All my friends listened to this man, but many found him controversial. I couldn’t tell before going there and figuring what made their eyes shine every time they repeated any of his words. I had to squeeze myself in the hotel lobby to get closer to the big conference room door where the sermon was going to take place. I was like a goldfish thrown in a big ocean full of sharks. It was not easy to tell who these people were. They ranged from tuxedos to cheap pairs of jeans and plain t-shirts, but I didn’t care much about who was who. I came all the way to listen to what the man had to say and see for myself.

Nothing there made me comfortable, but I didn’t leave. My curiosity made me keep searching until I laid my eyes on the man. His followers circled him like in a beehive protecting the queen. They must have been blessed to having the chance of standing next to him. I couldn’t tell what the fuss was about, for all I saw was an average height guy, just like me with nothing remarkable about his body, but his sharp eyes glared all the way across the hall as he looked at me. I was lucky his gaze did not last for long before something turned his gaze away. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it; it was because of the crowd, and he must have been looking at somebody else next to me or behind me because we were all stuffed in a tight spot.

I had never been a serious church going man, but I had respect to what anyone believed; that was the reason that drove me to come to this place that night. My intentions were as pure as they were when I bought the Norton Anthology of World Religions and read in it about how people around the world justified why humanity exist. I wanted to know which god different people believed in, and that night was no different. It was the same quest of mine, but the version of god there was that night was not like any other god.

*****

The sermon started with some regular insignificant icebreakers; the man was funny, and he grabbed everyone’s attention and bring their belief defense system down to make way for his own. Those keen eyes did not belong to a stupid man. For a moment, I wanted to leave because it was like a butterfly drawn to light, but it was so tempting to stay; the man was saying what I would not dare to say or wonder.

Grace be to god! Yet, which god are we talking about tonight? I can tell this gathering of people have not come for some old stories about old gods, and the unending causes have bled you out. I bet you are not capable of welcoming any new causes or gods tonight. I won’t be doing either, but I will ask the questions you might have buried deep inside you fearing that voicing them out might bring upon you the wrath of the same god you are trying to question.

Is god such a dictator that after the freedom he gives you, he does not tolerate questions you have in mind to know him better or not at all?

I would not believe in such a god.

Is he the all loving god that promised to love you like his own sons and daughters, but also promised eternal pain and suffering in a fire that keeps burning forever? Is there any love in rewarding our so-called free children only for what we want them to do and punish them for eternity if they do not? Can you find any love in that?

I would not believe in such a god.

Is he the god they wrote about in the scripture telling men what a man would do and what a man would not in matters that matter only to men, decided with a man’s mind as if all the women created by the same god were extras to this one big play played by only men? How could divine orders be divine if they possess the heart and mind and instinct of a man? Would you believe in such a god?

I would not believe in such a god.

Is he a god that tells you this world is but a temporary place, so you don’t be an offender and if someone slaps you on the right cheek, you offer the other cheek, too? That sounds too earthly for who would ever slap you on one cheek and want you to offer the other but the ones in power that do not want to defy their unjustifiable power? Whose benefits does this teaching serve? If that god ever lived in our times, he would make a perfect prime minister or president. Those words have always been the morphine of all time to silence questions you might have of one thing that even a beggar can sell you for free — false hope. Would you believe in a god like that?

I would not believe in such a god.

Is he a god who hires mercenaries to rule in his stead, ones who cannot function without power and gold they collect in his name, he, the all-powerful needs the small treasures we here possess, on earth? Does not every single word ever written anywhere serve the most this army of the so-called god’s mercenaries who realize what they are asking people to do is bullshit, so they have never done it themselves? Does a real god need an army of robbers and mercenaries? Would you believe in a god like that?

I would not believe in such a god.

I can ask many more questions with no reasonable answers, but I bet you already have all the answers, yet you fear the words and chains around your necks for you are still slaves for a god who created you to serve. How can he be any better than a little time slaver? I see in your hearts; you know you were born to be free, and everyone has something worth being said and heard by all. All your imperfections make you perfect as the most beautiful thing about life is its perishable nature. Give me a god who does not respect that, give me a god who wants his own imperfect creations to be perfect or he will burn them for it, give me a god who does not love you as much as you love a stray dog, and I shall not bow.

I would not believe in such a god.

I am not here to tell you about an old god you missed or a new god you haven’t met. I am here to let you decide which god is right and which is wrong. Look into yourselves and find all the divinity you need; all its perfection and imperfection should let you perceive you are divine. It is that god who makes mistakes but knows the best part of any error is making up; a perfect god of black and white; he’s both your right and your wrong, your good and your evil. A good god will let you embrace what you have. There is no need to suffer or make others suffer if their definition of god conflicts with yours. Everyone can find a god inside, a god you need to appreciate, not to control, a part of your body and soul. Search inside, and you will find a god, for everyone has a god inside — everyone is a god.

