study. They asked me if I was willing to repent of these things and admit that I was wrong. I couldn’t, and I’m not willing. I said, ‘God, thy will be done.’ They kicked me out, and here I am, excommunicated and shunned.”

They crossed a covered bridge over a mossy creek and walked up to the farmhouse. It was enormous, like a castle in the country, and appeared to be empty. They could see a figure guiding a yoke of workhorses, about half a mile in the distance. “That’s my pa. Come on.” Ephraim brought him to the open tent behind the house, where about one hundred chairs were arranged in rows. “This is the church. It’s like a tabernacle. It’s part of our home for the next couple weeks, and then it’ll move along. This is where they held my hearing this morning, where they kicked me out of every house I know in one fell swoop. I just have an idea to…come on, let’s go inside.”

He brought Jeremy into the kitchen. There was a pie on the counter. “Now you see this,” he said, throwing his hands up. “Even then Emily Cubbins gives me a pie. They excommunicate you and shun you, but still make sure you have lunch. They are such kind people, just stuck to these weird rules. Are you hungry?”

Jeremy was famished, but demurred. “I’ve been walking a few miles, and I could eat a bite.”

Ephraim cut two heaping slices and poured two glasses of milk. He set them down on the table, then said: “Don’t wait on me, I’ll be right back. And don’t worry about no one coming in on us, they’re all out in the fields and the first won’t be back till near sundown.”

Jeremy didn’t have to be told twice when to dig in.

Ephraim returned momentarily with a small bag slung over his shoulder. He set it down on the bench, then sat down beside and quickly outpaced Jeremy in gulping down pie and milk. “So where do you reckon you’ll go tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Jeremy replied. “I’ve thrown myself into the wind to let it blow me withersoever it listeth.”

“That’s exactly what I’m minded to do!” Ephraim concurred. “They try to hide the Bible from me, and when I read it for myself I only find Jesus. They punish me for daring to open a book they should be begging us all to read. Why would they hide Jesus from me? And then punish me for reading it on my own? It makes me wonder why they don’t want me to know the outside world. It must really be something, and I’m going to go see it for myself. They can’t turn their backs on me if I’m already gone.” He picked up his bag, moved to the door, fetched a Bible off the shelf thereby, and said: “I’ve got my bag and I’m armed with my sword, which is the word of God. Do you want to come along?”

“I’m not one to say no when beckoned by the Bible,” Jeremy answered. He followed Ephraim outside, and they walked back over the bridge and out to the road.

So I can tell you everything you need to know about the Amish,” Ephraim said. “We are quiet people of the land. We came here three centuries ago from Switzerland and Germany to escape religious persecution. My ancestors brought with them a love of God and the land, a desire to work hard, and a complicated set of strict rules called the Ordnung. The Amish are experts with rules—at organizing and enforcing them, and making new ones.”

“I’m very familiar with the strictness of church law,” Jeremy remarked. “I am a Catholic priest.”

“Then you would know,” Ephraim said. “The Amish elders read the Bible in German, and forbid anyone reading it in any other language. We are told to not ask questions and to obey the rules to have any chance of getting to heaven. But we can’t help but be curious, and are reading it English, and beginning to question interpretations, and some of the rules, while openly preaching Jesus to our own people who haven’t read the Word. Some of my own people are ignorant about Jesus! The church says that anyone who breaks their rules risks eternal damnation, but if the church law or the law of the land goes against the word of God, you’ve got to obey God; and we know salvation is through faith in Jesus, and not by obeying Amish rules. It is sinful to keep the people in darkness, by giving them a Bible written in a language that they do not comprehend, and warning them not to read it in English. God have mercy!”

“Ironically, that sounds very much like what happened to the man who translated it into German centuries ago,” Father Jeremy observed.

“Well, we’ve got nothing but grass and road before us,” Ephraim replied. “Say on.”

Jeremy explained: “He was a German monk named Martin Luther, back when the Catholic Church only allowed the Bible to be read in Latin, Hebrew or Greek. They didn’t want the masses to see it for themselves and declared it heresy to translate the Bible into any common tongue. That was early in the sixteenth century, and by that time the church had amassed immeasurable wealth, and was the ruling authority in much of the western world. It dominated every stage of life, from baptism to burial. The church commanded armies and waged wars, reigned over empires, anointed kings and queens, controlled trade and exploration, and its coffers were overflowing. When people asked how they could save their own souls, Catholicism offered itself as the only path to salvation.

