Day of Reckoning

The Man in Black has his Come-to-Jesus meeting

Editors, too.

And that's what the Man in Black told Lohse's congregation. Preaching from the text of a bent and blackened spiritual upbringing -- and poaching shamelessly from the Book of Ray (King Hartmann Version) -- he copped a plea of being deliberately provocative, rude and mean-spirited with that sacrilegious cover. Part of a newspaper's job is to anger, edify and annoy by poking a sharp stick at town's sacred sheep.

And to sell papers, too.

But behind all of that was the remembered teachings of a churchgoing youth. And the example of a mother who still talks the talk and walks the walk of a deeply held faith, a woman who would no more make a showy declaration of her private beliefs than she would follow her son into a saloon.

The cover in question wasn't meant to be a shot at Jesus or a slap at Christians, he told Lohse's flock. Nor was it the bigoted pope-bashing Catholics have historically had to endure in this country. And it sure wasn't meant to stifle any and all public expression of a private faith, be it in God or Allah, L. Ron Hubbard or Emperor Haile Selassie.

But it was a slap at those who would cheapen the coinage of God by trotting out a religious gesture or catchphrase as they would a high-five or touchdown dance. And it was a slam at those who stake an egocentric claim on a deity's grace, a line Kurt Warner crossed when he suggested the Rams were a team of destiny, assembled by God to win another Super Bowl.

Sorta like the Germans claiming it was God's will that they steamroller their army through Belgium to start World War I. Or the Rebels and Yankees holding their religion high as they slaughtered each other at Gettysburg, Shiloh, Chickamauga and Wilson's Creek. Rivers of blood have been spilled in the name of God and Allah and Buddha, as all of us were reminded on a morning of fire and death just six months gone.

People of any faith need to remember this grisly context when they bear a very public witness to their belief. They also need to be aware of the constant electronic braying of Christian mountebanks such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who blamed Sept. 11 on gays, lesbians, liberals and abortionists.

So ended the sermon from the Man in Black, lapsed Baptist and bourbon's own backslider.

Lohse was kind enough to ignore such windy presumptions by comparing the cover conflagration to the trials of Salman Rushdie, hit with an Islamic death contract for writing The Satanic Verses. Rushdie, said Lohse, meant the book to be a tribute to the very people who burned it in the streets .

The good pastor, blessed with the soul of a coyote, even said the Man in Black did a spiritual thing, lancing the boil of public despair. A joke, right? Maybe so. But Lohse sure looked sincere when he said this:

"What you did was almost pastoral. You were showing the dejected fans and naming it rather than pushing it all under the rug. You named the disease, and after you name it, you can cure it."

Unwarranted praise. Unworthy placement in high company. And, being a failed Baptist, the Man in Black had another religious analogy in mind as he returned to his pew and thought about his new hometown.

It was a decidedly Old Testament story:

Daniel in the lion's den.

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