“There’s a Moonie in Town”

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“Betty, call the shopkeepers and townspeople. Warn them there’s a Moonie in town!”

Reprinted from: http://www.tparents.org/library/unification/books/40years/40-4-38.htm  (Sort of)

“Betty, call the shopkeepers and the townspeople. Warn them that there’s a Moonie in town.” Such was the response when I asked the hardware store owner, in a small northern Wisconsin town, if he would like to make a donation for a butterfly pin to help our church.

“Come here, young man. I’ve got something to show you,” the shopkeeper said as he walked into his office. “Look!”

On his office walls, instead of the usual hardware store office decor of stuffed deer heads, dead fish and calendars of scantily clad women hawking pipe wrenches and the like, were hundreds of sensational articles about my church, the Unification Church. I thought, man, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do?

“What do you think?” he asked.

I wanted to tell him, “I think you’re a religious bigot!” but thought better of it. I glanced at a few of the articles but knew I wouldn’t find anything new since I had already read most of them. My aunt from Duluth always kept my parents highly informed about how terrible my church was by clipping out derogatory articles and mailing them to California. I got to read them on my visits home.

Downtown Crandon, Wisconsin by jimmywayne, on Flickr
Small Town Wisconsin

I told the shopkeeper goodbye, wished him a good day and walked outside. I looked down the street and thought, today is going to be an interesting day. I then proceeded to go shop to shop, which of course was futile since every shopkeeper had been “warned” about me. Having finished the shops in record time (having someone yell “no” at you when you open the door doesn’t take very long), I started to go house to house. Although many of the residents had been alerted about me, I was still able to gain some success. However, it was soon to become more difficult.

One gentleman, perhaps a relative of the hardware store owner, believed it was his personal responsibility to make sure that no one in this town was going to give me any money. He went with me to every house to let the residents know why they shouldn’t give. Luckily I was able to outrun my persecutor,  an overweight middle-aged man, and was able to knock on a few doors without his presence. However, after he decided to drive around in his car, he was able to keep up with me again. So I decided to try another part of town.

Near downtown I was passing a small gas station when a frail elderly lady asked me to come inside. She asked me what all the commotion was about. (Meanwhile, I noticed that my antagonist was driving around trying to find me, but couldn’t see me inside the gas station.) I briefly explained what I was doing. She said, “People in this town are mean. You seem like a nice young man. I’ll buy some of your butterfly pins.” She gave me ten dollars.

MFT I.D.
My cherished I.D. Badge

I then left the station, ran to the other side of town, and started to go house to house unmolested… at least for a while, until I reached a newer subdivision. They’d been waiting for me! “Red alert! Red alert! Moonie on the block!” about six kids on their bicycles shouted as I started going around the neighborhood. Surprisingly, people still bought. Perhaps they felt sorry for me.

Around 7:00 p.m. a police officer pulled up and said the townspeople had had a special meeting to decide what they should do about me. The officer stated that he knew I had every right to raise funds for my church, but for my own safety, he suggested I stop.

Since I was almost done with the town, I agreed. “You know,” I said, “I get an idea how Jesus must have felt when he got kicked out of towns.”

Jesus before Pontius Pilate by Nick in exsilio, on Flickr
Jesus before Pontius Pilate

“Yeah, and I know what it must have been like for Pontius Pilate,” replied the officer. I walked over to the post office where I was to be picked up in about an hour, sat down, and started to reflect about the day. I thought about the elderly lady who had asked me into her gas station; I thought about the policeman; I thought about the various people who gave me a donation while someone was screaming at them not to. In particular, I thought about an elderly couple living in a small shack down a dirt road,  who were reading their Bibles when I knocked on their door. They offered me some lemonade, said they were glad I came by, and gave me $5.00.

Around 8:00pm the fundraising van picked me up. I counted up. I had made exactly 100 dollars, which was my goal for the day. Someone asked me about my day. “Well, when I walked into a hardware store……..”