“Where gold and power are corrupting people, the devil is in his glory, and by that time he had infested and possessed the church, donning priestly robes like the proverbial wolves in sheep skin. As a result the papacy had become more a political position than a prayerful holy seat. Pope Alexander the sixth was a monster. He increased the church’s wealth by imprisoning and murdering people and seizing their property. The church was also amassing money through the sale of letters of indulgence, with which people paid for their sins and were guaranteed a place in heaven. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther tacked his famous ninety five theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg in Germany. He denounced the indulgences, arguing that they condemned buyer and seller both—the seller for the obvious reasons, and the buyer for a lack of faith. His deed sparked an uproar that reverberated throughout the world and history; and his words spawned revolts and wars and ultimately, all the Christian denominations under the Protestant umbrella--including the Amish. Luther eventually translated the Bible into German, and then used the presses that had printed indulgences to produce Bibles for his people.

“In 1521 Luther was brought before the Holy Roman emperor Charles the fifth, a devout Catholic and the most powerful man in the earth. Luther had to answer to elders, just like you, and he responded with the famous words: ‘I am a prisoner in conscious to the word of God. I cannot retract, and I will not retract.’”

“Acts five, twenty nine says: ’It is better to obey God than man,’” Ephraim said. That’s exactly how I felt.”

“Well, the men who ran the church declared Luther a heretic and excommunicated him,” Jeremy said.

“I know how that feels too, and just for reading and talking about the Bible in English.”

“Actually, it was first translated into English around the same time by a man named William Tyndale,” Jeremy continued. “He was a true martyr for Christ. When I first heard his story he was my hero. He devoted his whole life and soul to Jesus. And he knew Luther. Tyndale learned German, so he could read Luther’s translation, then left England and met Luther in Wittenberg. He learned Greek and Hebrew, so he could translate it into English, and then had to print pocket size copies in Belgium and smuggle them into London on cargo boats because the church in England controlled the printers.”

“How did that go?” Ephraim asked.

“There was a lot of fire,” Jeremy explained. “The bishop of London denounced his translation for containing thousands of errors. There was no pope or saints in Tyndale’s New Testament. There were no relics and no purgatory, no lent and no catholic church. The Tyndale New Testaments were ritually burned on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many of their owners publicly humiliated and eventually burned as heretics. Tyndale too was brought before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles the fifth and then burned alive. It came to pass exactly as Christ had foretold in the gospel, ‘But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.’”

“I would die for Jesus,” Ephraim declared. “If I could go be with Jesus I would lay down right here. I hope to some day find a way to prove my love, like Tyndale did.”

They walked many miles and chatted for hours, and just as the sun was going down they entered the outskirt of Elizabethtown. They came upon a roadside diner, and stopped in to rest and refresh. They ordered dinner and coffee, and were occupied with that when a couple of younger guys about Ephraim’s age took up the booth beside them. In the course of their conversation, Ephraim spoke a verse of scripture in his native tongue so Jeremy could hear its sound, and one of the guys leaned over and said: “I recognize that language; that’s Pennsylvania Dutch.”

“Very good,” Ephraim said. “Do you speak it?”

“Oh no, I just recognize it,” the lad replied. “I’m TrinityJosef, and this is my friend Arville. We’re on our way to Cumorah from Tahoe.” He offered his hand and finished, saying: “Pleased to meet you.” Ephraim shook his hand and the four introduced themselves.

“Mormons?” Jeremy remarked.

“Indeed we are,” Arville answered.

“Cumorah in July,” Jeremy observed. “You must be going to the pageant.”

“You are correct, sir,” TrinityJosef said. “That we are.”

“I’ve heard of the Mormons, but I don’t know the first thing about them,” Ephraim confessed.

“Well, you’re talking with two right now,” Arville said.

“Cumorah Hill was the birthplace of the Mormon church,” TrinityJosef explained. “It’s where the great prophet Joseph Smith received The Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni. It’s the holiest place in Mormonism, and we hold a pageant there every year and make the pilgrimage to celebrate God’s gift to us.”

“And what exactly is The Book of Mormon?” Ephraim asked.

