Richard, Raymond and Rufus (affectionately known as Sarge) were brothers; sons of poor parents who labored from morning ‘till night on the farm in order to survive and provide for their ten children, as well as several unofficially adopted cousins. Their home, a ramshackle farmhouse had an all-purpose kitchen with a wood burning stove and a big table. Two chairs with a board stretched across the backs served as my grandmother’s ironing board, and her iron was a heavy cast-iron one that was heated on the stove. This was also where a washtub would be filled with water, also just heated on the stove, for baths. A door led from each side of the kitchen—one down a path to the outhouse, and the other into a side yard with a well where Grandma pumped all of her water; with dozens of chickens roaming free, at least until she decided it was time for one of them to become dinner.
Shortly after my dad, Richard, passed away in 2009 I told my mom I’d write his biography. Many from our large extended family contributed their memories, but the real treat was hearing some of Uncle Sarge’s tall tales from childhood. His Arkansas dialect is mostly unedited in an attempt to keep the story’s authentic flavor. (Dad on the right and Sarge on the left in the picture–the last time they were together on a cruise to Alaska in 2007, as far from their Arkansas roots as either could ever have imagined.)
“Once I got play’n in some lime out in the chicken house. They used it for puttin’ in the chicken nests to keep the mites and other critters down. Well, Mama saw that lime on my hands and said, ‘Son that could kill you.’ So I freaked out and Richard and Raymond teased me mercilessly about it for months. This went on and on, and the more I was scared about it, the more they went on. I got so scared that I wouldn’t put my hands on my body or in my pockets. I was afraid I was going to contaminate myself and keel over dead. Richard and Raymond would tease me all the time and tell me I was gonna die from touchin’ the lime and then they would try to get dirt on my hands, so I would have to wash them. Finally I got over being scared about it, as I had lived for months and hadn’t yet died. I was sure glad when I figured out in my mind that I wasn’t gonna die from touching the lime, but Richard and Raymond sure had a good time teasing me about it.”
How easy it is to be bamboozled by someone you trust, and the tale of the teasing brothers makes me recall the more serious issue of false teachers. Consider the words of Jesus as well as the admonitions of John and Peter:
Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Matthew 24:23-28
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 Peter 2:1