MFT Mates
MFT Mates

 

 

Downtown Crandon, WI – Picture by Jimmy Emmerson

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  jimmywayne 

Jesus before Pontius Pilate – Photo by Nick Thompson

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Nick in exsilio 

Road School

Road school Hwy 70
Heading North on Hwy 70 leaving Marysville.

Vagabonds go on the road for different reasons: adventure, economic hardship, to search for truth or to heal a broken heart.

A journalist wrote a book about his experiences hopping freight trains throughout America. While interviewing some of the drifters he found on the trains and in hobo camps he would often see wounds that had been stitched or dressed professionally, and he would ask who had provided the medical care. “Oh, that was Doc,” he would often hear. Intrigued, he went looking for Doc, and found him.

Doc was a medical doctor who one day hopped a freight train as it pulled away from the train yard near his once-successful medical practice. His wife had left him, and he was fed up with the trappings of modern life. Doc, who had been drifting for several years, wasn’t sure when and if he’d ever go back to “civilized” life. For now he enjoyed wandering and serving those around him.

1980's Las Vegas
**1980s Las Vegas

I decided to become a wayfarer in the winter of 1977 as I sat upon a grassy knoll near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and stared at the casinos, those monuments to excess and greed, as they beckoned with their garish lights. A few months earlier, when I was about to leave Lake Tahoe and come to Vegas, some friends had invited me out to a cocktail lounge in Tahoe where a band was playing. A member of the band had just learned a new song which they played for us. As I recalled the words,

Las Vegas ain’t no place for a poor boy like me…

I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps it was an omen.

Leaving Vegas was no easy decision. I was doing well in my classes at the University and I had made a lot of effort to be there: studying while my roommates were skiing or partying; working and saving my money; even moving to Tahoe so I could gain Nevada State residency. But something was calling me. I could hear a still, small voice whispering to me, urging me to leave this place, “to seek and find”.

I decided to leave once the semester was over. I would head back to Linda for a few months, take a few classes at Yuba College to at least get my Associate’s Degree, sell my beloved old panel truck and other possessions, and prepare to hit the road.

And that’s pretty much what happened. I moved back into a  trailer that I had parked on my parents’ property in Linda while I finished attending Yuba College. Inside that trailer on a wall next to where I slept on a piece of plywood, I had taped a quotation by Henry David Thoreau:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

I lived in an old trailer similar to this one.
*I lived in an old trailer similar to this one.

In preparation for my journey, after selling most of my possessions and purchasing a sleeping bag, backpack and other items, I made a replica of a hand with an over-sized thumb out of stiff cardboard and painted it fluorescent pink. I then attached that hand to a collapsible automotive antenna I had purchased at the wrecking yard, and attached the antenna to my backpack. I anticipated that passing motorists would see the big hand on my backpack as I walked down the road and would know I was hitching a ride. (During my travels many people did tell me it was the bright pink cardboard hand that inspired them to stop and pick me up.)

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Free pink cardboard thumb available to adventurer. Please hurry. Wife’s worried I might take off.

As the spring of 1978 was coming to an end, I had someone give me a ride to Highway 70 near Marysville High School and drop me off. Leaning my backpack against a traffic sign, I allowed the cardboard hand to solicit rides for me while I sat down to read one of the several spiritually inclined books I had purchased. Before very long someone stopped to pick me up and once again, I was leaving Linda.

I eventually spent over eight years on the road, either on my own, or as a member of The Unification Church’s mobile fundraising team (MFT).

Road School is a collection of some of those stories of life on the road. Some may think that I shouldn’t have listened to that sound of a different drummer but personally, I’m glad I did.

