Making do with do do.
released November 3, 2015
Bless us and this community
Profess us to be free from the lure of the sins that press us
feeling the power of immunity
Bless us who’ve entered into the fold
Impress us with the power of god when you address us
Ready and waiting to be told
Locked and loaded to be told
April 17th, the reverend Joshua Stokes passed a great stainless steel statue of the Virgin Mary standing as high as he could see just off the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. WNJT news had just discussed a week before in great detail the array of dignitaries that had attended its dedication ceremony. Always looking for signs, especially on the New Jersey Turnpike, Reverend Stokes had an inspiration, perhaps divine, that he was being called to erect something, something bigger and non-catholic at his parish. Christ and His Followers (CHF) was his 17 acre, thousand seat parish just one exit from the stainless steel virgin. It occurred to Stokes that creation of an even larger and permanent monument to Jesus Christ at CHF would inspire followers in the mid-Atlantic region and beyond.
Critics labelled CHF a mega-church - but over time, Stokes had grown fonder of the label. His books on belief and grieving - published by his church’s own publishing house - sold well to those in his parish who were grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job and various varieties of crises of faith. His own quiet crisis of faith had led to a difficult divorce and messy details that needed much attention, but now, Stokes was at a crossroads and ready to move on.
Plans and fundraising began quickly after a rousing meeting of the CHF’s board of trustees. Rank and file members of the parish responded in kind to the appeals made at the pulpit and at CHF’s K to sixth grade school. A Christian sculptor in Utah was commissioned to design a bronze 60 foot Christ reaching down to the hand of a 30 foot bronze child. However, the estimated cost was too high. Efforts to persuade the Utah artist otherwise were unsuccessful and rumors of the artist’s secret Mormonism circulated. Another sculptor was sought. The church found an enthusiastic young artist, Brent Westbrook, from nearby Delaware with the right mix of Christianity and frugality who put forward a proposal to build a simple but formidable statue of Christ out of concrete. It would be over 75 feet tall and with a comparatively low price. With some reservations about the construction material, CHF committed to the project.
In September, just months after Reverend Stokes inspiration, 14 trucks from the Verrazano Brothers Concrete and Carting company began pouring concrete into plywood molds. The statue would be hollow so as to allow the construction of a circular stairway to the head.
After a short delay necessitated by a police investigation into human remains found in the concrete, the soon dried pieces were assembled by crane and stacked. Within days the the work crews could see revealed behind the scaffolding the unmistakable figure of Jesus Christ. The statue faced east to receive the rays of the rising sun and its eyes turned slightly toward northern sky as if having heard a troubling sound in the night.
Stokes and his trustees were thrilled. A ceremony to dedicate the statue occurred Thanksgiving weekend and Stokes and the trustees found themselves in the media spotlight for the weeks that followed. More congregants flocked to the church that would build such a monument to the “prince of peace.”
On April 17th, a year after this crusade had been undertaken when entering the gates of CHF, Reverend Stokes, as was his habit, admired his great statue. However, he couldn’t help feeling that Jesus appeared to be listing slightly to one side. At first Stokes assured himself he was imagining things and stood in many different positions, tilting his head to remove the impression his Jesus was leaning. A busy morning schedule quickly made him forget about it but the following day, when entering the grounds of the parish, he became certain the statue had begun to lean to its left. Calls were made and a county inspector arrived to survey the scene. After personal arrangements were made with the inspector regarding backdating building permits, a geologist from Rutgers University arrived and began taking soil samples and readings on the composition of bedrock in the area. His report delivered the next week contained troubling information regarding the geological formations under the statue that predated the creation of heaven and earth and were selectively rejected by the CHF Trustees and Reverend Stokes. More vexing was that the geologist attributed the accelerated sinking action to changes in the central New Jersey climate. Before CHF could arrive at a reasonable explanation or solution that didn’t involve scientists and construction companies, the statue had begun to straighten by itself. However, Jesus was now up to his lower knee in the ground.
The media, who dedicated themselves to the embarrassing story, blamed Stokes; Stokes blamed the Verrazano Brothers who he thought should have known about the potential softness of the ground; the Trustees blamed both but something had to be done. Bats had also begun nesting in the statue’s head and traps and poison were placed there to prevent the embarrassing image of dark creatures emerging from Christ’s eyes at sundown.
A parishioner, Bobby Jett, who had in the 1960s been involved with efforts to levitate large objects for the peace movement had convinced Reverend Stokes that he and his wife could stop the statue from sinking. After agreeing that Mrs. Jett could use her medical marijuana while undertaking this levitation, the Jetts spent a cold January night sitting at the feet of Jesus chanting Vedic verses which had in the sixties been used to some effect on a tank factory in Michigan. While at first the statue had continued sinking some inches in the night, in the next weeks it sank no more into the ground.
Plans were made to excavate the grounds around the feet of the statue and create the effect that it was standing in the middle of an earthen amphitheater rather than attempt to raise it.
As the weather warmed and summer rains arrived, any attempts to excavate were preempted by the concrete Christ beginning to sink more and to sink with increasing velocity. By the fall, with its chin just over the surrounding turf, the Trustees informed Reverend Stokes that the statue could not be allowed to be “buried alive;” this would send the wrong message to the children of the parish and would cause further embarrassment to the church. The Trustees called for demolition. Verrazano representatives were called in and their recommendation was for placing dynamite charges throughout the interior of the structure thereby removing any symbolism the what was sinking into the earth was a representation of Jesus Christ.
Reverend Stokes could hear the blast as he consoled a parishioner who had found himself bankrupt and drinking; the Reverend assured the man that the lord had a plan for him but couldn’t help feeling a little doubtful.