Illogic in sermons

I sometimes attend Sunday school at various liberal churches. The service itself is another matter because I usually take issue with the sermon. From last Sunday at the United Church of Christ.

Says Jesus:
“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on…. Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

Thinks Lowell:
“What is the basis for this comparison? I might be better than birds in some ways, yet I lack the ability to fly, and I have no internal compass to guide me across oceans and continents? Besides, Jesus, isn’t it a little self-serving to choose birds for your analogy—why not beavers or squirrels, animals that are obliged to make provision for tomorrow? Finally, what happens to the bird that becomes unable to catch fish or insects—does the Heavenly Father still feed him? I think not.”

Says the preacher from the preceding Sunday:
“My friend the atheist says, ‘Show me God,’ and I respond, ‘Come to my church, and you will see him in the people there.’”

Thinks Lowell:
“Huh?! How do you know it’s God that makes people act differently in church. Would it not make just as much sense to attribute their behavior to space aliens or formaldehyde emissions from the carpet? Or how about this; how about they act differently because they’re in a controlled environment in which niceness comes easily, is socially obligatory, and can be dropped before lunchtime?” Lowell then looks around to see if anyone wags his head or smiles wryly at the preacher’s blatant example of begging the question. No one does, and he wonders if they were listening.

The service moves on. Near the end comes a ceremony for those members who died since last Memorial Day. Their family and friends light candles as their names are called, and then “Shall We Gather At the River” is sung. Lowell gets misty-eyed. As he tries with limited success to pull himself together, he asks himself why he was touched? Did he catch a glimpse of THE truth that must elude any preacher’s faltering logic, or was he simply reminded of those many people he sang this song with a half century ago, people he cared about who are now dead? Occam’s Razor (the simpler explanation is more likely to be true) would favor the latter, but he cannot be sure. The mystery is ever before him.


We just took our first camping trip of the year, a two-nighter to the Old Cascades. Windfall had the road to our destination—Windy Pass—blocked, so I got out my new Gerber backpacking saw and my old Boy Scout handaxe, and went at it. After clearing a few blockages, we began to suspect that the problem wasn’t so minor as we had hoped. We unfolded our bikes and set out to see how far the windfall continued. After a half-mile, we gave up.

We camped in the road, right at the spot where we had stopped our clearing efforts, and tried another road the next day. It too was blocked, so we tried a third. It had a few blockages, but nothing we couldn’t handle. After finding a congenial campsite on an abandoned logging spur, we set-off up a jeep road on our bikes, but ran into snow at 3,500 feet. We can bike over firm snow, but this was so mushy that we found it hard to even push our bikes through. Soon the snow grew deeper, and the areas with snow became more numerous than the areas without snow, but we persisted for two miles.

The third day, we descended to 2,500 feet, and found a biking route that was idyllic. Warm but not too warm; sunny, but with just the right amount of shade; a singing brook every quarter mile; myriad wildflowers; tender new leaves; and, of course, the company of my young bride. I never had a better day. The only downside was that I drug the blade of my saw across the back of my fingers and hit an artery. I was dreadfully embarrassed, the more so because I had drug the same saw across the same hand the day before but with less effect. The bleeder made me pretty much worthless for purposes other than holding my tightly bound hand in the air, but I had been in the process of cutting the last downed tree that lay between us and home anyway. Peggy will now be doing dishes for a few days.

I often think of living in the woods, not in a house, but in my van. I would camp at the end of abandoned logging roads, and hide their entrances with brush. When I tired of one spot, I would move to another. I know this is a fantasy that probably looks better in my imagination than in reality, but it’s an old fantasy, and one that I might try someday.

Lilies and Car Tags

We are having our first warm days since last fall. I bike amid greenery, my wheels afloat, winter’s gray defeated by color.

I’m selling my car tag collection on Ebay. Between Ebay and Craig’s List, I’ve sold seventy items this year—two air purifiers, some tap dance shoes, a $450 backpack, a Champion Juicer, a climbing helmet; all stuff that weighed on me. But then all that I own weighs on me; it’s just a matter of what I’m ready to let go of. Right now, my father’s potted lily is in the driveway waiting for a passerby to give it a new home. If he had bequeathed me a compact cactus, I would have been okay, but his lily has all the exuberance of a Walt Whitman poem, and I never wanted it. For the fourteen years since he died, it has resided on a table in the den making it impossible for Peggy and me to see one another when we watch TV. A thousand times, I’ve wanted to get rid of it. Now I am. Maybe. My father’s lily defines my relationship with the things I own.

Louisiana car tags from the fifties and sixties bring up to $80. Alabama does well too, but Mississippi tags often fall short of Ebay’s 99¢ minimum. I’ve written a couple of times to a man in my hometown of Brookhaven, a man I met on Ebay. He collects Mississippi tags, and I tell him he’s lucky, because he can get them cheap. It’s better to treasure things that no one else wants. When I was a boy, I collected model horses, and would look through store shelves for any that had broken legs. I wasn’t trying to save money—I didn’t even know I could save money—I just knew that no one else would want them.

I have a molasses jar full of Pacific Ocean beach sand that I bought at an estate sale in Minnesota. The jar was filled on Friday, July 25, 1952 (according to the writing), and I bought it because I knew that it would be thrown out. I verified this by returning to the sale when it was closing.

I once thought that I would be happier if I didn’t own so much. Now, I’m not sure; I just know I feel lighter, because ownership—at least of the nonessentials—represents slavery. Peggy and I spent a summer in Fresno where she worked as a traveling nurse. We only took with us the things that would fit inside our Ford Tempo. One of my fondest memories of that summer is of only owning one kitchen knife (a Buck hunting knife that a brother-in-law had given me). Since it was only one knife, I kept it on the countertop, and, since it was our only knife, I kept it sharp. That was a tough summer in that we had no idea which direction our lives were about to take, us so I can’t say that it was a happy summer overall, but I smile when I remember the joy of owning so little.

Peggy loves to own things, and the only thing that tortures her about them is the fear that someone might steal them. I worry about this too. I even hate to leave on vacation, because I worry about something happening to Peggy’s button collection. I worry about Peggy’s buttons more than Peggy does, because protecting Peggy and her stuff is my responsibility. Also, she uses her button hobby to shield herself somewhat from the evil of the world, and I don’t know how she would fare if that evil stole them. I don’t even know if a thief would want her buttons. I’ve gone back and forth about the matter, and my conclusion is that I can’t say he would want them, but then again I can’t say he wouldn’t.

Dad’s lily is gone. I was happy when I noticed it missing, but then I saw it on the porch next door. I don’t think it will be happy there because of the dry summer winds, so I don’t feel like I have gotten rid of it after all. I might ask for it back.