 

* Old Trailer photo by Laura Gilmore. https://flic.kr/p/jyyRqg —–CC-BY-2.0

**Las Vegas Strip-1980 by Allen https://flic.kr/p/64M1NT   —–CC-BY-2.0

 

 

 

There is power, on Powerline

As I drove onto the parking lot of the Calvary Christian Center at 4902 Powerline Rd. in Olivehurst, I speculated that it’s not only life that’s like a box of chocolates and you don’t know what you’re going to get, but also places of worship can be like that too. I never know what to expect until I step inside.

The old Holiday market turns Holy.
The old Holiday turns Holy.

I’ve been in this actual location many times in the past, to pick up a take-and-bake pizza, get a haircut, or purchase groceries at the Holiday Market. But the market is long gone. You can still get a haircut at a barbershop run by the pastor, but most of the food available nowadays is of a spiritual nature, with the exception of whatever’s selling at the goody wagon that’s sometimes parked there.

Many store-front churches that I’ve visited in the inner-cities of Chicago, New York and St. Louis were once businesses. Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Gospel Christian Center in Linda which used to be a tavern. However this is the first time I have ever been to a church that used to be a whole shopping center.

Step Inside
Step Inside

As I walked toward the main supermarket entrance where I assumed the church service would take place, I was fully expecting to go inside and sit on some metal folding chairs set out on a cement floor to listen to perhaps a band playing and a preacher preaching inside a cavernous, barn-like room; but that was not to be the case. An usher guided me to a small door to the right of the former grocery store. I entered and to my surprise, I was standing inside a beautiful, carpeted sanctuary. Mind you, it wasn’t as lovely as Grace Church in Wheatland with its stained glass, high ceilings and air of deep tradition, but I was impressed.

It wasn’t just the physical appearance of the sanctuary that inspired me, but also the diverse racial and inter-generational make-up of the people. You’d need one of those expensive Whitman Samplers if you wanted a box of chocolates representative of this group, one with plenty of variety including dark, milk, and white chocolate.

Box a Chocolates
Box o’ Chocolates

Recently I have been amusing myself by reflecting on how people in general are like chocolates: some are a little nutty, some look nice on the outside but might be hollow or not very substantial inside, like a Three Musketeers bar; others are more like a plain piece of chocolate, solid through-and-through and dependable. Some people are like a Heath toffee bar, brittle and hard to deal with, but they’re worth the effort. Others have hearts shriveled up like chocolate-covered raisins that could use some plumping up.

The band started playing and the music was good, although a few times the words on the overhead screen didn’t match what the band was singing. Guests were asked to stand and be recognized, and everyone greeted us warmly and welcomed us to Calvary church.

Inside the church
Inside the church

It was Mother’s Day. A video about the importance of mothers was played and gifts for mothers in the room were given out. One of those gifts fell out of the basket near me and I thought about keeping it, but since I’m not a mother, I picked it up and placed it back in the basket.

Pastor Braxton speaks the Word.
Pastor Braxton speaks the Word

Pastor Richard Braxton gave a powerful sermon called Keys to Living in the Kingdom, in which he spoke about the importance of staying out of debt. He quoted from Matthew 6:24-25, where Jesus says that no one can serve two masters, that we shouldn’t be anxious about what we eat or wear and that debt is not our friend. Pastor Braxton continued with a quote from Romans 13:8. “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

When the pastor asked the congregation to hold up their Bibles, I felt like someone in the 1600s holding up a papyrus roll while everyone else held up a printed book, because while I was holding up a paper Bible nearly everyone else was holding up an iPad, Kindle or similar device. People really like their electronic Bibles for the many helpful features they offer.

I felt a bit ancient with my paper bible.
I felt a bit ancient with my paper Bible.

One problem with this era of electronic devices, however, is when they become a distraction. I couldn’t help noticing a teenager near me who spent an awful lot of time texting during the service. Although, I shouldn’t judge; perhaps he was chatting with friends and telling them they should be at church. But, from the looks he was getting from his mother, that probably wasn’t the case.

Unfortunately I had to leave early to get the car back home for my wife to use, but something rather significant happened to me as I was leaving.

