The Offering Plate

In my little blogging world one random idea often leads to another, and soon a theme emerges. After I posted “Choosing My Religion” on Monday, a piece prompted by a sun beam shining through clouds on a stormy day, the feedback I received here and on Facebook dredged up some long buried church-related memories.

As I recounted in “Choosing My Religion” I grew up attending three varieties of Protestant churches: Pentecostal, Primitive Baptist, and Southern Baptist. While the three were quite different in terms of worship volume and decorum, ranging from the jubilant, yet often apocalyptic tone of the Pentecostals to the solemn certainty of the Primitive Baptists, they all three shared one thing in common–the offering plate.

At some point in every service the preacher would intone an offertory prayer and the choir and/or the congregation would commence singing an offertory hymn while the deacons passed the plates. There was a rhythm to the plate passing and an order to it that made this one of my favorite parts of the service.

A person sitting on the end of an aisle would take the plate from the deacon in one hand, deposit money with his or her free hand and then pass the plate on to the next person and so on until the plate was handed to another deacon at the end of the pew. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

No matter which church I happened to be attending on any given Sunday I always had a bit of money to contribute, either from my own allowance or from one of the adults in my life. Usually I had a quarter, sometimes only a nickel, but occasionally I was able to give a whole dollar. Those were proud days indeed, although, we were taught that excessive pride was a sin, so I squelched the chest puffing and smile that went with placing a buck in the bucket.

One Sunday when I was five or so I was with my Grandma and Grandpa Hall at their little Pentecostal Church in Floydada, Texas. Just before the service started my bladder told me urgently that I needed to potty. My no-nonsense Grandma took me firmly by the hand and marched me back to the ladies’ room, accompanying me inside so as to hurry me up. I might have had a reputation for lollygagging, and she was having none of that on her watch.

I placed the two quarters I had for the offering plate on the back of the toilet, did my business, and went to flush, accidentally knocking my money into the toilet. Thankfully I hadn’t pressed the handle, so a tsk-tsking Grandma had me pull a handful of toilet paper off the roll to keep my hands dry while I retrieved the coins, all the time trying to get me to hurry.

When I bent to pick up the coins with one hand using the toilet paper as a shield, I leveraged my free hand on the side of the toilet and accidentally pushed the handle, flushing the quarters. I started crying, but Grandma Hall got tickled. This stern woman laughed as she dried my tears. She laughed until tears of her own rolled down her cheeks.

I washed my hands and walked solemnly back to my seat, chagrined at having nothing for the offering plate that week. Seeing my Grandma laugh that hard, though, more than compensated for the lack of funds. It’s still one of my best memories of her.

Peace, people.

Choosing My Religion

Religion is one of those things I think about a great deal. At times I obsess over it. Now, I’m not talking about faith. Faith is something I don’t worry about. I’ve got faith in spades, up the wazoo, coming out my ears. Religion, though, seems much more subjective.

As a kid I was exposed to opposing experiences in Christianity. Through my paternal grandparents I was introduced to the Pentecostal Church. Faith healers, speaking in tongues, arms raised in praise and dancing in the aisles to an exuberantly played piano, were de rigueur in Sunday services. Every time I visited I left a bit worried I’d be left behind in the Rapture that they assured me was coming any day. That’s a scary thought for a little kid. I had nightmares for years and flat refused to read that once popular Left Behind series.

https://www.facebook.com/JungleVT/videos/2455207547954406/

In my maternal grandparents’ Primitive Baptist Church, services were much more restrained. There was no instrumental music, and every line of every hymn was intoned with what seemed a lack of enthusiasm. The sermons seemed interminable, as well, but I wasn’t allowed to complain or squirm–my great grandfather was the minister. And while there was some hellfire and brimstone preaching it was done more in lesson form, for the promise and security of predestination were deeply ingrained in all the members. I left church each time fervently hoping that I had more Primitive Baptist blood in me than Pentecostal, even if their services were much less interesting.

That’s the New Salem Primitive Baptist Church of Floydada, Texas, below, where I spent many Sundays.