“Another testament of our Lord Jesus Christ,” TrinityJosef answered. “It’s not in the Bible, but it’s every bit as real and true. It’s the story of a lost Hebrew tribe, led by a righteous man named Lehi. Around 600 BC, just before the Babylonian conquest of Israel, Lehi led his family and followers out of Jerusalem. They journeyed by boat to North America, and settled in the New World long before it was the New World. Lehi’s favorite son was his youngest, Nephi, who was a just and upright man. When Lehi was old he passed the mantle of leadership to Nephi. This greatly angered Laman, Nephi’s bad apple black sheep older brother, and the tribe fractured into two clans, the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Nephites were a righteous, light-skinned people, while the Lamanites were wicked and iniquitous, wherefore they fell out of favor with God, who cursed them with dark skin.

“The two clans warred bitterly for hundreds of years until Christ appeared to them after his resurrection, and graced with the gospel, they lived in prosperous concord for several centuries. The Lamanites gradually backslid into idolatry, and around 400 AD slaughtered the Nephites, and the land fell into the hands of the red sons of the lost tribe of Israel. The leader of the Nephites during these last battles was Mormon, and his son Moroni was the last Nephite victim of the genocide, and the angel that delivered the golden plates containing The Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.”

“Golden plates?” Ephraim said incredulously.

“The book was inscribed on golden plates and buried in the hill Cumorah for centuries,” TrinityJosef explained. “The golden pages were engraved with Egyptian characters and bound with three rings like a book. The angel Moroni visited our great prophet Joseph Smith and finally revealed its location to him, and also provided him with a pair of powerful spectacles called ‘interpreters,’ which enabled him to decipher the ancient text.

“He translated and published The Book of Mormon, formally established the church in 1830, and within a year boasted over a thousand members who called themselves latter day saints in the Lord’s One True Church, who were preparing the earth for the Second Coming of Christ. There are millions of us today. Hey, you know what? Why don’t you two come along with us to the pageant?”

Jeremy and Ephraim both reacted with slight surprise.

TrinityJosef continued. “Our back seat is empty, and once there you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere to crash. If nothing else, you can stay at my aunt’s, which is a mighty fine place.”

Arville pointed out the window to the motel across the street. “We’re staying there tonight, and driving the rest of the way tomorrow. It’s less than three hundred miles. You really are more than welcome to join us.”

Jeremy and Ephraim conferred, and agreed to get a room in the same motel and take up the invitation and go along. They finished dinner, paid and tipped, then walked across the street, where Ephraim let out a room with some money he’d brought. They then arranged to meet their new friends in the morning and said good night. They returned to their room, which was large with two small beds, and prepared to retire.

“They seem right nice enough,” Ephraim said. “I’ll have to take a look at that book of Mormon.”

“Feel free,” Jeremy answered. “But keep in mind that it was written by a villainous, lying shyster.”

“Really?” Ephraim remarked with surprise.

Jeremy went on to tell the story as he knew it. “Joseph Smith was a false prophet who started out as a grave robber. As a teenager he took an interest in black magic and crystal gazing, and sought his fortune through money digging, the practice of excavating artifacts from Native American burial mounds.

“Then he discovered what were called peep stones, or seer stones—small rocks which, when placed in an upside down hat and looked in upon, revealed supposed visions to the gazer. He also described himself as a scryer and a necromancer--elegant words for a crystal gazer who communicates with the dead—and began charging fees for his psychic services, which included locating buried treasure for landowners. His renowned spread, and when he was twenty one he was summoned into court by the state of New York and found guilty of being a disorderly person and an imposter.

“In truth he was a viper who used the word of God to satisfy his earthly lusts. He married his first wife Emma after telling her that the angel Moroni had told him that the golden plates would be withheld from him forever unless he married a girl named Emma Hale. He went on to weave more lies from his imagination, and used them to accrue wealth, rule weaker people, and to satisfy his desire for women by declaring that polygamy had been divinely ordained, then committing adultery with other men’s wives, before marrying them himself. He was killed in a shootout with authorities after they chased and trapped him with his small gang in a cabin in Missouri. He wasn’t exactly the type of man you would expect to be a messenger from God,” Jeremy concluded.

“Why didn’t you tell Arville and TrinityJosef what you really know about their great prophet?” Ephraim asked.

“I can whenever I like, and there’s a time and place for everything,” Jeremy answered.

“Well, I’m going to read more about the Mormons tomorrow, but right now I’m going to close my eyes and pray myself to sleep,” Ephraim said, and then did.



In the morning they all met back at the diner, had a quick breakfast and departed for Cumorah. Arville and TrinityJosef had placed a copy of The Book of Mormon in the backseat, and after the four were settled in for the long ride, Ephraim read the first few pages. After only five minutes or so he said: “This doesn’t read anything like the Bible.”