I once gave a speech titled It’s the little Things, in which I mentioned that it’s often the small things in life that help us know that we’re loved and cared for. As I was heading toward my car a young man ran out after me and asked me if anything was wrong. I told him not a thing was wrong, and that I’d be back, but thanks for asking.

Well I have been back, and I even got a haircut at the barbershop, attended a few marriage classes with my wife and have also gotten to know Pastor Braxton and his lovely wife Kisha a little better.

Pastor Braxton and Kisha
Pastor Braxton and Kisha

And it makes me wonder if all churches, in addition to ushers, should also have “rushers”, or people whose ministry is to rush out after anyone who leaves early and find out if something’s wrong.

Service starts at 11: 30 on Sundays. Make sure you go through the small door with the sign which reads “Enter Here”. Oh, and don’t forget your iPad or similar device. But even without one, you can be sure of a warm welcome at Calvary Christian Center.

The old shopping center
The resurrected shopping center

 

Truth Tabernacle

TT

Truth Tabernacle at 5206 Tulip Rd. in Olivehurst, just off Lindhurst Ave, is a humble, unassuming building that I often pass while driving down that way. But whatever the building and grounds may lack in aesthetics is quickly forgotten when you enter the church, hear the music and the message, and feel the spirit.

Minutes before walking into the church, I had been driving along Olivehurst Ave. towards Lindhurst when I saw a young couple with a baby carriage and several young children in tow, walking across the bridge that goes over the freeway. Although the young man looked a bit rough, with his shaved head and tattoos, I thought perhaps they were heading to Truth Tabernacle.

I arrived at the church a little before 10:00 A.M. which was right before the adult Bible study. Live music was playing and a middle-aged man with a British accent led the congregation in some songs. The music was good and I joined in the singing and waited for the person that would be leading the study. Just as I started to sit down, the couple that was walking on the bridge with their children entered the church.

The Bible teacher for the morning was Assistant Pastor John Floe. He had us open our Bibles to Genesis Chapter 4 and read about the account of Cain and Abel and the giving of their offerings to God. I found it interesting that in a Toastmasters’ Speaking Contest I had competed in  just the day before, the title of my speech was “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” which comes from Genesis 4.

Cain and Abel
Cain and Abel make an Offering

Pastor Floe encouraged everyone to have a good attitude, to trust in God, and to use the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to resist temptation. He reminded us that God is a god who doesn’t want us to fail and advised us to ask God for his guidance in decisions we make in life. That hit close to home for me as I’ve got some serious decisions about a job, my business and my children I need to make soon, which I almost find overwhelming. I think I’ll take Pastor Floe’s advice about asking God for guidance.

I was impressed by the sincerity of the pastor, and the quality of his message and told him so when he finished up the study. He was raised in South Dakota which is where my mother was born, and where I spent a lot of time fund-raising for my own church. We exchanged some small talk, and the pastor thanked me for coming.

After a short break the Sunday Service began and the relatively small room started to fill with people. The band began to play and the congregation joined in the song. I was impressed. The music was, well, kind of like what Goldilocks might say: “Not too quiet, not too loud, it was just right.” So far, of the many churches I’ve attended, I found the music at Truth Tabernacle to be the best combination of acoustics, congregational singing, the people on stage, the spirit; everything seemed to fit. When I joined in singing, “God my Savior, God my Deliverer”, my eyes teared up.

Truth Tabernacle (5)
God My Savior

The sermon was given by a young man who I guessed was probably just beginning his preaching role at the church. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t seem to get much out of the sermon. Perhaps it was his young age, his inexperience, or maybe it was just me. But one point of his sermon touched my heart: it doesn’t matter where we go, God will be there.

The service ended. Some people thanked me for coming to church. I made a point of talking to a young man from Kenya, saying hello to a couple and their children that I know and to several others in the congregation.

It’s been said, “Some of the best things come in small packages.” Truth Tabernacle is one of those packages; pay them a visit someday. I hope you’ll find it rewarding and uplifting.