To confuse matters further, my parents raised my brothers and me in southern Baptist Churches where services were much less somber than those of the Primitive Baptists, but a good deal more sedate than those at the Pentecostal meetings. In the Southern Baptist churches we had to get saved to go to heaven, and the Book of Revelation was mentioned quite often, but no one made me think that I’d be forgotten on the day the trumpets sounded. The organ and/or piano accompanied hymns were better, too. And instead of having to sing every verse, we generally only sang the first, second and fourth verses.

The carousel of religious choices in my life was often confusing. Why did parishioners in one church have to sing a cappella? How come we could celebrate in the aisles in one service, but would be frowned upon if we did it in another? Did God care how we worshipped? Was I truly going to be left behind or could I relax in knowing that my name had been written in the Book of Life from my birth?

As an adult I seldom go to church, but when I do I attend a progressive Methodist service. And, I love going to Catholic mass with my mother-in-law when we visit her in Texas. In both cases there’s a steadiness to the worship that calms and reassures me.

If you’ve lasted this long in reading this you might wonder what prompted my post. Well, on Monday afternoon I was driving home from Tallahassee as a thunderstorm threatened. Towering cumulonimbus clouds promised one heck of a storm, but there was a break in the clouds through which a golden column of sun shone through. My thoughts instantly went back to the days when I was pretty sure everyone around me was going to be gathered up and raptured into the heavens leaving me behind. I guess some lessons, especially those invoking fear, never die.

I’m still here. Are you?

(By the way, I found the amazing cloud photos on Pinterest.)

Peace, people!

The Case of the Missing Mary

The Case of the Missing Mary

By Leslie Noyes

(Note: This first appeared on my blog two years ago, back in the good old days when Trump’s candidacy was merely a bad joke. Guess I should’ve thrown more darts.) 

I leaned back in my wooden chair and aimed a dart at the picture of Donald Trump I’d taped to the door of my cramped office. Bullseye, baby. Before I could launch another projectile at the human embodiment of evil there was a tentative rap at the door.

Quickly I stashed the darts, downed a shot of Glenlivet and hid the bottle under the desk.

“Come in,” I intoned with as much gravity as I could muster. I was new at this detective gig and badly needed a client. Throwing darts at Trump, no matter how satisfying, wasn’t paying the bills.

The man who walked through my door was a sight for hungry eyes. Tall, dark, and handsome, and apparently built like Thor if the bulges in his well-tailored suit were to be trusted.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I’m looking for Mr. Noyes, the private investigator…”

“It’s Ms. Noyes,” I smiled. “My receptionist just stepped out for a bit.” Little did he know my receptionist, Glenlivet, was hiding under the desk. I nudged the bottle with my foot for reassurance.

“Oh!” He was clearly flustered, so I rushed to reassure him. Rising from my chair I stepped closer, hoping to encourage him to stay.

“Don’t let my gender color your expectations,” I said. “I’m fully qualified to handle discreet investigations.”

I held my breath as I watched him wrestle with his thoughts. Finally he extended a hand, and I exhaled.

“My name is Joseph. Joseph Carpenter, and my wife has gone missing.”

I motioned for Joseph to have a seat and took my place on the other side of the desk. Pulling out a pen and notepad I asked Joseph for details.

“She was right beside me. We were watching over our newborn son and I turned away for just a second to greet a man, a foreigner of some distinction, who’d brought a baby gift. When I looked back, Mary was gone.”

Joseph’s rugged face collapsed in tears. It took all of my strength to maintain a professional distance. My maternal instincts were urging me to comfort this man, but he didn’t need a nursemaid, he needed a detective. And by God, that’s just what he’d get.

“Do you have a recent picture of your wife, sir?”

“No, we weren’t into pictures. But she was just a little thing. Maybe five feet two. Brown eyes. Dark brown hair. Olive skin. She was, is, beautiful. She has the most beatific smile.”

I tried my hand at sketching a picture of Mary.

“No, her nose is a bit larger,” Joseph said. “Yes, like that. And her lips fuller.”

Finally we had a sketch that Joseph approved.

“Joseph, did you notice any strange characters hanging around, let’s see, the manger on the night of your wife’s disappearance?”

“Well,” he began, “Besides the foreigner there were a couple of other visiting dignitaries. They looked fairly trustworthy; although, come to think of it I have no idea why they dropped by.”

