Story of Recovery: Rob Wood

Rob Wood?s Story: Part One
Skip to part 2>>

First, let me recount the story of the three blind wise men from Indostan, and their three blind servants, who - though lacking any means by which to see it - nevertheless followed a star in the heavens toward Bethlehem.

It was six men of Indostan
To wisdom much inclined,
Who went to see the newborn king
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

It came to pass (or so it?s said)
That early in the day,
They came upon an Elephant
That fully blocked the way.
?Let us stop and spend tarry here,
And learn all that we may!?

The First approach'd the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! But the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! What have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he,
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


I was not raised in what most people would consider to be a religion, but not because my parents had some philosophical or intellectual position on the subject. My mother was a first-generation Hungarian Jew from NYC, and my father was a back-slidden Southern Baptist from North Carolina. Since they could come to no conclusion about the mysteries of the universe, how human beings got here, what the purpose of life might be, or what religion to embrace, their way of dealing with religion was to avoid the subject altogether.

Actually, I take that back. There was one family god my parents had no problem teaching us about. This god was omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, paternal, generous to those who deserved it, and not so generous (but never wrathful) to those who didn't. He had supernatural powers, too, and could visit every household in a single night each year, sliding down chimneys to leave lots of gifts he couldn't afford (according to my mother, anyway), and always seemed to know exactly what we wanted.

(Now that I'm writing this, that actually still sounds like a damned fine god.) But I digress...

Imagine my dismay that Fall day in my 10th year when I queried a big kid (who must have been all of 11) about what he was going to ask Santa to bring him for Christmas, and he began to laugh.

?You still believe in Santa Claus! Don't you know there?s no such thing? It?s your parents who bring those presents!?

I was crushed, to say the least, and ran home, crying. My mother at first tried to defend the faith (so to speak), but finally admitted it was all made up. Just for fun.


Question: What do you do when you?re 10 years old and you learn your god was invented?

Answer: Go out and find the real one.

Stay tuned for Part Two: How a 10-year old boy managed to visit 31 churches in one year.

Part II
October, 1958: Little Creek, Virginia

Less than two weeks after Santa?s fall from Grace, I was outside our tract home one Sunday morning, looking for someone to play with. I had noticed that Sunday mornings were somewhat light on this score, but had never really thought much about the reason.

This Sunday, though, Jimmy - my next door neighbor?s kid - came outside to play, and the first thing he did was ask me why I didn?t go to church.

?Huh? What?s ?church????
?Church is where we go every Sunday.?
?What do you do there??
?We draw pictures of Jesus, and eat cookies. You should come to church with me.?
?Because, you hafta go to church!?
?Because, Jesus wants you to. Everybody knows that!?
?I don?t.?
?Don?t you believe in Jesus??
?You?re going to hell! You?re going to hell!? Jimmy yelled, and ran back into his house.

Alarmed, I went home to get some answers from my mom.

?Hmm?? (Not glancing up from her romance novel)
?Jimmy said I?m going to hell!?
?Hmm, that?s nice, dear.?
?Mom! I don?t want to go to hell, do I??
?Mom? Who is Jesus, exactly? Jimmy says I?m going to hell because I don?t go to church and draw pictures of him.?
?Um? Jesus was a prophet. He was a good man.?

Absorbing this new information, I asked, ?But why am I going to hell because I don?t go to church??
?Go ask your father.?

I sought out my Dad in his workshop.

?Yes, son??
?Who is Jesus? Jimmy says I?m going to hell because I don?t go to church and draw pictures of him.?
?Go ask your mother.?
?I already did. She told me to ask you.?
?Um? Jesus was the Son of God.?
?Mom said he was a profit. What?s a profit??

?Dad, can I go to church with Jimmy??
?Uh..It?s OK with me if it?s OK with your mother.?

Relieved, I went back to my mother.

?Mom, is it Ok if I go to church with Jimmy??
?Go ask your father.?
?I already did! He said it was OK with him, if it?s OK with you.?
?I guess so.?

Little realizing that my life was about to change forever, I went back to Jimmy?s house and yelled through his window.

?Hey Jimmy! My parents say I can go to church with you.?

So, it was all arranged by an exchange of parental negotiations for the following Sunday.

In those days, bankrupt cotton plantations were everywhere in the South. Eager developers snapped them up to feed the insatiable demands of the post-war economy, fueled by the GI Bill and the promise of a car in every garage, and a chicken in every pot.

