The Works of Tedd Bear - Novels, Short Stories, Art, Craft and Commentary
Sep
7

Atonement….A Novel

written by Tedd Bear

Disgraced Baptist Minister Plans Return to Pulpit

Associated Press/November 29, 2003

St. Petersburg, Fla., — A Baptist minister whose fall from grace began with a fire his wife set at a home he had secretly bought with his mistress will walk out of prison Sunday and head directly to the pulpit.

The Rev. Henry J. Lyons, 61, expects to be rededicated by other ministers at a ceremony Sunday and then preach a sermon at First Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland, about 55 miles northeast of St. Petersburg, said his attorney, Larry Hardaway.

Lyons will have completed his prison sentence on grand theft and racketeering charges, but will remain on probation for the next three years on federal charges including bank fraud and tax evasion. He owes $2.5 million in restitution.

Wildly popular and charismatic, Lyons was at the height of his power as pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church and president of the National Baptist Convention 1997, when Deborah Lyons set fire to the house.

The resulting investigation unmasked Lyons’s use of his leadership role at the convention to access millions of dollars to finance his lavish lifestyle. Officials estimate that Lyons took about $4 million to buy luxury residences and jewelry and to support his mistresses.

Prison life has left Lyons thinner, but his friends said that more than four years behind bars have done nothing to diminish his skills as a minister or keep him from returning to the pulpit.

He and his wife have divorced, and the woman at the center of the scandal, Bernice Edwards, died in prison earlier this year.

“He can pastor anywhere he wants to pastor in the United States of America,” said Leon Highsmith, a member of Bethel Metropolitan’s deacon board who has remained Lyons’s friend.

Lyons declined recent requests for an interview, but in September, he told the St. Petersburg Times that he is a changed man and said his downfall was caused by his attraction to a wealthy lifestyle.

“I know I need to be stronger morally,” Lyons said. “I need to say ‘no’ to myself and others and mean it and stick with it.”

He said he spent some of his sentence ministering to other inmates.

Lyons rose to power with a blend of charisma, fiery preaching and undeniable political skills. When St. Petersburg erupted in rioting in 1996 after a police officer shot a black motorist, then-President Bill Clinton called on Lyons.

The Rev. James Macon, Bethel’s associate pastor and a friend, said Lyons retains his magnetic personality. “I don’t think it’s anything for show, that’s the Henry Lyons I know,” he said.

Lyons was in Africa when his wife discovered he had bought a $700,000 waterfront home with Edwards, a convicted embezzler who worked with Lyons as the public relations director for the influential National Baptist Convention.

In 1999, Lyons was convicted of racketeering and grand theft.

He resigned as president of the National Baptist Convention and, in a deal with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to five federal charges of tax evasion, fraud and making false statements.

There is support for Lyons returning to Bethel Metropolitan, which has been without a pastor since spring. Lyons’s successor was fired after clashes with members.

Highsmith, who said he was speaking only for himself and not on behalf of the deacons, said there are some within the congregation who have forgiven Lyons and would not object to his return.

“All these preachers who fell from man’s grace, but they didn’t fall from God’s grace,” he said. “All these preachers are doing well. Henry Lyons is the same.”

“Atonement” by Tedd Bear

Prologue

 

 

 

 

 

Jack sat in the back yard of his brownstone in East Atlanta.  It was a fall evening and the leaves had begun to reach full fall colors with oranges, reds and browns dominating the evenings palate of colors.  Even the sun as it began to drift ever closer to the earth blended the fall colors spectacularly with purples and blues dancing across the sky signaling the closing of the day.

 

Indeed the day was closing as was a chapter in Jack’s life.  He had just returned from the funeral of his lovely wife with whom he had shared the best part of his recent life.  As an investigator he’d seen his share of death yet somehow the experience of his own tragedy darkened his normally upbeat sense of things. 

 

Jack was a devout churchgoer.  The son of a preacher himself destined to take on the mantle of servitude to the church, he had chosen to give himself instead to the service of his community and city which he loved so dearly.  Yet now, both his city and more importantly, his God had let him down.  How could God have allowed such a thing to occur?  How could he have taken Jack’s one other love from him?  These questions haunted him, yet he never had he felt so powerless to not only answer that important question, but to also understand how he could be experiencing this at a time when his devotion to God and to his wife were at their highest.

