Sunday, September 03, 2006

New Format: Attack of the Touchy-Feely Presbyterians

It's 10 AM, which means "Breakfast with the Beatles" is over. I've been listening to the show for at least 15 years. When you consider the Beatles only recorded ten-and-a-half hours of music, it's amazing how inexhaustible their genius is. Of course these shows always feature rare outtakes and solo work, but still: ten hours and change? There's another reason I listen. It's my ritual if I don't go to church and I've only been to church once since moving to Mendocino County.

In our town of a little over one thousand, there are three churches: Baptist, Catholic, and Presbyterian. The Presbyterian is by far the largest, so I attended there last week. But the touchy-feely factor was simply too high for me. At the end of the service we joined in a large circle, holding hands to recite the Lord's prayer. And during the prayer request time, as soon as one was mentioned from the cheap seats, the minister would immediately close his eyes, raise up his head, and utter a telegraph to the Almighty. God was much too available there through human affection, and the two should not be equated in my humble opinion. They do offer eucharist at 8:30 AM but that's a tad early for me, though I hope the service is more formal.

I don't want to go to church inhabited by Hug-a-Bunches. I like God at a formal distance and parishioners who don't violate my boundaries. Oh you could say I'm a stiff, that it's my fear and pride that keep me from rolling in human honey, and I'd have no objection. On the other hand, I don't like faith trivialized into an encounter group. I may have to drive to the big city of 6,000 to find a church more comfortable. Then if you live in a place where your psychiatrist wants to hug you, there may be no liturgical relief.

As you no doubt noticed, I have changed my blog's style. This was a necessity in restoring my blog at all. I hope the new design doesn't put anyone off; the old one was boring me anyway. And I promise to restore links soon.

A valued correspondent wrote me and asked, "Deep down, what do you expect of your blog?" Here was my answer: 1) To stay in the writing habit; 2) To have a greater audience for my poetry; 3) To help the mood-disordered, and 4) To keep friends and family informed of my existence. What do I expect "deep down?" That I don't know. Perhaps to broaden my reputation.

Meanwhile Kathleen has been slaving at Safeway's deli for more than a month in order to eventually obtain benefits for both of us, as our medications are prohibitive for starters, although I save a lot of money by ordering them from overseas. Her work also allows us some extras; we bought a TV after living without one for five months, so we're all set for basketball season. Meanwhile we can watch Law and Order re-runs to our hearts' content. We don't have all the dialogue memorized yet, but eventually we expect to be as proficient with Sam Waterston's summations as my daughters once were with the Rocky Horror Show. Just preserve me from the vapidly affectionate Church Show.

Here's a poem that touches on the religious question lightly:

Irregular Couplets for an Inscrutable Deity

First, explain the platypus;
Then, middle-age adipose.

Why do men build dark places to worship the light?
Why are poisonous things so often beautiful and bright?

You should have given them all rattles.
I wish politicians had them. It addles

my brain to think you know all. Why should I pray?
"Foreknowledge is not predestination," theologians say,

but I find the distinction odd.
You're not Cassandra, you're God.

(published in Poetry Superhighway)

At O.5 Kilorats,



  1. Anonymous10:20 PM PDT

    Try the Baptists, they probably will not hug you until you have been around for a while.

    Why do men build dark places to worship the light? Sometimes I wonder, is it because we are just a little bit afraid of the light?

  2. The search for a church can be discouraging - I've been trying for years, but I find there's no real balance. They're either too new-agey for me (I don't know if it's this way all over, but down here every church seems to be incorporating new-age ideas into their services...?) or they're so cold I feel like I've crashed a private party.

  3. But Baptists wear those scary white belts and white shoes and endorse obesity with endless potlucks. And some of the more charismatic are huggers.

    Twitches, yes. That's why I'm most comfortable in a liturgical setting, but I don't want to go Catholic, because as a Lutheran I was raised to believe in consubstantiation, not transsubstantiation. Hope I got those big words right. I'll get you back on my links soon.

  4. I'd been meaning to ask you what you expect of your blog. I was rather
    concerned and dismayed at your repeated references to the number of hits.
    You don't strike me as the kind of guy who'd give a damn about that kind of
    thing. Besides, as I've previously mentioned, the number of hits is
    meaningless unless they were to represent individual hits by individual
    readers. As a blog reader who often visits the same blog multiple times in
    a day, I alone could be responsible for 5 or 10 hits thus rendering that
    system of counting meaningless.

    So, after all that rambling, thanks for answering that question I never
    asked of you.

    I like your line that questions the building of dark places to worship ligh;
    it reminds me one of my favorites by Frost that ends with the line about
    scaring myself with my own desert places.

    And I like the line that questions the beauty and brightness of poisonous
    things. Makes me think of those beautiful golden frogs that live only in
    the uppermost canopy of the rain forest that are being destroyed in South

    Soon, everything will be extinct except racoons, cockroaches and coyotes.

    I like your blog's new skin, sir.


    ps: Wasn't life sans TV peaceful and quiet?

    How is your dog? (guess I'll scroll down through and see if I can find the
    answer myself...)

  5. Laurel, Kenyon is fine except for arthritis in his left foreleg, where he has arthritis that gives him a limp. But at 11, he still swims like a champion, his retriever/Newfoundland heritage. I gotta find a picture of him to post here if I haven't already.

  6. You must have gone to the wrong Presbyterian Church. Anne Lamott describes Presbyterians as "God's Frozen People" and my church lives up to that name at the traditional service at 11:00 am. The parishoners start getting antsy before the benediction, already fearing the time when they will have to shake hands and "pass the peace" before scuttling out the doors. But the hymns are great: all the ones we grew up with, "Love Divine" and "Children of the Heavenly Father" to name two. Come on down to my church for all the formality you can handle...

  7. I had the pleasure of visiting your church on one occasion but seem to remember being in a down cycle at the time. You're right, of course; I attended a Presbyterian church during medical school. It was a tad warmer because it was Texas. Just watch out for the gray ponytailed men and the organic women with gray hair with long gray hair and no make-up-- admirable traits in staying natural, I suppose.

    What I'm trying to say is that I think our local Presbyterian church has been transformed by the local ethos. The 60s aren't over, they just moved north.

  8. Anonymous7:31 PM PDT

    I really liked the poem. Do you mind if I compare it a little to Ogden Nash in places? Or maybe e.e.cummings.

    I'm having trouble with churches too. My lefty Episcopalian church seems to have gone nuts and fired our rector who was lesbian but didn't bring in enough pledges. So the dollar triumphed over ideology and faith.

    I like the liturgy. It provides a frame for meaning but I chafe at the announcements and the birthday prayers and such.


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