From Baptists to Buddhists

 

Bud11

www.marysvillebc.org

I looked in the Appeal-Democrat newspaper to see if I could find anything of interest happening in the local religious community. I saw that the Buddhist Church of Marysville was inviting the public to their service and that the Reverends Tim and Carol Castle from Sacramento would be officiating. So that’s where I decided to go.

As I parked my car on B St. near the church, I thought back to a time when I heard a lecture given by Christian psychiatrist, Dr. M. Scott Peck, author of the immensely popular book, The Road Less Traveled, and many others. To the shock of the mostly Christian audience, Dr. Peck exclaimed, “The most Christian man I ever met was a Buddhist, because of his Christ-like qualities.”

When I entered the Buddhist Church I felt that, with the exception of the fairly elaborate altar at the front of the church, it was as if I had walked into a traditional American church. There were pews with song and prayer books in the racks and a lady was playing an organ in the front left-hand corner of the sanctuary. I didn’t recognize the tune, but again, it still felt like I was in a “main-line” Christian church. I introduced myself to Reverend Tim and told him my purpose for being there. I also inquired if it was okay to take pictures. He said taking photos would be fine as long as they weren’t taken during the actual service.

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Inside the Marysville Buddhist Church

Service began with the sudden clanging of a gong. Just like the Episcopal Church, I thought, except the Buddhists use a gong instead of a bell.

Since it was Mothers’ Day, Reverend Tim gave a brief message about the importance of mothers, which included the Buddhist belief that no matter how hard we try, we can never repay our parents for their unselfishness in raising us.

Reverend Tim mentioned a fairly new tradition in their Sacramento church which involves setting aside a special day to honor parents.  They call it Parents’ Day. I found that very interesting because my wife and I have been promoting National Parents’ Day, a relatively new American holiday which falls on the fourth Sunday of July, since 2006.

http://www.parentsday.com

There were several young people from Yuba College attending the service because of a project for their World Religion class.  A special  session took place after the service during which visitors could ask questions about the church and the Buddhist faith. The students had many good and deep questions; one pointed out that the whole experience wasn’t as different as he thought it would be.

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Reverend Tim answers questions.

Reverend Tim, who’s Caucasian, quipped, “Yeah, you were probably expecting an Asian with a shaved head wearing an orange robe?”

When one student asked about the meaning of the various items on the altar, Mrs. Castle explained that many of them represented perfection, such as gold or an abundance of food; or the beauty of nature such as flowers. And since many of the people in the original temple were peasants, they could get comfort through looking at these symbols. Mrs. Castle went on to say that today, especially in the western world, since most people have plenty of food and material comforts, many of the altars at a modern Buddhist church might simply have plants or a water fountain as symbols of serenity.

 

The Altar
The Altar

Another student asked about the use of incense during the service and was told that it was to purify the atmosphere–not just spiritually, but since the people coming to the temple had been working in the fields and sweating, incense served the very practical purpose of making the temple smell better.

Personally, I find it a bit sad that although I have been in the Yuba/Sutter area for over forty years, that was the first time I had ever been in the Marysville Buddhist Church, or had taken the time to look at their beautiful sanctuary and garden. My short visit was truly enlightening.

Some time ago, my wife and I read through two volumes of World Scripture, a publication that helps illuminate the inherent goodness within most religions. Admittedly, when we read some of the Buddhist texts, we found them hard to understand; not too unlike when, many years ago, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Since I was mostly into motorcycles back then, I kind of skimmed over the Zen parts.

jw 004

However, my visit with the Marysville Buddhists helped me appreciate the contribution that Buddhism has made toward inspiring humanity to care for one another and strive to be less selfish, traits which are hard to argue against.