Today, we will discuss one of the so-called miracles. Well, to start with…

The man kept talking for an hour and a half with the same tone of raising credible doubt calling no one of us ignorant or infidels. He lifted all the burdens off as if he took us on a roller-coaster ride with him with no strings attached. I did not focus a lot on the second part of the sermon, but the first part about finding the god inside stirred me and made me want to learn more about this guy. His destroying any hint of a god did not put my mind to peace, so it was time for me to leave. I was on my way out overwhelmed when I sensed a warm hand on my shoulder; it was such a strange thing to perceive this touch among such a busy crowd, but this hand reached out inside my heart. When I turned, I saw the man in the crowd standing right next to me with his hand on my shoulder. It was the same look I saw earlier, only this time, it was up close. He came close and whispered in my ear,

“A day will come, brother, when you will deliver us.”

That was all he said before he left. I made it back home, but It wouldn’t sleep at all that night. I liked serving something bigger than me, a greater purpose, another god perhaps, but I remembered what the man said about finding god, and since I believed I would find him inside, I feared nothing anymore. I would accept whoever god I might conjure up.

I kept going to the gatherings this man held, whose name I learned later was Gabriel, no last name, nothing else other than Gabriel. The name was angelic, but I would have liked him even if his name was Lucifer.

*****

Gabriel grew in popularity so much that people from around the country would come to him, but soon, the nation was not enough. Gabriel traveled on tours around the world preaching to people from different ethnicities and religions. In less than five years, he went viral just like a YouTube video featuring a naked movie star, but the only naked thing he offered was the truth.

*****

Years passed, and I was a regular in any gathering Gabriel held whenever he was in town. I also accompanied him on many tours. I quit my job and worked with Gabriel, but I was more than just an assistant, I was an advisor and a friend.

We would spend long nights playing chess and discussing the big questions, but intellectual endeavors were not all we did; we enjoyed the company of women who meant to enjoy their time. We did anything we wanted to do as long as we hurt no one else. We were all free. Gabriel was a preacher, but I never felt so free and happy in the company of a preacher before.

He never asked me to do anything for him before that night. All he ever asked was to help him with his sermons, research religions, which I was excellent at. He needed me the most when he would address Hindu, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist people. However, that night and for the first time since I met him, he looked restless, and the smile that never left his face was not so present. He wanted me to help him spy on somebody I never heard of before. The man’s name was Issa, an Arab who claimed to be the Christ. Since I was an Arab with great insight into religions, I was to be that insider. Gabriel wanted me to penetrate Issa’s circles and gain his trust. He said it was because he suspected Issa was the Antichrist, who was a dangerous man and leaving a man like that unchecked would lead people back to bondage after Gabriel led them to freedom.

*****

I spent a few days planning about the whole thing with Gabriel before I traveled to Lebanon where Issa was. Both Gabriel and I agreed not to contact each other in the meantime to avoid raising any suspicions from the part of Issa and his men. My mission was to gather information about Issa and his people, to learn about their influence and preaching tactics, and to find weaknesses in their methods, which we could use to attack them later. At first, I didn’t expect the whole thing would take me over two months.

Issa was still not as famous and influential as Gabriel, but it was a clever idea to smother a small candle before it turns into a raging fire and burns everything.

I rented an apartment near the chapel where Issa used to preach. He was claiming he was the Christ coming for the second time. The disturbing thing was that he accused Gabriel of being the Antichrist and saying Gabriel had already gathered too many people to his cause to cause dissension between man and God by letting every man become his own god.

I listened the man twice, and there was nothing wrong with what he preached. Most of the time he would teach about love and how much we needed to help and love one another, the same typical Christian teachings, but he talked about the world ending if the evil in the West grew. However, there was nothing dangerous this man asked people to do. He never asked them to kill any of Gabriel’s followers or Gabriel himself, but I wanted to see what was happening behind the curtains and away from the general ear of the public.

I took about two weeks to secure a place in a more private gathering with Issa and his disciples as they loved to call themselves. We had many discussions, and there was not much more than what they said in public. I had more tricky questions in mind, but I didn’t want to push it early. After two private gatherings, I voiced my concerns about the danger of Gabriel and how we must deal with it before it spreads, but Issa’s answer was, “You cannot fight evil with evil, only good defeats evil.” People used these words for centuries with nothing to prove they were right. Evil conquered every time because it was far more specific than good. Gabriel was not the Christ in his Second Coming; he never claimed to be, but I knew this man was not, either. How could such a weakling pacifist prevail in his fight against the so-called Antichrist, Gabriel? Gabriel attracted people from all different classes; some were even politicians and decision makers, but who had this man intrigued so far? Beggars, losers, dreamers taking the same dose of word morphine their ancestors before used to take.

