Scranton Lives Matter! Ch. 4

A crown of bullets trumps a crown of thorns any day.

Earl Schmidt adjusted the fake gold tiara sitting snug on his head, gently touching the solid copper tips of bullets that encircled his noggin like cubic zirconia diamonds. Christ could have easily taken out those brutal Roman legionnaires if instead of a wreath of thorns he wore a wreath of armor-piercing rounds to load into a rifle and open fire before they pulled hammers out of their cloaks and started pounding nails into his hands and feet.

Earl’s new bride Zerelda sat snuggled close in the pew at their church in the Poconos, the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, also known as the Sanctuary Church.  The newlyweds met on Thanksgiving at the corner of Moosic and Meadow streets in Scranton during a pro-Trump rally. Joined by two dozen other church members, mostly natives of South Korea and Japan, they railed against communism and voter fraud. They praised Jesus and Donald Trump (not necessarily in that order) and demanded the commander-in-chief  be declared the winner in a crooked election.

Founded by two brothers who broke away from their father, Sun Myung Moon’s, Unification Church, Sanctuary believes in standing in the gap between what they determine to be good and evil. Earl saw evil everywhere he looked, even in Zerelda’s big amber eyes that made her look like one of those yellow-eyed tigers Adam and Eve kept in the Garden of Eden before Eve ate the apple and blew paradise apart forever. Earl and Zerelda would have eaten the apple before it even ripened, worms and all.

But, in a surprise move, Earl planned to break away from the church, packing up Zerelda and their meager belongings, mostly survival gear including fully automatic weapons, ammunition and cans of 13 different varieties of Spam to make the move to a new home in Scranton, just 25 miles away. If two Moonie escapees could do it, so could he.

Starting a new action church would be easy. All Earl needed was a couple-hundred-a-month in mortgage money for one of those dumps that once housed a robber coal baron and now sat empty and decrepit just waiting for demolition or a new owner. Whackers who refuse to accept Trump’s defeat would be easy pickings to recruit to the Cathedral of the Eternal Donald.

Earl Schmidt dreamed big. Together he and Zerelda would rule the universe. Or at least make enough money to retire in Atlantic City when the pandemic ended. Such lightning bolt enlightenment doesn’t happen every day.

A week later on Christmas Day Earl Schmidt stood before a packed living-room church loaded with “lost sheeple” praying for redemption. A cross between a local gun show and a high-holy hillbilly snake-handling ritual, the ill-advised and technically illegal gathering in the midst of the rapidly-spreading coronavirus brought tears to the eyes of the faithful.

Earl wept the loudest.

Zerelda also sobbed fat tears that rolled down her face and stained the front of her horizontal- stripe camouflage field jacket. She cried so hard she lost her breath. Pointing at his wife, pistol-packing Pastor Earl Schmidt spoke.

Speak to us in the tongue of the Savior, Earl said.

Zerelda inhaled and screamed the golden gospel taken from the exact capitalized words of a recent Trump tweet.


Devotees high on conspiracy went wild.

Hallelujah, sister! Sing it, sister! Fire in the hole, sister!

With eyes bugging out in rapture, the Right Reverend Earl Schmidt rushed to his wife’s side, knocking off her red and white Santa Claus hat equipped with a blitz action trauma (BAT) bullet headband. Wearing a tight tank top so his new hand grenade tattoos glistened red, white and blue like biceps of mass destruction, he consoled Zerelda. Again he commanded her to deliver the word. Spinning with the ease of former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the season premiere of “Dancing with the Stars,” this armed evangelical madman faced the crowd to demand additional scripture from his wife.

Who is Satan?

Zerelda answered.

Joe Biden is Satan!

Earl Schmidt went ballistic.

Where is Satan from?

From Hell!

Where is Hell?

Now Zerelda’s eyes bugged out as she wriggled like a lap dancer and hyperventilated the naked truth.

Scranton, she said.

A motley congregation of misfits, dishonorably-discharged military veterans, recovering addicts of all stripes and assorted other troubled and easily-led extremists began to chant.



Laying his hand in a healing gesture on top of his wife’s head of stringy blond hair, Earl Schmidt raised his eyes to the heavens and addressed the multitudes.

Looks like 2021’s going to be some hot new year in Hell, he said.

Grinning fiendishly, he corrected himself.

I mean Scranton.