 

He sat brooding over the questions tormenting him since the fatal accident that claimed her life.  And now, the casket’s closing signaled the despair and finality of the decision he had made when sitting in the church listening to the eulogy.  He could not believe that a loving God could take the one person in his life that gave him piece.   Does God exist?  He had asked himself constantly since the tragedy.  If God exists, how could a loving and merciful God be so cruel and so unforgiving?

 

Birds chirped in the trees signaling their young to return to the nest for night’s onset.  The safety of the nest beckoned them.  Slowly the night began to draw quiet as the sun dipped lower and lower into the western sky.  Darkness fell upon the night as darkness fell upon Jack’s heart.  As they say, his heart was hardened against God.  He withdrew into himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

He got up this cool damp Georgia morning not knowing that he would deliver his last sermon today.  He adorned himself with one of his best sharkskin suits.  It was grey and had small barely discernable white stripes marking it.  He picked out one of his best shirts, a pink number with a white collar, in preparation for what would be a great masterpiece of flamboyance and delivery.  He chose his grey alligator shoes to compliment the attire.  I look good.  He thought to himself.    Normally he would have chosen his black ostrich shoes but on this particular occasion he thought it called for a bit more flair.

He smoothed his permed hair into place with his hand after running a comb through it.  He kept himself rather well groomed.  His eyebrows were neatly trimmed as was his mustache.  He felt the mustached lent the credibility he needed without being Moses like by wearing a full beard.    He really did not need too but it made his otherwise common looks appealing.  He was tall and thin and was known to play a bit of tennis when he wasn’t preaching to his church.

As he dressed he thought of the way his sermon would go today.  First, he would have sister Claudia lead them through a soul stirring song.  She could normally get the audience in the right mood to be swayed with her deep oscillating tones.  She had a very strong voice that would awaken the passions of the generosity of his members.

Next, he would take up the building fund offering.  He had always had a little guilt about this one; especially since his new silver Mercedes 500S had recently been delivered.  But he also found it easy to get over this once he drove it. Now, on second thought, today, he would only take up one offering so that he would not seem overly greedy.  So, instead of the offering he would tell the audience of the prayer requests he received that week.  This would further stir the giving emotions in his parish.  Then, another song, this time by the whole choir.  Finally, he would begin today’s sermon.

The killer sat in the audience and listened to the pastor.  He had heard this sermon or any number like it many times before.  Even knew the rhythms and places where emotion would be thrown in for the audience’ sake.  He could not help but think that Pastor Green’s suit would go well in a casket lined with the white satin that the wealthy were buried in.  He waited for the first offering to be announced-typically a building fund he thought.  When it did not come he wondered if what he planned to do would have to be cancelled because of a touch of sympathy for this man.  He continued to listen though knowing that he would not be disappointed.

The pastor began slowly pausing for effect early on in the sermon.  He made sure to catch the eyes of several parishioners as he spoke.

“Now, I know you all have seen that individual, you know who I’m talking about- who walks around as if he is Jesus himself.  Can I get an amen?”

“Amen preacher” the woman next to the killer said aloud.  He continued but the killer was drawn to the woman next to him.

Next to him sat sister Katherine.  Earlier he noticed she was swaying to the song that was being played on the old pipe organ.  She held in her hand a bible.  It was positioned as if it were a shield over her heart. It was there to protect her against Satan’s arrows aimed at her by the liquor stores, prostitutes and harlots in her southwest Atlanta Neighborhood.

She had on what would be considered a sundress in most other parts of the country but here in Atlanta it was just a dress.  It was blue, made of some sort of cotton polyester blend with yellow roses that had a brown center.  It reminded the killer of his own mother on Sunday’s.

Her hair was in braids and they seemed to accent her soft brown skin.  She smelled of a soft scent of musk and rose.  It was not overbearing at all but seemed to give the dress a surreal quality since it bore flowers as well.  She was a mildly attractive woman in her mid 30’s.  The killer would have imagined that she would be attractive in another setting but here she blended in with others in the pews.

She loved coming to the church on Sunday.  It made her feel good to hear the word.  It made her hopeful for another tomorrow where she would be reborn in the glory of her Jesus’ spirit.  Crowned with immortality for a pious life lived in spite of the temptations and sins of her past.  She was saved.