“Ok, that’s a starting place. Anyone or anything else?”

Joseph snapped his fingers. “There was a shepherd there ranting about some star he followed. Could it be…?”

“I couldn’t say right now, Joseph, but I promise to do everything in my power to find your Mary.” I stood and indicated we were through.

“By the way, how’s the baby?” I asked offhandedly. “I know newborns can be a handful. Is it possible Mary just took off?”

Joseph’s temper flared. I could see I’d hit a nerve. “Absolutely not! You have no idea what Mary has gone through to have this child, why….”

I held up one hand. “I had to ask Mr. Carpenter. I believe you.”

I told him I’d need a retainer and I’d bill my services at a hundred dollars per hour. Then I assured him I’d get on the case immediately.

“Money’s no problem. One of those foreign dignitaries brought gold. For a baby!” He shook his head in amazement.

As he paused at the door, Joseph Carpenter turned, his face half in shadow.

“Ms. Noyes. Have you done anything like this before?”

“Yes,” I answered honestly. “Every December.”

Almost every year one piece of my nativity goes missing. One year it was the lamb. I found it nestled next to the Christmas snow globe. Another year it was a wise man, the one carrying myrrh. He didn’t turn up until I was putting decorations away. Apparently the myrrh king had been napping in a Target bag. This year it’s Mary. One can’t very well have a nativity scene without the mother of Jesus. I’ll keep looking. Until I find her I have a cut out Mary from a Christmas card to stand in for her:


The scale isn’t that bad, right?

Exercises in Deep Breathing

A couple of days ago I shared a meme on Facebook that caused tempers to flare. I first included it in this post, but honestly, I feel like I’ve been through the ringer. ¡No más! So, I deleted it before publishing.

Basically the meme was a take on the whole “weather catastrophes are the fault of….(insert gays/feminists/atheists/Muslims, etc.).” only this one jokingly put the blame for Hurricane Harvey on Trump, and then asked, “see how ridiculous that sounds.”

Obviously I was trying to make a point about how ridiculous some of the wacky religious and/or political pundits sound when they blame catastrophic events on homosexuality or feminism or any number of unrelated events, so the amount of vitriol the post attracted was rather stunning. Clearly it was satire.

Was I not aware of the suffering people in coastal Texas and surrounding areas were experiencing? Well, yes, I am aware and have posted numerous links to responsible agencies who are accepting donations for victims of Hurricane Harvey, and I’ve donated to more than a few such organizations myself. If I thought I could be an asset instead of an aggravation I’d be volunteering there right now. The good folks of Houston and beyond are going to need help for many months to come, and I’ll help in whatever ways I can.

Have I no sense of shame? Certainly I do when shame is warranted. This isn’t one of those times.

What has happened to me? Apparently I used to be a good person, but I’m not anymore. Huh. I’ve always tried to do the right thing. I haven’t always been successful, but I look out for others and treat people kindly.

The meme is in poor taste! I don’t believe it is; however, cutting a proposed one billion dollars of funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget in order to finance a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is certainly crossing a line that far exceeds the realm of good taste, and I don’t see any of the folks who lambasted me over my meme having a meltdown over that.

Several folks lectured me on my morality and ethics. Oddly enough none of them would be my first choice were I to go in search of a teacher on those issues.

A thoughtful friend sent this to me after reading the battering posts. I take great comfort in good friends.

I continue to pray for all those affected by Harvey. Yes, I do. Even those who think I’m a bad person.

If you want to support a great organization that’s helping out folks who’ve lost everything to this devastating storm here are more verified links:

https://www.youcaring.com/victimsofhurricaneharvey-915053

Umcor.org

Peace, people.

The Fight Never Was About Me

Your fight is over, someone typed, how’s it feel to be a loser?

The fight, I say, was never about me,

My whiteness

My straightness

My middle class existence

My religion 

The fight was about the others who are also us.

For their rights

For their justice

For their well being

For their freedom to worship. Or not.

And OUR fight isn’t over.

Piano Player in a Whorehouse

In light of additional evidence that Donald Trump has the morals of a sewer rat, I thought I'd give my post-apocalyptic piece about The Great Trump Wall another run. Let me know what you think.