By that time, I had learned enough to report back to Gabriel and see what he would do about it. Although, I realized we should do nothing about Issa. He was but a mirage, a lost cause destined to die as soon as his flesh would yield to the ultimate power of death that would find its way to him, Christ or Antichrist.

*****

My report must have impressed Gabriel because he told me he wanted to see Issa and talk to him. I told Gabriel there must have been a great misunderstanding about the Antichrist thing, and Issa was not that man. My influence with Gabriel seemed to grow as I convinced him to sit and talk with Issa, and it was Gabriel who said I would do a remarkable thing one day. Gabriel asked me to invite Issa to come with me to the States.  He did not want me to mention anything about him for that might discourage Issa from coming. We agreed on telling Issa to come to the States to preach without telling him the real purpose of the trip; I was proud because this was my idea and Gabriel was proud of me, too. I assumed Gabriel wanted to hold a secret meeting with Issa away from all the media and cameras to find common grounds between them. I was excited about the prospect of Issa working with us one day.

I took two more months to convince Issa to come with me to the States. I told him that staying only in Lebanon would not do his cause any good, and as I had a lot of connections in the States, we would be in places of influence where people gathered in substantial numbers and had sympathetic ears. I had to make all that up because after knowing Issa for a few months, I kind of liked him. He was so different from Gabriel, but Gabriel himself always asked his followers to embrace the differences people had.

We took the flight to New York, and from there, we took another flight to Los Angeles. We arrived at my apartment early in the afternoon, so I told Issa to make himself at home while I went grocery shopping as the house was empty for months. On the way back home, I called Gabriel to tell him we arrived, and we would wait for him to come visit.

I opened the door, but I noticed something was wrong; I turned around to see what was happening, but a strong arm circled around my neck, and a firm hand with a piece of cloth which had a funny smell was on my face, and soon everything faded to black.

I woke up, and everything around me was black, except for the candles. There were those men cloaked in black gathering around a man in the middle. The Antichrist was there. I was a fool not to listen to Gabriel and be more careful with that Issa guy. I hoped it was not too late for me, but I did not believe in fairy tales.

There was a big cross in the middle of the room. The whole thing was horrifying, and I couldn’t look as there was a man crucified in my house. I didn’t want to see who that man was, but when the man standing before the cross realized I was awake, he stepped aside; it was Issa on the cross and the man standing was Gabriel.

“What the hell, Gabriel? What are you doing?”

“What I must, my friend? He claims to be the Christ, and like all Christs and Messiahs, their destiny is to be on a cross. At least, this time, it is not the cross of shame.”

“How could you?”

“How could I what? Do that, or fool you all this time? Which one hurts more? Not that any of that matters now. I told you the moment I met you that you would do remarkable things, and this is a great thing you are doing for all of us. The man came all the way from Lebanon on a plane with you. You brought him to your house in the middle of Los Angeles to crucify to death. There is no way out of that, and no matter what you will say, no one will ever believe you. You are the one who abandoned the faith of Gabriel for months now, tried to kill Gabriel, but Gabriel was merciful, and he pressed no charges. However, the man was a fanatic, and he left to other places to find other preys. That’s the way he does things, he penetrates the group to reach the leader and then when he is in the trust circle, he tries to kill the leader to take his place. I don’t know but consider all that because the police will ask you about it, so you’d better come up with a decent credible story other than the one with I sent you there and I asked you to bring Issa here. No one will believe you, my little friend, and above all, don’t forget that you are an Arab.”

“I don’t care what happens but why are you killing this man? This man has done nothing wrong.”

“He hasn’t, yes, but he was right about one thing. Evil doesn’t defeat evil, so we didn’t want to spread the word out, not that nobody knows about it, but nobody buys in it anymore. We wouldn’t want people to believe in it again now, would we?”

“You are the Antichrist!”

Gabriel laughed and looked at me as if I was an ignorant child,

“Call me whatever you wish. I am who I am. I hoped I taught you something, but you are still a slave to the old teachings of yours.”

I didn’t know what to say for I was in big trouble with no workable way out. My problem was that I always needed to believe in something or someone, which brought this terrible fate on me. Nothing mattered anymore; I saw the life of that innocent man flying away before me as I could see my life would follow his soon. Gabriel had already left with all his men, but he left one behind, another one destined for great things like me to be my accomplice, but unlike me, he was into doing it. There was no way for me to escape or lie or do anything else but listen to Issa’s last words. The man was murmuring, so I didn’t understand much of what he said right there on the cross, but I picked the last thing he said before he died,

“Wait for my Third Coming.”

Among all the desperation I was in, I wish I had any fancier thing to say,

“Oh, shit!”

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