She believed that Jesus himself had reached down and plucked her out of a life of sin and degradation.  Of course, most of the parishioners thought of God as a personal god but Jesus had spoken to her personally and saved her from the evils of drugs and alcohol.

Indeed, in her mind, she was once headed to hell.  She had had an abortion because she got pregnant at the age of 16 by the brother of one of her guardians who were in fact her cousins.  She did not want to have the abortion, however, her boyfriend convinced her that it would work out better for both of them.  Besides, he had a scholarship to play football and when he got out of high school he promised to marry her and have as many kids as she wanted.

Of course, one might guess, this never happened.  He basically began to ignore her once the abortion was completed.  She was devastated and found solace in Pastor Green’s church and had never looked back.  She finished high school and turned her life over to Jesus, giving up dating altogether until she had met pastor green.

Pastor green had given her a reason to live again showing her a way to Jesus while ushering her into his bed.  He cared.  He said she was doing God’s will to serve the pastor as Mary served Jesus-Even as Esther served her husband.  She had wondered why he never offered to marry her and the one time she asked him his excuse was that he must serve all the church and he would make a terrible husband because of all the work he must do to be the salve for God’s children.

She bought it hook line and sinker.  And, although she was not sleeping with him as much as she had, she was convinced that her service to him would get her into heaven.

The killer continued to listen and as if on cue with what he expected, it came.  The baskets slowly passed around the audience.

Deacon Thomas and Deacon Smith walked down opposite sides of the church, row to row passing the basket from either side.  When it got to the killer he put in the role.  In the role of bills was a note for the pastor to meet him at the end of the sermon.  He needed counseling of a private nature.  He was sure that the role of bills would get the attention of the pastor. He would be waiting in the pastor’s office.

He sat in the church listening to the hypocrite.  The killer knew the truth about the man up there.  The Pastor.  He preached all the while dancing around the truth all the while cajoling the crowd into an impassioned and emotional roller coaster.  He worked them over taking them from sadness to fear to happiness all in a rhythmic dance that was learned through years of practice.

Pastor Green continued through his sermon.  It was obvious he was headed towards the end as he began his final admonishing on giving.

“Brethren, I want to quote from Exodus 35:4-29 where it admonishes you to give for the sake of the church.”

The killer would have been more surprised if the pastor had left out this part of the well-rehearsed speech.

“Now, I’m not gonna tell ya how to give or how much to give.  I just want you to recognize that GOD is watching.  Can I get an amen?”

Suddenly brother brown jumped up and shouted.  “AMEN!”

The preacher continued.  “I just hope that you know he looks into the hearts of ALL men and judges you accordingly!”

Obviously any God fearing Christian would be guilt ridden if they did not give at this point.  The killer was angered at how the people could be led so easily down this path.  They were as cows being led to the slaughter.  They behaved as a single mind swaying to the beat of this drum called pastor green.

The killer left without fellowshipping with the rest of the church.  He had work to do.  Besides, he felt as if he would be sick by just communing any longer with these people.  He could not bring himself to suffer any longer.

The pastor’s office was ornately designed to give the feel of royalty.  Typical purple robes adorned a solid oak cross that must have been 6 feet tall on its own.  The pastor had a leather chair behind a very large desk.  The chair was brown oak with leather cushioned inlayed padding.  The padding was studded around the edges and it gave the plush chair the richness required to match the rest of the office.

The office had a prayer bench to one side of the room near a fine leather couch.  The couch looked worn.  The killer could imagine that their had been several intimate “spiritual” sessions in this room.

The room also had very plush carpeting that was red but had purple images of angles flying about.  It was a bit overdone in the killers opinion but it was obviously and expensive carpeting.  He seemed to swim in the carpet as he headed to the couch on the other side of the room.

The room also had a very mild smell of incense probably to cover other human smells that must be common in an office that activities other than preparing for sermons must take place.  The killer sat on the couch and waited.

As he waited for him where he would perform his first act, he was pulled into memories of his own dealings with the preachers of his youth.  He was given what he thought was true knowledge, indeed every word uttered, as truth to him.  They led him down a path of humility and righteousness for the sake of his soul.

