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A 20-Year-Old Podcast: Special Deliverance, aka "Worldly Darkness High School"

In my sophomore year of college, a room-mate of mine loaned me a tape of a radio drama produced by an organization called Eternal Vision. It's part Pilgrim's Progress, part surreal, and completely thought-provoking.

Great news, fans! The CD is out of print, but you can buy Special Deliverance via iTunes!

Spoiler Alert!

If you have never listened to Special Deliverance, please do so first. I don't want to spoil it for you. Then, scroll down to read the rest of this.

Special Deliverance is a radio drama produced by a group known as "Eternal Vision". You can see their web site at http://www.eternalvisionreturns.org : this is not the Christian gospel music group!

The Story

Right out of the gate, you can tell this is no typical audio drama a la "Patch the Pirate" or "Adventures in Odyssey." It's very fast paced, almost subliminal at times, and tends to be more along the lines of "artsy" than "preachy." If you can get past the quirky character voices of the Principal, Preacher, and Arnold, everything else is seamless.

This is best listened to with the lights down, volume up, and with your full attention. And it's not for kids, though I suspect kids "today" would be far less traumatized than kids in 1985. The conversion scene in the middle of the story is intended to elicit scenes of narrowly escaping Hell, and it's intended to be frightening.

The characters:

  • Alan, a high school student. Represents mankind, aka the listener.
  • The Principal. Satan, no doubt.
  • Arnold, another student. He's a demon assigned to lead Alan astray whenever possible.
  • Dr. Charles Derwin. Take a wild guess!
  • Priest Icely, an obvious lampoon of the darker side of Catholicism.
  • Pompus Pit Pukeus, a sideway reference to the Pope, and a direct reference to the "good works get you to Heaven" mindset. 
  • Various other secondary parts too numerous to list.

When the story begins, you hear a scratchy record "school-marm" voice:

I'm just a piece of plastic
Turning on your table.
I'm here to hope you're--looking for the truth.

You're free to check me out.
Ask me a fact,
or,
You've got to be absolutely sure...

At the word "sure," the voice changes to a male, deep, threatening tone. You hear a few clock ticks, and then someone being ushered into "Room 12," into the "Principal's office."

The Principal tells "Alan" to step forward, and in a condescening mocking voice asks he's nervous of being stared at and put on the spot.

Alan blurts out, "Who in the world are you, anyway?"--a chorus joins the Principal as they say:

The Administration! The Principal! The powers!
The rulers of this dark mess!
Sitting up here in these high places
with tremendous influence over you!

"Why am I here," asks Alan.

"This is school, boy!" replies the Principal. "Spooked 'cause it's your first day? Well, let me tell you what to expect. You're here to experience feelings, so get as much out of it as you can, because you see sooner or later you're going to have to graduate."

Alan timidly replies, "What if I don't graduate?"

"EVERYBODY GRADUATES!" yells the Principal, slamming his fist on the desk.

Alan asks more questions ("What books will I need?" "Oh, any ones you want--except this One...") and is told he needn't worry about breaking rules; the school just makes new rules to allow whatever the students want.

Sound like any world you live in? Spiritually speaking, it's more accurate than we care to admit.

Alan goes to his first day of class and meets Arnold (who is essentially a demon assigned to lead him away from God). Alan wonders if perhaps he could become "religious" to find truth; Arnold eagerly takes him to visit the Worldly Council of Churches, a combination of a confessional and a comedy nightclub. (No, seriously folks!)

Poetic Interlude: "Endless Struggle"

After this scene, there is a brief interlude with some eerie sound effects, leading into the following poem--which is recited extremely fast with multiple voices chiming in, sometimes even in the middle of words. The overall effect is a surreal "rap" or poetry slam of sorts, minus the music.

Oh, you've set a goal ahead--
The resurrection from the dead.

To get there, you will spend your days.
You'll spend your days in strife,
And you'll spend your days in worry,
And you'll spend your days in fear,
And you'll spend your time in hurry
As you've lost another year.

Is it worth it?
All this struggle
trying to earn eternal life?

You're running like a rabbit
So that you can reach the light.

Now you're running is a habit,
and your lifetime is a fight.

But you tell yourself to keep on moving.
It's a chase of your own choosing.
But the time is bound to come
When you will realize you're losing.

But you'll think that you can stretch it,
You're emotion's hot and fired,
Now you think that you can catch it,
But your spirit's getting tired.

Your [unintelligible, sounds like "your warner's way"]
you're forgetting
Natural laws just are not letting you
get any nearer.

If you'd only take the time
To look into the mirror of reality,
You'd find that if you
Set a goal ahead--
The resurrection from the dead--

There aren't many ways to get it.
In fact, there's only one!
It's ridiculous to sweat it,
'cause the job's already done.

You're like smoke without a fire,
You're like yeast without the leaven.
You mistakenly insist,
"But works will us get into Heaven!"

"I know, because my leader
leads me through the gate that's wide!"

So you wander with the crowd
and meander in the tide,
with your back to your Creator,
Who maganimously died
To propitiate your pitiful propensity of pride,
And to offer intervention
And a chance to save your hide!

When the Day of Judgment rolls around,
You'll need Him on your side, man!

To pay off all your deficits,
To help you as your Guide.