The Garden

Note to visitors: It was especially gratifying to see college students at the service. I hope these young people are also encouraged to attend some of the more typical American religious services (such as Jewish, Catholic, Protestant or Mormon) to round out their understanding of religion and culture. However, one thing I would recommend is that they dress appropriately; halter tops and tight shorts may make the student and the congregation uncomfortable.

www.marysvillebc.org

 

Guide me oh Thou Great Jehovah

jw 003

http://www.jw.org/en/

Clearly the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been by. There was a Watchtower magazine and an invitation to a memorial service to commemorate Jesus’ death stuck to the door of our house. It was from Maria, who lives near Lincoln, and often visits our house. I was curious, so I googled “Jehovah’s Witnesses Memorial of Christ’s Death” and from what I could gather, aside from weddings and wedding anniversaries, the memorial is one of the only events Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate. Since it was their primary celebration I decided to attend.

JW YC
Yuba City Kingdom Hall

Maria’s invitation listed a Kingdom Hall in Lincoln where the celebration would be held. However, I’m trying to focus on visiting places of worship in the Yuba/Sutter area and was pleased to see the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City listed as a place where people would be gathering for the same memorial. (Also, I didn’t want Maria to get her hopes up that I was interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses for more than academic reasons.)

Although I drove to the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City intending to get there early, the parking lot was already full when I arrived. I parked on George Washington Boulevard, near the Nazarene Church, and remembered hearing about a recent controversy in which the Jehovah’s Witnesses complained about the shadow of a cross on top of the Nazarene Church falling on the Kingdom Hall. That problem was eliminated when the cross was turned to face a different direction.

I walked into the huge meeting room and soon realized I was a bit under-dressed for the occasion. Sometimes I just don’t know what to wear to these different churches, since some are a bit more formal and many are simply “come-as-you-are” churches. I guess I should have known to dress up a bit more, since it was the Jehovah’s Witnesses only celebration.

I was guided by an attendant to a seat close to the front and sat in quiet anticipation of the festivities that I expected to soon take place. The crowd was mostly made up of Caucasians but there were quite a few African-Americans present. I’ve been to a multitude of African-American churches, and for the most part, they are usually spirit-filled and lively. So I assumed, only to find out later how wrongly, that this service would have the spirit of celebration.

Maybe because the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have any other official celebrations, they apparently set the celebratory bar pretty low. Basically the event consisted of a song at the start of the service, a prayer, a talk by one of their brothers, the passing of unleavened bread and wine, another prayer, and a closing song.

Now I like to sing in church. However, I couldn’t join in because it appeared that the congregants brought their own song books. There were no song books for visitors, no words on a big screen, nothing. My wife, a long-time church pianist/organist would not have been needed here; their piano music was all prerecorded.

As for the message from Tom Allen, who came from New York to speak, it was fine. Can’t say I agreed much with the theology that we are meant to live forever on earth, and thought of a few Bible quotes that seem to point out otherwise, but his message about appreciating what Jesus has done for us was good. I had a little chuckle when Mr. Allen talked about what life on earth would be like once God’s, I mean Jehovah’s, kingdom is restored. When he said we could be playing with all the animals, and mentioned swinging through the trees with the monkeys, I just couldn’t help thinking: clothed or unclothed? Now I really don’t want to have that thought in my mind the next time a Jehovah’s Witness knocks on my door.

When the time came for Holy Communion, or whatever they call it, I was a little anxious. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m supposed to partake in a church’s communion unless I’ve been baptized in their faith. However I didn’t have that problem this time. People were simply passing the crackers and wine without partaking.  So, trying to fit in as best I could, I passed the plate as well.

There was a closing song after the sermon and that was it.

I’m in a bit of a quagmire because I’m trying my best to be positive about my experiences when I attend worship services. Although my visit to the Kingdom Hall in Yuba City wasn’t bad I can’t say it was particularly uplifting. Also, I did some research on the internet and it appears that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have no room for other belief systems. Ethicist, writer and talk-show host Dennis Prager used to hold a popular radio show in Los Angeles called Religion on the Line.  Talking about his past experiences hosting that show, Prager said the Jehovah’s Witnesses were the only major denomination that refused to come onto his program.

