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Lunch With Gods of Theater And Church

Three college students from the prosperous suburbs of Birmingham, Ala., were arrested yesterday in the burning of nine Baptist churches last month in rural Alabama. Federal officials said the fires were a "joke" that spun out of control while the students were deer hunting.

How do you burn a church down as a "joke"?

After initially setting ablaze five churches in the county just south of Birmingham, two students burned four additional churches days later in more remote areas, hoping to divert investigators, the authorities said


I'm going from memory here, I may be paraphrasing, but Harry Blackstone, Jr. once gave fledgling magicians a bit of advice about what to do when something goes wrong with a trick:

"Talk fast and point the other way."

Which probably turns out to be pretty effective advice when you are trying to produce coins from behind people's ears, or rabbits from hats, and you come up empty-handed. Less effective, it seems, when burning down churches. Perhaps the kindest thing we can say about these boys is that they aren't very good magicians.

Mr. Moseley and Mr. DeBusk were active in the theater program at their college, acting and helping backstage. This year, they performed in "Extremities," and Mr. Moseley was to appear in the spring in "Young Zombies in Love."

Ah! This explains a lot.

As it happens, just yesterday I was having lunch with God of Theater when God of Church happened by.

"Look here," God of Church said with forced amiability, directing his remarks to God of Theater, "what's the idea of having your minions burn down all these churches?"

God of Theater chuckled.

"Oh, well, you know. It's not as if you haven't burned down your share of theaters."

"Nasty filthy places," God of Church said. "I was doing the world a favor."

"Without question."

God of Theater leaned toward me, smiling, and indulged in a bit of stage-whispering.

"He's just embarrassed by his bastard children."

"Not a bit of it!" God of Church harrumphed.

"They have pretty reliable tests for paternity these days," I added helpfully.

God of Church waved his hand at me. "Mind your own business."

He faced God of Theater. "I suppose you think it's very clever of you, having your little theater minions burning down my churches. Well, they are going to pay for it, I assure you."

"Yes, I know," God of Theater said. "We always do."

"There's such a thing as property rights, you know. Not to mention the affection people have for their buildings."

"Indeed?" God of Theater remarked with exaggerated interest. "And what about the property rights of all the theaters you have burned down over the ages? Not to mention the affection people had for those buildings."

"That's different. Filthy, disreputable places."

"You said that already."

"The people were glad in their hearts that I did it."

"No doubt. Certainly they preferred you burning their buildings in lieu of themselves."

"Mark my words. There will be hell to pay."

"We've been hell's paying customers from the beginning."

"There's no talking to you."

"Perhaps the waiter could fetch you some matches? It's a non-smoking environment, though, and I can't promise not to produce smoke if I am set ablaze. It's more than you can ask of any man on fire."

God of Church glared at me.

"You are known by the company you keep, you know."

I considered this a moment. "Yes, I've heard that." I lifted the teapot and held it above God of Theater's cup.


God of Church looked shocked. "You approve of what he's done!"

"No, not particularly." I set the teapot down. "But I can't pretend there isn't a kind of rough justice to it."

"Outrageous!" God of Church roared. His adequate jowls flushed a deep red, then he turned and stormed from the room.

God of Theater played with his spoon for a moment, smiling slightly, then he leaned toward me.

"You are a very bad man, you know."

"Yes, I do know that, but thank you for reminding me. Another water biscuit, perhaps?"


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