Parks And Gardens 2: You Get Used To It

That first summer on the Parks was warm, with sunshine almost every day. I was enjoying myself, and I was learning a lot. By now I could mow lawns and edge them off, turf bare patches, turn over flower beds, sweep paths and scrub pots, mulch borders and mix concrete; and I was even allowed to drive the dumper truck from time to time. It was all good.

A few weeks after I’d started, another young man had been set on. To my surprise, I knew him: it was Peter R. He’d been in the same class as me through most of secondary school. Like me, he’d had enough of the groves of Academe, and wanted to do something entirely different. I was pleased to see him. He was company for me.

It was a busy morning: both of us out on the lawns, mowing, emptying the grass boxes into a cart, then wheeling the cart to the river beyond the potting shed, and tipping the grass down the steep slope to where it was whirled away by the rushing waters. That was what they did, back then.

Twelve o’clock came. After we’d eaten our sandwiches, we sat and talked for a while, then we strolled into the yard. John the wagon driver was talking to the foreman. “Right, lads, a little trip out for you this afternoon!” 

This was unusual.

"Where are we going?"

"You’re going to help John load the wagon.”

It wasn’t really an answer, but what did it matter? We were young and fit, and ready for anything. We climbed into the wagon, and held on to the struts at the back of the cab. We went out of the potting shed yard, up the slope to the main entrance, then picked up speed going into town. It was hot, and we were glad of the breeze it created, even when the bumps in the road had us bouncing up and down.

Where were we going? We went through the town centre towards its drab outskirts, to an area of old mills, scrapyards, warehouses and wasteland. We slowed down: the road was rutted and the cobblestones were showing through the tarmac. There was litter in the gutters and dust in the air, and - and what was that smell? 

The wagon turned in through tall iron gates, into a flagstoned yard, and the smell was even stronger. Then, incongruously, we heard the noise of animals: cattle, seemingly, but the sound was muffled by the grimed stone walls of the building in front of us, and mingled with thuds, the whining of machinery, and something like circular saws at work.

John jumped out of his cab, and waved us down off the back of the wagon. “And bring them shovels with yer, lads!” Then he lowered the tailboard and backed up to a concrete enclosure with walls about five feet high. He smiled down at us. “Right lads - in yer go. Fill it up!”

Perhaps you’re thinking that we were a bit slow on the uptake: we should have realised by now that we were at the local abattoir and that one by-product of the slaughter of sheep, pigs, cattle and other creatures would of necessity be the contents of their intestines, in many and varied stages of digestion. But what did we know? We had led sheltered lives, and hadn’t immediately made the connection between the fragrant red roses of the park’s formal gardens, and the noisome contents of this huge concrete tank.

There were steps up the side of one wall. We climbed them, and looked in. I will spare the sensitive reader a detailed description of what we saw - if you care to, you can imagine the contents, and then add fragments of flesh, chunks of offal, and other unnamable objects that would not have been out of place in a zombie apocalypse.

John was getting impatient: “Come on, get on with it! You’ll get used to it after a bit!”

It wasn’t what it looked like: it was the appalling, overwhelming, gut-wrenching stench that got to us. As we stepped into that miasma, a cloud of flies rose into the foetid air and…

No, I’ll stop there. You might be having your tea.

But John was right. At first, we had to break off every few minutes and just walk away, choking and heaving. Then we managed ten minutes or so, then a quarter of an hour, and then longer. When an hour had gone by, we were almost acclimatised; and after that, we only stopped for a break when our arms and backs were aching. I’ve never smelled anything like it in my life, before or since; but, John the wagon driver was right: we got used to it.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we were finished, and John dropped us off in town. Our boots were caked with filth, and our jeans were soiled up to the knees and spattered above that. Peter headed for home, but I had some shopping to do. I noticed that other customers gave me a wide berth, and shop assistants seemed reluctant to serve me. “It’s because I look a mess,” I thought.

I was still living at home. As soon as I walked in through the door, my mother recoiled in horror. “Clothes! Off and in the backyard now! Then get in that bath!” Surely, she was overreacting? 

No, not really. It was just that I could no longer smell myself at all. But to everyone else, I stank to high heaven. 

Regular readers will know by now that there are many things about the soi-disant Contemporary Christian Church that I do not like.

I do not like churches where the Social Gospel has been welcomed in at the main entrance while the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been ushered out of the back door.

I do not like churches which have become happy hunting grounds for predatory homosexuals or feminists whose god is their gender.

I do not like churches where pastors proclaim their allegiance to one set of doctrinal standards at their ordination and then, having got their feet firmly under the table, they proceed to preach another gospel altogether.

I do not like churches in which groups of people claim to have supernatural gifts and yet can offer no evidence of such beyond the ability to babble incomprehensibly.

I do not like churches where people are promoted to positions of authority on the strength of their professional qualifications rather than unpretended piety.

I do not like churches where the gross sins of members or officers are either ignored or covered up “for the sake of the church” (which means for the sake of the individuals who have sponsored or otherwise supported the sinners).

I do not like churches that sponge off the state by calling themselves “community centres”, hiring out their premises to any unbelievers who can pay the asking price, and compromising the gospel for the sake of additional income.

I do not like churches that… No, that’s enough. We’ll be here all day. 

Do I sound embittered? That’s because I am. The stink of that afternoon at the abattoir came off my clothes after a couple of washes. A good scrub in the bath rendered me fit for company once more. But the stench of false teaching, fabricated testimonies, pretend friendships, and meanness and malevolence lingers in my memory; I trust that I will be spared for the time that it will take to repent of my hardness of heart and unwillingness to forgive.

That reminds me: I keep meeting people from churches of various persuasions who insist that the Second Coming is almost upon us, the signs are all there for anyone to read, these are the Final Hours of the Last Days of the End Times, no doubt about it! They seem pretty chipper about it. Here is an interesting extract from Amos 5.

18 Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, 19 as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. 20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? 21 I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. 23 Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. 24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I wouldn’t normally quote from the NIV, but its rendering of verse 21 is a little more accurate than that of the ESV. 

I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.

Would it be wrenching that text out of context if we were to apply it to the Contemporary Christian Church? I’ll leave that one with you.

However, if you are aware that you belong to a church that has gone the way of any of the churches I mentioned above, then you need to pray that God’s Holy Spirit will change that church. If change does not take place, then you need to exchange that church for another, one where Jesus Christ is both Saviour and Lord in preaching and in practice.

"No, there’s nothing wrong with where I worship!” That’s fine. But do make sure that you haven’t been deceived. You don’t want to end up like me, many years from now. 

Like those who work in an abattoir day after day, constantly breathing in the stench of death and decay - you might just have got used to it.