Ecochondriacs [9]

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Accidental Gospel

Montenegro Cash was the kind of television evangelist who sincerely believed in milking the faithful, which is what he faithfully did. Whatever negative stereotypes the reader might have picked up about televangelists, in this case they were not stereotypes at all—they were basically true. This one had no personal faith in God at all, but he did have a great deal of personal charisma. If he had not gone into the ministry, he would have gone into the musical entertainment industry, and would have done very well there, and for all the same reasons.

He was gifted and glib, he was smart and sassy, and he was telegenic. His smile had to be seen to be believed, and he could sell just about anything to just about anybody. The product that he always had the most success with was his ability to sell himself from virtually any stage in the world. He was a settled atheist, but one of the things he had decided early on was to never tell anybody about that. If there was no God, then he was going to look out for old number one. And in the circles he was going to be traveling in, saying that there was no God was not the way to get ahead with anybody. Why alienate most of the potential customers and consumers in the world, right off the bat?

Montenegro had to deliver biblical messages all the time, every night, and so he was on the clock constantly, but couldn’t be bothered to read or study the Bible for himself—he was a busy man. But he had a staff of three writers who were smart enough to read and believe what they were reading, but who were also—if we are being frank here—goobers of unbounded and amiable gullibility. They knew just the kind of thing that

Montenegro wanted them to extract from the text, and so extract it they did. And they believed all of it, too.

One time they had given him a little monologue, which he had delivered straight to camera, which argued that if you divided the name Adam into two words, a dam, you could see how easy it was for our humanity to become a blockage to the divine energy. If you wanted the energy to flow, you really needed to blow up that dam. It had occurred to Montenegro while he was delivering this particular message that this also had the added blessing of freeing up all the spiritual salmon, but he didn’t say anything about that.

Montenegro was quite successful at what he did, but not so successful that he could get his show out of the middle of the night yet, the place where it was currently stuck. But breaking out into the big time was just a matter of time, Montenegro knew. As for the present, when he was musing philosophically about it, his current time slot was probably all for the best—because the kind of thing he was selling might not work that well in the broad daylight. When it was time for him to make his move, he could gradually modify his message.

One of his staff writers had gotten pregnant about a year be- fore all this, and had had the baby about three months back. The original plan had been for her to return after her maternity leave was complete. But she had discovered, after about a week home with her baby, that she adored her baby. In fact, as she said to herself, about a week after that, she loved her baby significantly more than she loved her job. Two weeks later, when the baby had started to do amazing things like gurgle in adorable ways, she told her husband that she loved being a mom far more than she liked writing piffle for Montenegro Cash. This led to quite a fruitful conversation with her husband, who had been calling it piffle under his breath for a while already. And so she gave her notice, which started a chain of events in their lives that resulted in them joining a local evangelical Presbyterian church and disappearing from our story.

This is only mentioned because this created a sudden and unexpected job opening at Montenegro’s studio, and in the rush to get somebody, they accidentally hired someone who had an actual supply of actual Bible knowledge. This young man’s name was Owen Swallow, and he had actually attended a classical Christian school in Baltimore. He was whip smart without being whip wise, which meant that he had far more biblical knowledge at his fingertips than the usual staff writer there at the studio had, meaning that there were fewer Wikipedia rabbit-hole searches, but it also meant that he was clueless enough about what was going on in the ministry of Montenegro Cash to not struggle with any conscience-ridden sleepless nights.

Owen had been working there for about a week when he was thrown onto his own devices. Both of his experienced co-workers came down with a virulent flu, and so Owen had to produce something for that night’s monologue all by himself. He had learned the ropes well enough to know what the word count needed to be, and what the cadences needed to be like, but he had not mastered the entire groove yet. And so, in that “think fast” moment, he retreated to all the chapel presentations he had ever heard, which was a pretty large number, which in turn meant that a good deal of actual gospel got into the monologue. This resulted in Montenegro Cash saying what the hell to himself several times while delivering that particular monologue, and making a mental note to have somebody talk to the new guy. Be that as it may, he still delivered what was on the teleprompter—no time for a rewrite—and he delivered it with his usual panache and aplomb and charisma, and all of it wreathed in radiant smiles.

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Mark H.Kristina ZubickyriosityJaneB. Josiah Alldredge Recent comment authors

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B Josiah Alldredge
B Josiah Alldredge

This reminds me of a scene in a Horatio Hornblower novel, wherein the protagonist, a decided nonbeliever, nevertheless leads the men of his ship in worship with the prayerbook. A plus for the argument for settled liturgy, which can be read by a non-believer, yet still minister to the souls of men. God draws straight with crooked lines.


That’s similar to my own story. I was raised in one of the kinds of denominations Doug likes to spoof for their arid liberalism, but wouldn’t you know our congregation still used a historic liturgy, and dang it all if I didn’t hear the gospel every week, even if the pastor spent some amount of time trying to soft pedal it and make sure we didn’t get TOO zealous for it all. The power of hearing confession of sin and absolution based on the work of Christ week after week because that’s what the liturgy said, enabled me from a… Read more »


I know someone who was saved in a *Unitarian* church because the old-school minister there still read from the Bible.

Kristina Zubic
Kristina Zubic

Love the Hornblower novels! (Now I’m wondering how this con artist Cash gets into the story…)

Mark Hanson

We were on a cruise around England, Ireland and Scotland at the time of the London bombings in 2005. I remember the Sunday after, the Captain led a prayer-book service. No preaching, just Scripture, hymns and prayers. I remember how it fed my soul during that time.