That being said, it’s hard not to be impressed by the dedication many Jehovah’s Witnesses have to their faith and the difficulties they experience while trying to convey their message door-to-door. Maybe they could stop by the Episcopalian Church and give a little pep talk on how they do it. Now that would be a miracle; Jehovah’s Witnesses speaking at a church other than their own, and Episcopalians knocking on doors to proselytize.

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Location of possible pep-talk. (I’ll need to get permission first.)

Gospel Christian Center

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My dad would often go to the building at the corner of North Beale Road and Griffith Avenue for fellowship and to help ease some of the burdens of life. It was the Royal Oak Tavern back then.  Dad would always park his car behind the tavern, so that our family could see it from our house, which stood on a small hill about half a mile north-east.

The presence of the Royal Oak Tavern also provided me with a guiding light. Sometimes the fog on North Beale Road would be so thick at night I would have probably missed the turn at Griffith while driving home if it hadn’t been for the flashing of an incandescent arrow beckoning patrons to the tavern.

That flashing arrow is now gone, as is the tavern. It has been transformed into a church, the Gospel Christian Center.

I’ve been to a few services at this church and I’ve also shopped many times at the thrift store they used to have on the property. I’ve known Pastor Ruth Catlin and her son Arthur for many years; when I recently visited, Arthur was giving the sermon.

GCC
Pastor Arthur Catlin

The Gospel Christian Center is a family church, in that it seems, at least when I attended, that most of the people there are related to the Catlin family. For the most part, the congregation is African-American. I find it sad that only a short distance east is the Bible Baptist Church which is a predominantly Caucasian congregation. Personally, I believe God likes to see us mixed up, at least in the racial sense. To quote Martin Luther King Jr.,   “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Pastor Catlin is a very capable preacher, and his sermon about not being discouraged in life was poignant and easy to relate to. He pointed out that we often give up before the blessing comes and that the devil will do his best to dissuade us:

“Renew your mind,” he preached. “Don’t block your blessings…submit, resist, speak the word of God….as you’re trying to go in the right direction, the devil will discourage you.”

One thing I’ve discovered in visiting so many different places of worship is that I always leave with the feeling I’ve gained something. I have yet to hear a “fire and brimstone” service where everyone is going to hell if they don’t live a certain way.

There can be so many different motives to attend church: fellowship, family tradition, fear of hell, a need to look good, a desire to play on the softball team, or even a yearning to meet God. Or, as an old friend once told me, he used to go to church to meet girls. Whatever the reason, if you look for something good, there’s a chance you just might find it.

Since the Royal Oak Tavern served hot food (pre-made sandwiches heated up in a toaster oven), people of all ages were allowed inside. I remember chomping down on a toasted ham and cheese, my feet dangling from a bar stool, and sipping on a bottle of Coke that had a handful of Planters Peanuts floating inside its neck, while the juke box played country music.

Blog research - Unsalted peanuts recommended.
Blog research – Unsalted peanuts recommended.

The music’s different now. There is a small band playing and I recognize the song, “I’m Desperate for You”, from the Christian radio station my wife likes to listen to. At the beginning of the service, one of the band members gave a testimony about how Jesus had changed his life. Just as the flashing arrow at the corner of Beale Road and Griffith was my guiding light years ago, it appears that someone else has found direction at that same corner. It’s still a beacon in the fogginess of life.

CG4

 

Hope Point

Hope Point at Yuba College

Hope Point at Yuba College

www.hopepointnaz.org/

A great band playing music and singing about God was a welcome relief compared to the last time I was at the Yuba College theatre, nearly seven years ago, which was when my wife and a couple of friends had come to see a play.

Some time back, a friend told me, “Bob, the only culture you know about is agri.”

