Most of the sorrows of man, I incline to think, are caused by…repining for another world. Alone among the animals, he is dowered with the capacity to invent imaginary worlds, and he is always making himself unhappy by trying to move into them…The world, I am convinced, could be materially improved, but even as it stands it is good enough to keep any reasonable man entertained for a lifetime.
H. L. Mencken ~ “What I Believe”
We visited three churches on our way to Corpus Christie, Texas. They were all small, all Pentecostal, and all unique. I think of them as the Scrambled Egg Church, the Church of Prophetess, and the Church of the One-Armed Preacher.
The Scrambled Egg Church
This church was pastored by a nice, middle-age man. It was our first church stop. The Patriarch held an evening meeting at the church with the pastor and his wife. He preached the commune gospel about forsaking all and following Jesus. He emphasized that God provided all our needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter. We all slept that night on the floor of the church nave.
The next morning, the pastor’s wife made the company a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon. My stomach roiled at the thought of scrambled eggs and willingly let my portion go to the others. The pastor’s wife noticed my distressed condition and offered to fry an egg for me instead. I accepted her offer and ate the fried egg with gratitude. I felt like we were a swarm of locusts, eating everything in the pastor’s cupboards. From what I saw of their church and their home, they were far from wealthy; they probably were just making it from week to week. Face was disgusted that after testifying that God always supplied all our needs, the Patriarch hit up the pastor for food and shelter. I kept thinking about the number of eggs that we ate in one sitting and many breakfasts the pastor’s family could have eaten.
The Church of the Prophetess
In the Pentecostal world, women can teach, preach, prophesy, and pretty much do everything man can do except pee standing up. The second church we visited had a woman pastor. She was pretty impressive. During the service, she called some of the people up to the front where she gave them a word from God. One of those she called forth was Graham, a humble young man after the manner of St. Francis. Brother Graham and Sister Kit had a toddler with them who was a very unhappy fellow. Almost from the day he was born, he fussed and cried with seemingly little provocation. Naturally this concerned Brother Graham who wanted more than anything a peaceful spirit for his little boy. He expressed his apprehension about his son and fear that he was an inadequate father. The prophetess assured Brother Graham that he was doing nothing wrong. Some babies have more to say than others, and his would eventually find a better way to express himself. Brother Graham confessed to asking God about the “why” of his son and apologized for his lack of faith. Then the prophetess said something wonderful.
“There is a difference,” she said, “between questioning God and asking God questions. You may ask God all the questions you want to; He wants you to ask Him questions.”
Oh, yeah! You go, woman! Asking questions is right up my alley. As sick as I was, I grabbed onto that glimmer of hope. If I was miserable right now and unsure of what was going on, it was quite all right for me to ask God about it. This woman of God said so. I did not leave my crochet hook behind after all.
The Church of the One-Arm Preacher
The Fugitive. 1963. Dr. Richard Kimble begins his weekly search for the one-arm man who killed his wife.
I thought about that old television show when we arrived at the third church and met the pastor. He had one arm, and he had lost his wife. However, his wife was not dead. The Matriarch said that she had deserted her husband, either because he had lost his arm or because he was gay – I never did get the straight story. I don’t know if either one was true so I came up with my own reason. It was because of his preaching.
His was truly a church that had bled out; there were only about half a dozen people in the congregation, and small wonder – all he or anyone else talked about was the Apocalypse. The preacher preached about the End Times; then a woman sang a song about the Rapture (“Here Comes the Bride.”) Then the preacher preached another sermon about the End Times. All in all, it was rather sad.
After church, everyone stood around talking about two things: (1) the Apocalypse and (2) a missing husband. Since I already knew about the Apocalypse, I listened to the conversation about the missing husband. It turned out that one of the church members, a young woman about my age, was upset that her husband had not yet come home. The Patriarch shared with us that this particular couple had one of the strongest marriages he had ever witnessed. The girl did not look old enough to have a strong marriage; I mean, doesn’t a “strong marriage” have some miles on it? I think someone raised that question because the Patriarch said that she had been married at fourteen. I guess that made her an old hand at eighteen. Eventually her husband showed up. He had gray hair and looked about sixty years old. He was. I felt sorry for her. I may have been sick and miserable, but at least I had a really cute husband who was my age.
The Household of Elton
The next place we visited was not a traditional church; it was another Christian commune headed by a former communite named Elton. Elton was before my time, but his exploits were legendary. He was known for his enthusiastic dancing, estatic tongue-talking, and slobbering kisses. Face said that when the spirit moved Elton he would grab the nearest brother and slather him all over his face with his tongue. It was the way he showed brotherly love. Elton was almost as famous as his wife, the amazing Dorcas. Dorcas was the prototype Earth Mother. She made the hippie chicks dancing naked at Woodstock look like wannabees. She really knew the Earth, man – she smelled its feet! I had heard tales of Dorcas from the other women. Apparently when it came to all things of home and hearth, Dorcas had no rival. I was curious. Here in Corpus Christie, Texas, I was finally going to meet Dorcas. She was a nice lady. Although she did no supernatural feats with food, she did offer us a place to sleep on the floor.
Note: I did not sleep well that night due to the mosquitos the size of small birds that threatened to carry us away.
Besides Elton and Dorcas, there were three other members of the household. A teenage boy named Red, a young woman named Ruth, and a young man who spoke only French. Elton had anointed Red to be an elder, so Red felt free to rebuke the brothers and regale the sisters with his own style of guitar music. The Patriarch was not amused. Ruth confided in the women that she was afraid of the Frenchman; after that I kept away from him as well as the mosquitos.
We went to the Gulf of Mexico one evening and waded in the water. It was hot and muggy, and the water was warm. I think the humidity and the salt water acted as sort of a marinade for human flesh because that night the mosquitos were fiercer than ever. I was glad when we left the place and headed north to Durango.