He wanted to be righteous.  He wanted to see the pearly gates of heaven.  He knew no better than what had been taught to him.  He strove to behave the way he thought he should, always obeying every command whether delivered by this man of God or by his own parents or any elder for that matter because that saved his soul.

He kept in his mind the punishments laid out by revelations and the admonitions of Christ to his disciples.  He would soon become a minister like him.  He soon would be teaching others.  Yet, here today, he was waiting to dole punishment out to a man that did more harm than good to society.  Soon society would see what he had become and would appreciate this just punishment given to this man.

The pastor entered the room and was immediately surprised.  “I have never met you before have I?”

“No, this is the first time and last time.”

The pastor took a slight step back at this.  His heart began to beat wildly as a drum chorus in his chest.  He tried his best to remain calm.  “What can I do for you this evening?”  The pastor inquired of the intruder belying his nervousness by a trembling voice.

“Well pastor, I am here to allow you to finally meet the one you talk about.”

“I don’t understand what you mean?” The pastor becoming even more uncomfortable.  In his mind he recalled his life as it seemed to replay itself in that instant.

He could see all of the things he had done for good, and yet he could also see the bad that had become his current life.  A sudden shame came to him as he recounted how he had fallen from the path as his love of money overcame his need to do good.

“I know what you have done and I have come to absolve you of your sins. I will offer you a chance to live and go from here unharmed and you will live and never see me again.  That is, of course, unless you tell anyone of this meeting.”  He said this with a taunting tone.

“I don’t understand.  I’m gonna call the cops now!”

At this the killer revealed a knife, causing the pastor to freeze in his steps.  He became a living statue.  “I don’t think that’s a wise idea Pastor Green.  Just in case you think I am not serious let me demonstrate how serious I am.”

The killer leapt over to where the pastor stood with the quickness of a practiced lioness stopping a gazelle.  He quickly grabbed the pastor’s arm flicked his wrist with a practiced motion and lopped off one of his fingers on his right hand.

“Why!”  The pastor screamed in pain.

“Now, do you believe I am serious?”

The pastor began trembling.   Partly from the pain he now felt in his hand and partly because of the new fear that began rising in him anew.  “I believe you.  Now what do want with me?”  The pastor cried out holding the now bloody stump against his chest with his other hand.

“For years you have preyed on the innocent of the world.  You take the money from those that can barely afford to buy food.  And for what?”

“I am doing the will of God.” The pastor said with a certain conviction that surprised the killer.

“How can you say you are doing God’s will when you are basically stealing from the poor just so you can be rich?  You drive in a Mercedes when your church members apply all manner of Band-Aids to their cars just to keep them running.  How are you helping society or these people at all with your false promises of heaven and hell?”

By this time the pastor was beginning to get weak from the pain he felt in his hand.  He could barely comprehend what this man was saying that stood before him in his office now let alone provide reasonable responses.  He managed to squeak out an answer to this new devil that now held a certain power over him.

“I only do what the bible says.  I have been providing words of salvation to my members.  I lead them away from sin.  I give them a path to God.  And for that they repay me with the car I drive and the house I live in.”

“Oh, and what about the women?”  The killer now moved closer to the man cowering like a child awaiting his father’s punishment.  “You only have one chance to live.  Sell your home and cars and return the money to the people in the church as Jesus has commanded of his disciples.”

With this the pastor began to cry.  He believed that his life was worth more but he had worked so hard and made so many deals to get where he was.  Maybe he could negotiate.  Maybe the man in front of him could be reasoned with.

“I could pay you, he squeaked out.  I could give you one million dollars if you would just spare me.”  The pastor was on his knees now worshipping this new god.   A god that now held certain control over life and death.

“I had hoped that my offer would be enough to cause you to repent.  I had hoped that you would move me from this path I have begun.  The killer began.  But just as your bible says, it is almost impossible for a rich man to enter into your heaven.”

The pastor raised his hand in preparation for protest.  But, before a word could be uttered the killer moved with the speed of a striking cobra a slit the pastor’s throat.  As the blood bubbled out the killer turned and walked away not even taking a moment to glance in the preacher’s direction.  He stopped, remembering what he had to do.  He placed the objects on the pastor as he had planned.  He left.  He had more work to do.

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