“Give it a few more pages, brother,” Arville urged. “It truly is a fifth gospel of Jesus Christ. If you live according to that you’ll grow to become a deity and at your death you will become the god over your own planet elsewhere in the universe.”

Ephraim silently closed that book and opened the Bible. A while later Jeremy asked him where he was reading. “In Deuteronomy,” he answered softly. “And listen to this passage. ‘There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to the LORD.’ That’s Deuteronomy eighteen, verses ten through twelve. Necromancer is the exact word you used to describe Joseph Smith last night,” Ephraim pointed out.

“Then you can be sure he was an abomination,” Jeremy replied.

A few hours later they rolled into Palmyra, New York. As TrinityJosef drove the car, Arville played tour guide. He pointed toward a place in the trees and said: “That is the Sacred Grove, where the great prophet Joseph Smith received his marvelous vision of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.” A little further along, and as dozens of people suddenly began appearing, they reached a forty foot monument, stopped and got out and looked up at the statue of the angel Moroni atop a twenty five foot pedestal. “There’s about a hundred similar statues of the same design and dimension all over the world,” Arville explained.

“It looks like an idol to me,” Ephraim said, shaking his head in dismay, not awe.

“You’re right, it is idolatry,” Jeremy affirmed.

“I really feel like Deuteronomy is speaking to me,” Ephraim said to Jeremy. He opened the Bible that he’d kept in his hand. “Listen to this: Deuteronomy chapter eighteen verse twenty. ‘But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’

“That is unusual,” Jeremy said.

“No, it’s pulling me. Remember when I said I want to prove my love to my lord. Deuteronomy is rising inside, and urging me to something.”

“If God is calling, you must obey,” Jeremy offered. “You just said so yourself.”
TrinityJosef and Arville returned, and the four were quickly overwhelmed by the festivities called America’s Witness For Christ. They walked a little way into a field where thousands of people were crowded in the stifling summer air. There was an elaborate stage festooned with thousands of lights. As the day waned into twilight several fireballs were accompanied by explosions. The orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir began to play and sing, manmade fog billowed out upon the feet of the hundreds of actors who marched onto stage dressed as biblical figures and pre-Columbian North Americans, some even wearing headgear antlers.

Suddenly a loud voice like God Himself boomed out: “This is the true story of a people who were prepared by the Lord to be ready for the coming of the savior, Jesus Christ. He came to them in the Americas, but their story began in the Old World, in Jerusalem….”

At different points in the performances a prophet was burned at the stake, and Christ appeared and descended from the night sky. Then a high tech, special effect volcano erupted and fireworks filled the air.

“This is so loud. I talk to God in the silence!” Ephraim shouted. “If this is the way they worship in the outside world, then I don’t want to leave my home. I miss it already. I’m going back there tonight, but before I leave there is something I’m going to do. If you’ll follow me, I don’t want your help, but I do want you to witness.”

He led Jeremy through the crowd toward the stage. There he climbed up unnoticed in the sea of people, went behind the corner of the curtain and slung over his shoulder the coil of rope that he’d noticed there. While up on stage he spotted a sheathed axe; at first he thought it strange to see, but then presumed it was being used for the ropes, hefted it also into his possession and led Jeremy, through people walking in every direction, to the statue of Moroni. They paused and looked up. Then Ephraim opened his Bible and read, by the bright street light. “’But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire.’ Deuteronomy chapter seven, verse five. Would you keep this please?”

He handed Jeremy his Bible, then lengthened the rope and expertly threw one end of it up over the statue. It landed over a crook in Moroni’s neck and came back down, and he took both ends and used it to help himself nimbly shinny up the monument. With a quietly amazed crowd quickly gathering, he climbed onto the statue and securely wrapped the rope about its neck. He rappelled down and dropped the end. He went and entered a golf cart he’d espied there when they first arrived, and backed it up to the rope, which he tightly secured to the bumper. He drove it full speed until it was met by Moroni’s resistance. He circled around and back and forth wildly until he suddenly shouted, “Clear the way!” as the statue toppled off its mount. It speared the ground headfirst, then crashed down with a thud.

While the crowd was rippling with curious excitement, they were also blanketed by a surreal calm, and many followed when Ephraim ripped the sheaf off the axe and started walking the road toward the Sacred Grove. That place was not lit, and he entered the darkest corner and started blindly cutting and clearing everything in his path. “I’m coming Lord Jesus!” he shouted repeatedly. “I’m coming home!”

CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 4

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