I had an
e-mail that said: “You may not believe in God, but God
believes in you.” And it reminded me that the last time I
heard those words was on a Canadian mountain in the
aftermath of a forest fire.
They were spoken by a preacher from Saskatchewan who was
reading his Bible by moonlight among the burning embers,
and for some reason it stands out in my memory.
We had been rounded up from our jobs in the sawmill by the
forest rangers along with every other able-bodied man in
the area to fight a forest fire which had broken out some
miles away and was heading our way at full speed.
Taken by truck to a base camp we were split into teams and
sent into the hills, and for the next few days we worked
twelve hour shifts in the blazing heat, digging ditches and
putting out spot fires with metal piss tanks strapped to
our backs. At the end of each shift a truck would come and
take us back to town. But this particular day nobody came,
and at nightfall we found ourselves on the side of the
mountain in the cold and dark.
So we lit a fire, and Dwayne got out his Bible.
He was a Pentecostal preacher and new to the area. In his
spare time he was building his own church in the middle of
nowhere. It was his field of dreams. When it was built he
would simply start preaching and people would come, he was
certain of it.
He told me he had taken the previous weekend off from
building his church to butcher some turkeys.
He didn’t specify whether this qualified as work or
pleasure, and there on the mountain in the middle of the
night I didn’t feel inclined to ask. But I found his
“You were born a hundred years too late, Dwayne. You should
be driving a covered wagon.”
“Oh, how so?”
“You’re like a pioneer. You’re new to the territory, you’re
building your own church, you spend your time butchering
things, you’re fighting a forest fire and you’re sitting
here in the wilderness reading your Bible. Tell me you’re
not Jimmy Stewart.”
“I guess this is pretty different from where you were
“Just a bit. What are you reading?”
“The Ten Commandments.”
“That’s a coincidence. There’s a burning bush over there.”
I meant it as a joke, but he got up anyway, ambled over to
where a stump was still smouldering, and kicked it a couple
“It’s out now.”
“Do you have a favourite commandment, Dwayne?”
“Yeah, one that you hope God would never abolish. One that
really stands out for you.”
“Can’t say as I do.”
“Me neither, but I’ll tell you the one I don’t like.
Adultery. I think that should be allowed.”
That stopped him in his tracks.
“Adultery should be allowed? You think adultery is OK?”
“I was only joking.”
“Adultery is no joke.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“It destroys families.”
“Of course it does.”
There was an awkward silence, so I thought I might as well
“Actually, there’s one thing I’ve never quite understood
about the ten commandments.”
“If you break a commandment you’re a sinner, right?”
“Even if you keep the other nine, you’re still a sinner. So
if you break one commandment, you might as well break them
He looked at me as if seeing me for the first time.
“You don’t believe in God, do you?”
“Not really, no.”
Then, with what appeared to be genuine pity, he said:
“Well, God believes in you.”
I felt mildly irritated by this. It seemed like a cheap
shot (unlike the adultery crack, of course).
“Maybe so, but why does he always get other people to tell
me that? He never tells me himself.”
At this, he closed his Bible.
“There’s a story about a man who falls over a cliff, and on
the way down he grabs hold of a root. He’s hanging there by
this root, and he’s hollering to high heaven, ‘Help me,
God! Please, help me!’
And God says: ‘Sure, I’ll help. What do you want me to
The guy says: ‘Save me. Get me down from here.’
God says: ‘OK, trust me, and let go of the
After a pause the guy says: ‘Is there anybody else up
At this, Dwayne gave me his best checkmate smile. “You've
just got to let go of that root.”
That was thirty years ago, and I’m still looking for a