Outside the small town of Little Creek, Virginia, a brand new housing development sprang up, and when my father was transferred to the amphibious base there, our family moved into one of these 3-bedroom marvels. Great house, lots of interesting places for a 10-year old to play, but because a plantation is, by default, out in the country, a new development carved out of one initially lacks amenities such as grocery stores, gas stations and the like ? much less churches and synagogues to serve the spiritual needs of the new residents.

The first thing they did in our community was build a school, and while churches were still in the planning stage, it was somehow decided that all of the various religions and Christian denominations would set up shop in the school, each to its own classroom.

On the following Sunday, the appointed hour arrived, and?freshly scrubbed, and all decked out in slacks, shiny shoes, a bow tie and a sports coat?off I went to church for the first time in my young life.

Upon arriving at my school, I was amazed at the transformation it had undergone for the day. People of all ages were streaming through the front doors and making their way to the various classrooms in the two-story building. I followed Jimmy and his parents down the hall to a particular classroom with a hand-lettered sign taped next to the door. ?Catholic,? it read, although to my inexperienced eye, it seemed to say "Cat holic." Puzzled by this feline reference, I followed Jimmy into the room.

Once inside, a smiling woman ushered us kids to the back of the classroom, where ? just as Jimmy foretold, cookies and crayons were to be found in abundance. The adults all sat in the front of the classroom, and while Jimmy and I and the rest of the kids drew pictures of Jesus and ate cookies, the adults listened to a man quietly talk about stuff I couldn?t quite make out.

After a while, our teacher told us to turn around and listen to the man (the ?priest,? Jimmy explained) who had by now donned some interesting-looking garments, and had taken his place in the front of the room. He began to speak in a foreign language, and I had not the slightest idea what he was saying. Everybody else seemed to understand him, though, because they all recited the same strange incantations together. After the initial novelty wore off, though, I soon became quite bored, and wanted nothing more than to escape.

The following week, I dutifully went next door to catch my ride to church, and again, went through the same routine: Crayons, Jesus and cookies, followed by droning and recitations in a foreign language. While I was dozing off during this second dose of incomprehensible ritual, I suddenly had an epiphany: I could try out some of the other religions! I still needed to replace Santa Claus, and so I decided that the following week, I would skip the Catholic classroom, and try a different one.

The week passed uneventfully, and I eagerly looked forward to Sunday. Bright and early that morning, shoes shined, bow tie squared away, I was ready to begin my amazing adventure in search of the real god.

As soon as we arrived at the school, I slipped away through the milling crowd filing into the Catholic classroom, and made my way to the next classroom, which happened to be an Episcopalian church. Here I found the ubiquitous crayons and cookies in the back of the room, but when it came time for what I had now come to understand was the ?sermon,? I again found it impossible to understand what the robed man in front of the classroom was talking about ? even though he was speaking in English.

The following Sunday, I skipped the Catholic and Episcopalian churches, and went to the next classroom down the hall, which turned out to be a flavor of Southern Baptist.

I found the expected crayons, cookies and Jesus in the rear of the classroom, but when it came time for the sermon, I again found the words impossible to decipher--except in this case, the man speaking them (a ?pastor,? I later discovered) was shouting, slapping a Bible, and pointing at everyone in an accusatory manner. He talked about Hell, and how we were all likely to end up there.

That?s about all I was able to make out, and this disturbed me, since Jimmy had convinced me that going to church was a sort of vaccination against this involuntary trip to what was apparently a very nasty place indeed. I decided to skip this room the following Sunday, and try another church. And so it went.

Week followed week, and month followed month, and each Sunday was a different experience. I tried the Presbyterian church (easy to understand, finally!), the Lutheran church, the Old Apostolic Lutheran church, several more versions of Baptist, the Mormon church, Assembly of God, Foursquare, Hebrew Sunday School (more foreign language), Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist, and so on. I finally decided that I would try every single one of them (31 in all, I later learned).

The day came when I had reached the end of the hall, second floor. I had run completely out of churches. After spending the following week reflecting on all of those weeks of exploration, I came to the conclusion that of all of the churches I?d visited, only the Presbyterian sermons made any sense, and seemed non-threatening. It was a pretty simple decision to make, really, and so it came to pass that I joined the Presbyterian church, and began my religious education in earnest.

Next: Part Three, or How I mortified my parents and became a Southern Baptist, all in the same afternoon.