Piano Player in a Whorehouse                       By Leslie Noyes

Welcome to the Divine Church of the One True American Religion. Don't mind me. I'm the organist dressed head to toe in black robes. But if you do look carefully you might see the chains confining me to the organ. I'm playing our opening hymn, "Come, O' Come to the Cruz" as a choir of veiled women blend their voices in harmony behind me.

But this pious servitude hasn't always been my lot in life. Just a few months ago I was playing piano at May's, an establishment catering to men in need of female companionship.  

It was a Saturday night and the working girls were sashaying down the broadly curved staircase in groups of two and three. Only May herself entered the room by herself. It was part of her routine, this grand entrance, and she looked saucy and elegant in her gown of turquoise.

Men, both the rough and the refined, began assembling in May's ornate waiting room shortly after sundown on that cold winter's night, and were waiting respectfully as they viewed the diverse display of feminine beauty descending the stairs as if from heaven.

At the end of the evening, some of the men would go home to waiting wives, women whose days of child bearing and child rearing, housekeeping, laundering, and cooking, had left them too exhausted for frivolous activities such as lovemaking. 

Most of May's potential clients, though, would return to their dreary rooms in equally dreary boarding houses back in an even more dreary Texas border town. For them, the vivid pageantry at May's was the brightest spot in an otherwise colorless world.

For that moment in time, though, they were all in high spirits after a long week of hard labor building and policing The Great Trump Wall.

Through it all, the expectant arrival of clients and the sultry parade of scantily clad, prettily painted ladies, I poured my heart and soul into playing May's well-tuned grand piano, a true gem of an instrument, magnificent in appearance and quality. I played the classics: Lennon and McCartney, Morisette, Bowie, and Joplin (Janis, not Scott).

Occasionally a regular client or one of the girls asked me to sing, and often I acceded to their wishes, belting out one of the near forgotten feminist anthems from the turn of the century and bringing the listeners to tears. "I'm Just a Girl" was a crowd favorite. 

The men, all regulars, treated me with respect, and the ladies looked after me like a gaggle of big sisters. May was the mother I never had. So when an unfamiliar, but well-dressed man came through the foyer, and grabbed my left arm in mid-song, I was immediately surrounded by a protective circle. Pete, a cowboy from near El Paso, was the first to intervene.

"Hold on now. No one touches Ella," he growled menacingly. Pete knew this because his attempt at escorting me upstairs was discouraged in much the same way upon his first visit to May's.

Other men's voices chorused their agreement with Pete, but it was May herself who stepped forward to confront the man face to face. 

"Sir," she smiled gently, laying a hand on my shoulder. "Ella isn't available for my clients. She's our precious pianist, and we place great value on her artistic services." This last was said with a tinge of steel in May's voice, and gratefully I leaned back against her protective bosom.

"I'm not here for her services," the man sneered, while extracting a badge from the pocket of his embroidered waistcoat. "I am Custis L. Biggs, deputy sheriff of Hidalgo County. This woman is under arrest for inciting unpatriotic emotions under code T-001024."

"Surely, you must be mistaken. Our Ella is but an excess child. If she's done any wrong it was out of ignorance, and not intentional disrespect," May assured him.

"Excess child or not, she's been written up and must be taken in for reeducation. Ignorance of the law is no excuse." 

Without further ado he snapped cuffs on my hands and yanked me to my feet. I began crying, realizing that there was nothing May could do but stand wringing her hands as the officer led me from the only true home I'd ever known.

A chorus of supportive words followed our departure. May called, "Don't lose hope child! We'll see you again!" And I thought it was Pete's howl of frustration I heard as I was led from the protection of May's.

As it turned out my reeducation consisted of me sitting in a cold, damp cell in plain view of The Great Trump Wall. Each day for six weeks I was made to kneel while reading from The Gospel According to Cruz. From my reading I learned of the great spiritual awakening decreed after Emporer Trump created the position of Minister of Ministry and named one of his former political rivals to the post. 

I also learned that excess children like me had few rights other than the right to be born. Most like me had been abandoned at birth to be raised by strangers. I thanked my lucky stars for the seventeen sheltered years I'd enjoyed at May's, realizing they might have to suffice for a lifetime.