To validate your ticket
To get you on the ride
That will give eternal vision
To the ones who occupied,
And will share amazing glory
With a long-awaited bride!

But to you, this gift is foolishness,
Rejected and denied,
'Cause the hardness of your heart
is steadily intensified.

Then your heart will melt away
As you violently cried,
And you curse the Hell
In which you'll be
Abandoned, to abide
In a destiny of darkness,
With your leader by your side...

Then you'll reach the realization
That your loving leader lied.

It's a shame that you distort the Truth,
Though only just a smidgin,
And be dragged into this torment
By relying on religion.

You've missed a lot,
You've not been taught.

It can't be earned,
It can't be bought.

Although you've struggled,
Though you fought--
--Caused yourself a
lifetime full of pain...

The truth is, friend,
That in the end,
The effort of your soul to mend
Has all been done in vain.

You've ignored an act of mercy
For your ritual and tradition.

You've relied on blind ambition
To win(...) you devine admission.

You listen to this world's god,
The principle magician,
Who gives you an approving nod,
And you bow to his position,
And you believe his lovely lies.

But beneath the apparition,
He doesn't care at all
About a Hell and man's condition.

But still, you listen!

What a shame, shame, shame, shame, shame,

Shame, SHAME!

That whole thing blasts thru in a mere 2 minutes. It's intense.

Special Deliverance - Conversion Scene

I've heard this drama dozens of times. I still get chills when I listen to this part.

After tearing away from Arnold and entering a church, Alan reads a Bible for himself, and has an intense inner struggle of his feelings versus faith. It sounds as if you are listening to Alan walk through the woods with leaves crunching underfoot as he walks, and he's talking to himself; you hear the responses of an inner voice of doubt, and also a third voice--the "Spirit of Conviction"...

Alan:

How do I feel right now?
Could I change my emotions and instantly laugh?
Are my feelings so sure,
are my motives so pure
that I'd let them take charge over all that I have?

Voice (doubt):

How do you feel right now?
Are your senses truly important to you?
Do you pick up all the subtle vibrations?
Are you sure your perceptions are perfectly true?
How do you feel when you look at your life?
Do you feel any pain, any worry or strife?
Do you forsee the plight of the course of the nations?
Could the handle be cut with the point of the knife?

Alan:

How do I feel when I look at this world?
Could I turn off my feelings to tune out the cry?
Do I trust these so strongly that--
rightly or wrongly--
I'll let them determine my life when I... die?

Alan:

No... No! [Sobbing...] I feel really rotten right now! I... I... I HATE it here! I hate it... if I could only find a way out... if I could only find the way out... if I could only find the way!....

(The tone shifts to a rapid-fire back-and-forth poetic "battle"...)

Voices:

Don't read that book! Don't read that book!
Don't read that book! Don't read that book!

Alan: 

I've got to read that book to know exactly where I'm going!


Spirit:

You'd better get prepared because the sulfur flames are growing.

Alan:

I just can't put my trust in some traditional prediction.


Voices:

Then don't!

Spirit:

Give an ear to Me, the Spirit of Conviction.

Voices:

Don't read that book! Don't read that book!

Spirit:

Hey, man, you're getting really shook.

Voices:

Don't read that book! Don't read that book!

Spirit:

Open your eyes and take a look.

Alan:

I fell like the angel who rebelled and finally fell,
only I don't want to spend a sealed eternity in--

Voices: 

No, no, no, no, no don't worry, they manipulate with fear!


Spirit:

The Truth is free to anyone who truly wants to hear.

Alan:

If I'm here to gather knowledge and apply my worldly learning,
Then why am I devolving to my everlasting burning!?

At this point, the word "burning" is repeated every couple seconds, as the sounds of... well, what I could only describe as a 30,000 foot view of Hell... slowly fade in.

For a gut-wrenching minute and a half, the drama cuts between a disturbing, awful, distorted voices screaming in torment, then back to a couple footsteps of crunching leaves underfoot in the forest, almost as if the viewpoint of the listener is darting back and forth between the struggle in Alan's spirit and the physical world.

Suddenly, you hear Alan scream, "Oh God, NO!!" It echoes for a few moments in the quiet forest. Then, he whispers, pleading: "Jesus... save me..."

Silence. Five seconds of silence to let it all sink in; this is where I realized I'd been holding my breath...

Then, a female duet sings, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus; it's Sunday-morning perfect, a capella, and completely appropriate at that moment.

At this point, it's only half-way done. The rest of the drama continues Alan's journey of being a Christian in an intolerant, unregenerate, unrepentant world.

My Take

I don't know who Eternal Visions or Rockomedy are, but I suspect that most very-conservative fundamentalists may have shunned them back in the day. This audio drama would be considered too "in your face" and "too modern" or "overproduced." Amazingly, in retrospect, and compared to what it's going to take to wake up today's youth--and compared to what parents are exposing them to far too early--Special Deliverance may seem tame today.

But I still don't listen to it in the dark, alone.

My wife and I have considered rewriting this production as a reader's theatre, putting some faces to the voices. But a full video treatment of the drama would be out of budgetary reach; the images created through the force of imagination urged on by sound are far better than anything we could conjure up on film.

If you know anyone involved in the cast or production of this drama, I'd love to hear their take and see what they're doing now. If I ever find more information, I'll post it here.