At age seven, Ollie had already begun worrying about death and his eternal state. The growing fear became more like a secret obsession. Maybe it had something to do with that snake dream. Maybe it was tied to the bloodbath of the Goode Bad? A dangerous father? Or, of course, Cindy’s own contagious cloud of repressed fears.
Whatever the causes, little Ollie eventually felt compelled to sneak away from home to a summer tent crusade set up in a hayfield at the edge of town. There he found a spot in the back row where he sat on a wooden folding chair, alone, breathing in the smell of cut hay and hot canvas. The night was humid and oppressive but the boy didn’t budge for an hour and a half as some shouting preacher scared the bejesus out of him. Warnings of that guy’s god’s holy wrath soon had Ollie wheezing; images of shrieking souls roasting in eternal hellfire had him sweating in terror. He could still remember clutching his chair.
The mighty man behind the plywood pulpit roared his truth with such blunt force as to finally scare the little fellow enough to wet his nice pleated pants. But that was not the worst of it. Somewhere near the end, Ollie Goode came to believe—and without any doubt, whatsoever—the devasting news that he had dreaded all along: He was not worthy of love. No, this god had rejected all sinners—even little ones like him. The Almighty had abandoned Oliver Goode to face righteous wrath very much alone.
The boy shuddered. He could barely breathe until the preacher mercifully changed his tone. The man closed his eyes and drew a deep breath as he faced heaven with a smile. He then kindly reminded his exhausted audience that there was a way of escape, “But…God can love you. He wants to call you his own. You just need to do your part. Good news, right?”
Ollie dared a breath. He leaned forward, straining on every word to understand how he might qualify for God’s love.
The first thing he needed to do was to be really sorry for his wickedness and apologize to God. If he wanted to do that, he must then raise his hand to be prayed for. Ollie raised both hands and quickly.
An approving old lady next to him patted him on the knee.
The preacher followed with the second requirement: Oliver Goode needed to believe in Jesus with ALL his heart, mind and soul.
Wait. How could he know if he believed that much?
And what exactly did it mean to believe in Jesus anyway? Like in Santa Claus? The boy shifted a bit and then raised one hand.
The lady clapped again.
The preacher continued. The last thing any sinner who wanted saving needed to do was to make a ‘public profession’ of faith by standing and going forward to the men in ties who would pray with them up front. The kid was suddenly tentative and his hesitancy had him wondering. Did that mean he didn’t quite believe?
The old lady nudged him upward and the little guy found himself standing with about a dozen others to wild applause and lots of ‘amens.’ Red-faced, he marched forward through a sea of approving smiles. It felt good. He hadn’t really belonged like this anywhere before.
A woman laid a white rose on the piano in Ollie’s honor. A strange man in a white, short-sleeved shirt placed a big hand on his head and had him recite words off an index card. Then the man said, “You are now born again. Welcome into the family of God.”
One song later the meeting was dismissed. Slightly disoriented, Ollie slipped away and headed for home. Unfortunately, the devil caught up to him at Blueberry and Washington. What if you have a teensy-weensy bit of doubt in your heart, mind or soul? And should you have been just bit more sorry for all your wicked ways?
Had any of it been enough?
If not—and that suddenly seemed likely—maybe the Almighty was still disgusted. If he died that night he’d be sent into eternal torment after all. The poor kid ran into the cluttered safety of the 7-Eleven and bought a Pepsi. The sweet bubbly calmed him down a little, but not much. Sitting on the curb out front, he calculated that by walking up front at the end he might even have just lied to all those nice folks smiling at him. That’d be another sin for this scrupulous god to count against him.
He wiped tears from his eyes, belched, and reached for his inhaler. A shrink would say he had just been traumatized; the preacher would have said the little boy was being convicted by the Holy Spirit. Call it what you want, love was nowhere in sight and terror was still his close companion.
Anxiety built all through the next day, getting so bad that the boy sneaked away to do it all again. This next evening, he strained so hard to be really, really sorry and to really, really believe that he broke out into a feverish sweat.
Did it ‘take’ this time? Did it stick even if he hadn’t figured out what believing in Jesus even meant?
On the way home, he grabbed another Pepsi.
Still afraid, little Ollie went back for night three which turned out to be a heightened series of threats that included a sermon on prophecy. Turned out that Oliver better get it together fast because Jesus was due to arrive at any moment, and if Ollie hadn’t figured this all out by then he would really be in for it. True believers would be raptured to safety while he would be rejected to face god’s wrath on earth, including the slaughterhouse of Armageddon led by the USSR.
But there was more: When that bad business was over—when his little body finally succumbed to some plague or other terror of warring angels—his hopeless soul would be put on trial, found contemptible, and then tossed into the Lake of Fire to suffer endlessly and alone. The preacher had barely finished that night when a wheezing Ollie Goode had both hands up again.
To this day, the smell of heated canvas and cut hay made him sick. However, a smiling Sunday School teacher later told him that if he was worried about all of that, then he had nothing to worry about. “It’s fear that proves you really meant it.”
Praise for Remembering Stardust
“If you struggle, doubt and are sometimes confused, this is a book that could change your life.”
—Steve Brown, Founder of Key Life Network, Inc. and Bible teacher
“This is a rare gem of a book, one that offers the kind of ‘Ah ha!’ moments in which a story touches the reader’s very core. Heartbreaking and brilliantly insightful, Remembering Stardust provides a path through the guilt and fear of Christian Fundamentalism to the freedom found in God’s sovereign mercy and grace.”
“Remembering Stardust is a must read! The journey of Oliver Goode is one we can all relate to and one we can all learn from as well. C.D. Baker’s writing skills perfectly plop you right in the sixties and make you feel like you’re experiencing the journey right alongside Oliver.”
“Remembering Stardust displays humanity’s longing for connection, forgiveness, and freedom. It exposes the emptiness of self-love, while revealing the fullness of the one and only source of true love. Fear, control, rage, violence, and deceit are displaced by truth, freedom, compassion, romance and love. An insightful must-read for an entire generation—the Woodstock Generation—longing for connection, love and freedom. But also a must-read for any of us wrestling with fear.”
About the Author
C. D. Baker writes from his home in upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Baker founded a business in 1978, was active on public and private school boards, and served several charitable organizations. He loved writing as a child but began a part-time professional career in February, 1994. By 2007 he had sold his business in order to devote himself to full-time writing and research. He is an honors graduate of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, with a Master’s degree in theology.