May was allowed to visit me once. She brought me a delicate handkerchief embroidered with words of comfort from a pre-Trump Bible: 

Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go….

I sobbed when the guards took her away, but she only said, "Be patient, child, for Pete's sake."

Upon completing the readings and swearing renewed fealty to Emporer Trump I was dressed as you see me now, in voluminous black robes that provide not a hint as to my gender, and I was reassigned to the Divine Church of the One True American Religion. My days are now as drab and lonely as my nights once were filled with excitement and affection.

Worship is mandatory, and every man who works on The Great Trump Wall must attend services daily. The staggering number of men working in shifts means that I play organ for six separate services: three in the morning and three in the evening. Only Saturdays are worship free. 

Every man now is required to give twenty-five percent of his weekly earnings to the "greater good." A slip of the minister's tongue, as he fumbled with my robes in a drunken stupor after services, informed me that the "greater good" was how the wall was being financed. I cried silently at his awkward intrusion and filed the information away for another day, taking note of where he stored the revenue.

Now as I play the solemn strains of the offertory hymn, "Render Unto Caesar" I notice a movement from the second row of the choir. A piece of cloth falls to the ground and comes to rest beneath the risers. This cannot be an accident, for the choiristers are forbidden to hold anything in their hands during services. 

None of the singers waver in their neat lines, but beneath a veil I swear I see a hint of turquoise. I blink twice and surreptitiously glance into the congregation. There on the front row nearest me, sits Pete, eyeing me earnestly, and I feel a surge of hope. The minister might be in for a bit of surprise when he comes for me tonight.

http://youtu.be/PHzOOQfhPFg

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Copyright 2016 by Leslie H. Noyes. All rights reserved.
This bit of post-apocalyptic fiction was inspired by this quote from President Harry S Truman. … "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician."
I'm not sure I'm finished with this piece yet, and would appreciate feedback. 

Peace, people.

Literally Laughed Out Loud

Note: I freaking hate Donald Trump, and if I had died in Hurricane Hermine I’d have wanted his sorry ass blamed for it. Carry on.

The first time I came across the picture featured below on Facebook I guffawed. I was sitting in my den with a cat on my lap and laughed so hard that said cat leapt to the floor and hid under my bed for the remainder of the day.

Why one might ask did I find this seemingly harmless statement so funny? Maybe it’s because the closest Trump has been to religion is screaming “Oh God” in the throes of climax.

He thought Second Corinthians was correctly cited as Two Corinthians. Twice divorced, he’s cheated on at least one wife and tried to talk Marla Maples into having an abortion so he wouldn’t feel obligated to marry her. He regularly insults women who do not meet his standards of beauty, calling them fat pigs among other choice names.

Yet some conservative voters herald him as planning to bring God BACK to the White House. Pardon me if I’m missing something, but isn’t God supposed to be omnipresent? Hasn’t God been right there all along? Even back when Richard Nixon was engaged in criminal activity from the Oval Office, God was right there.

We are a nation that officially recognizes a separation between church and state.  That’s as it should be. I’m a Christian, yet I understand that it is critical we keep this separation. Once it’s eroded, all manner of misdeeds can and will be perpetrated in the name of religion. 

Any time a politician claims Christian values, or proposes to unite us under one God, I automatically become suspicious. What are they trying to pull over on us? I’d much rather hear someone say they advocate for equality for all people under the law. That’s what I want, not false claims of religiosity.

That’s all for now.

Peace, people!

Judgement Day

Today is judgement day, as was yesterday, and the day before. Tomorrow will hold 

The same status. For those who claim a day of reckoning to be lurking around the 

Corner, I cry, Indeed! Both the corner facing us and the one ’round which we’ve strolled

Already. We face our God each sunrise and answer for our sins. We are sorted by our

Love or lack thereof, by our compassion and generosity. That book of life I reckon

Lists not the rolls of church membership, but the names of those who stand with the

Downtrodden, the marginalized, those who are shunned by the establishment.

Tell me to get right with Jesus, and I’ll ask who you’ve fed today. Tell me I’m bound

For hell, and I’ll plan a party for us both. I hear marshmallows toast well down there.

Paradise, the last panel of Fra Angelico’s tryptic, “Judgement”