Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

Archive for September, 2012

To Forgive a Monster

Posted by flyingbk on 09/19/2012

The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo is one of those nonfiction stories that reads like it’s one of those novels in which the author inserts fantastical twists and turns solely for the purpose of creating artificial tension. With each passing chapter that encompassed the main drama, I found myself frequently gasping and thinking how unbelievable and painful the entire saga must have been for the Nichols family. It’s a story rife with tragedy and heartbreak, but also one that celebrates the lives of a godly couple that truly embodied the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.

The story begins with the marriage of Robert and Ramona Nichols and the miraculous conception of their daughter, Rebecca. Robert accepts a job as pastor at a small church in Sellerstown, North Carolina, where he is welcomed by the congregation with open arms. There is one exception, however, by the name of Horry Watts. He was the rich power broker in the church who loved to sit in the back row (pew number seven) and wield control over all. Once Robert Nichols noticed Watts and his wife’s authoritarian nature, he took steps to strip them of their roles and influence. And that’s when the cataclysm of troubles began.

First, there were the prank calls. Then an unsigned letter filled with accusations arrived at the Nichols household on December 23, 1972. A few weeks later, after the family returned from vacation, they found their house sabotaged: the water pump spiked with fuel oil, a window shattered, the fuel tank filled with 50 gallons of water, and the phone line cut. That mishap, however, was nothing compared to the six actual bombings around the perimeter of the house (and four more aimed at the church). Watts would even stand in the driveway shortly after one of them, taunting Robert Nichols. One bombing took place on July 1, 1975, and shattered the window of Rebecca’s infant brother Danny, who was not even five months old:

In spite of the fact that glass and wood fragments had cascaded into Danny’s crib, she couldn’t believe that he never woke up. Nor did a single sliver of glass or fragment of wood land on his body, which is a miracle considering that he was surrounded by razor-sharp objects.

Had Danny stirred or rolled over, his tender body would have been pierced like a pincushion in a hundred different places. Chunks of glass could have cut his face, his eyes, his bare arms with ease. Instead, as if an angel had covered Danny with his wings, not a scratch was found on him. Momma had been right when she had recited those words just hours before about God’s protection . . . “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust” (Psalm 91:4).

And yet, despite the constant violence suffered at the hands of the evil Watts and his henchmen, Robert and Ramona Nichols continued to serve the church. Rebecca tells of how his mother would encourage her and her brother to pray for Watts. Even as the criminal investigation occasionally sputtered (partly due to Watts’ political clout) and family members implored them to re-locate, they endured. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happens to Ramona, and Robert never fully recovers from the stress heaped upon him.

Ultimately, this book is about the power of forgiveness as the author and her brother are able to forgive Watts (who calls Rebecca while in prison), as well as one of his accomplices. It’s a power they learned from the examples of their parents. Near the end, the author writes about the importance of forgiving others (and the dangers of not forgiving), and this is the strongest part of the book.

On Goodreads, I only gave the book three out of five stars. The story is incredible, but the book’s prose is often overwrought. It reminded me why I don’t usually like reading memoirs; the language is often way too flowery. Here’s one example from the book, when the author tells of the first bombing:

When Alfred Nobel harnessed the power of nitroglycerin and, in turn, invented dynamite a hundred years prior, he must have envisioned its use as a good thing. Perhaps he recognized dynamite’s potential for the mining, farming, and construction industries. He might have anticipated some utility for dynamite in warfare. I highly doubt, however, that it was ever his intention for his invention to be used by a neighbor with an ax to grind.

Was that really necessary? I think not. There are many examples of this kind of writing, and I found myself speeding through a few paragraphs at a time because they were just flat-out unreadable.

But in conclusion, I do recommend this book because it is quite the poignant story. Robert and Ramona Nichols display such graciousness and perseverance in the face of such vileness that their behavior can only be explained by the power of an awesome God.

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