Just like with Father George and the Catholics’ Sunday Mass mortal sin error, the major disaster on Dean Street was Dan Battle being unable to explain Paul’s teaching on marriage in the Epistles. I saw it as a glaring discrepancy which led me to label Paul as a phony and blowhard. Of course, when one part of Scripture rings untrue the rest falls like a house of cards. When Dan dropped the ball on this one, my confidence in his religion shattered like a heart of glass. After my own rededication in ’93, I would be able to knock this kind of rebuttal out of the park. Unfortunately, the Holy Ghost didn’t give Dan the same gift of evangelism that I would have years later.
At any rate, Dan’s game plan was to groom Israel to replace me as leader of the Youth Group, which I doubt Israel would have been willing to do. When Israel left for seminary, he decided Ismael would be the next Galvan to lead a flock. What he didn’t know was what an ambitious little snake Ismael was. He was helping me plot to undermine Dan at every step while running back and telling what I was up to. Obviously Dan got the Pastor’s consent and held a vote to re-elect the Youth Group members. Dan loaded the group with a bunch of the Cuban kids from downstairs and suddenly, yours truly became yesterday’s news. What he did not consider was the fact that Cuban kids grew up a lot quicker than American kids. As a result, his new recruits weren’t in the group longer than it took to get married and have babies. Rafael Carpio went from a peripheral member of the Youth Group to a seat on the Board of Elders in less than a year!
Sorry to say, but Phillips’ organizational skills were non-existent. When I designed blueprints for my church in ’96, I saw myself as Pastor alongside an Assistant Pastor who would be the prayer leader, along with an outreach minister and a Bible School supervisor. These are the cornerstones of the Church: the preacher, intercessor, evangelist and teacher. Without these separate ministries receiving exclusive attention, your Church will be unable to grow. Phillips had everyone and no one wearing these hats at any given time, and it was a case of too many chiefs and no Indians in the wigwam. I wouldn’t have thought of opening a Church without someone securely holding each position. I can’t think of a time when Phillips had one spot solidly filled.
Dean Street Baptist Church may well serve as a paradigm for what ails the modern-day Church in most communities. Many sectarians have lost sight of Paul’s vision in the Epistles, and see the Church more as a community center than a house of worship or Christian activism. This turns the Church into little more than a glorified social club, and it not only robs the community of its inherent benefits but earns their spite and derision in the long run. Instead of Christians going out into the community to reach their neighbors and save souls, they co-exist in their ivory-steepled churches that the outsider sees as daunting and standoffish. Planted firmly amidst a minority community in Park Slope, Earl Phillips didn’t have a whole lot going on that the neighborhood wanted a piece of.
Looking back, armed with the experience and knowledge of a lifetime along both sides of the fence, I would have to say that Phillips’ and Battle’s fatal errors were fairly obvious. In order to earn the admiration of young people you have to be able to inspire them. We liked Earl and Dan but did not think of them as role models. Alternately, we could sense that Sam Galvan was a pretty tough guy, and we respected it. In my own case, Johnny Favorite always comes off as a cool dude with young people, and I never had problems relating to them. I have always had a solid relationship with youth groups and always expect to in future. It is one major reason why the Spoiler is still able to remain relevant to the younger generation after all these years.
Alma, Sonia and I pretty well left the flock after that. I remember Ismael was heavily channeling Billy Jack, the movie character, around that time and fancied himself a karate expert. He hooked up with another Caribbean ethnic, Hugo, who became his disciple. I tried to talk Ismael into setting up a martial arts tournament at the Church to showcase different skills. Of course, he and I both knew it was an obvious subterfuge for me to kick his ass, and he was never going to make that happen. Hugo was all for it, and we ended up meeting down the road with embarrassing results for me – for all the wrong reasons.
Hugo happened across Scorpion Karate in ’73 when I was there for the long haul, and he began running his mouth about his muse Ismael. This was not the right approach to an egocentric guy like Alfonso Rivera. Still, he had enough class to refrain from sending one of his top guns after Hugo, so gave me the job instead. He set Hugo and me up for a sparring match, and I spent most of the time stalking him while he did everything he could to keep me at bay. The class was having a ball watching the cat-and-mouse game, but went hysterical when I finally closed in on a fallen Hugo as he backpedaled into a wall. In desperation, Hugo grabbed my pajama bottom to trip me up…and tore it from crotch to knee! The guys howled with laughter as I retreated to the locker room to change back into my jeans. Hugo made his point but never returned to Scorpion after that.
Overall, I was developing into a pretty tough guy though the Lord kept me well out of the loop as regards any wrestling aspirations. Looking back at it, I could have easily qualified for the ranks of the WWWF’s jobbers and worked my way up in time to a mid-card spot or better. Ismael, Mark and I attended quite a few matches back in the day and were always surprised to see how normal-sized the guys looked outside the ring. Though the door remained closed, I continued improving my skills for future use, and the time spent was a worthy investment.
(To be continued...)