Well, I’ve been trying to change that. After all, my wife has a college degree in English with a minor in music. Even if it’s just by osmosis, I have been getting a bit more cultured. In fact, one of best times I ever had was watching I Love you, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a play by The Acting Company in Yuba City. Because of that great experience, I got the inspiration to invite my wife and a couple of friends to see a play at my alma mater. Bad idea.

Try as I might, I could not get into Betty’s Summer Vacation, even though I did know it was a satirical black comedy. Maybe it’s just me, but a homosexual serial killer storing body parts in a freezer and a flasher flashing on stage just didn’t seem that funny. As I walked out with my wife and friends to get our money back, the last scene I remember seeing was someone holding what was supposed to be a frozen penis they just pulled out of the freezer. Ha…Ha… Ha. I can only take this culture stuff so far. The last time I encountered something that stunk so badly at Yuba College was years ago when people around me in my accounting class started sniffing and turning up their noses. I looked at the bottom of my shoe then noticed I must have accidentally stepped on a cow patty while cutting across the neighbor’s pasture on my way to school.

This Sunday morning was quite a different experience however. I was there because I’ve been visiting places of worship throughout the Yuba/Sutter area, taking pictures and writing about my experiences.

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Driving east on North Beale Road past Yuba College, I noticed a sign for “Hope Point” Sunday worship service at 10:00 a.m. I made a mental note of it and headed towards the corner of North Beale Rd. and Griffith Avenue where I had hoped to attend service at the Gospel Christian Center. Driving by I noticed there was only one car at the church and it was almost ten so I knew their service would be later. I headed back to Yuba College to check out “Hope Point”.

I was late, so I quickly walked up and into the theatre which was fairly full. A band was playing Christian music and I found a place to sit near the back. The crowd was mostly younger Caucasians singing and clapping to the music. I did notice some African-Americans, but not many.

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I’ve been to services like this before, churches that have started outreach in a community through a more established church in another location. It seems to work well. I took a few pictures after asking if it was okay, and I was pleased to hear that newcomers weren’t expected to donate anything when the offering plate went around. I don’t mind giving, but I was planning to also attend an additional church that day.

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The sermon was a series titled, “Seeing Truth in Dr. Seuss”. Of course it was geared more toward the children in attendance. I wondered what the adults in the audience thought about the presentation. I could relate to what the pastor had to say about not worrying about being cool and fitting in. I don’t think I’ve ever been cool. And as for fitting in, well, I’ve been a member of the Unification Church since 1978. The pastor also told the children they need to be willing to make fools of themselves for God. I’m not sure how often it’s been for God, but for me, making a fool of myself just comes naturally.

I left the service early since I wanted to go to the Gospel Christian Center for their service. I snuck out the back door and headed outside and took a few more photos.

While leaving, I stopped and talked to a guy that had been directing and greeting people near the college parking lot as they headed towards the theatre. I started up a conversation and asked him how long he’d lived in the area. He told me he’s lived here for about six years.

I pointed to a small commercial building on Beale Rd. and mentioned that I’ve never seen a business make a go of it there. I told him that one of the weirdest businesses I ever saw there was a place called “Magnolia Thunderpussy which was some kind of strange restaurant that specialized in desserts that resembled certain parts of the human anatomy. I’m not going to go into details, but let’s just say that if that restaurant had been in business at the time “Betty’s Summer Vacation” was playing, it could have supplied some of their props.

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Former sight of Magnolia Thunderpussy.

Not only that, Magnolia Thunderpussy was a real person, who had obviously changed her name, I hope. She had a few of these “restaurants” in the San Francisco Bay Area. For some reason, it just didn’t catch on in Linda.

Forty Years

Bible Baptist 3

http://biblebaptistnet.com/

Forty years – I guess I can forgive someone for something that happened over forty years ago. That’s how long ago my dad said the Bible Baptist Church on North Beale Road stole our firewood.

The church had bought the property where my dad and I had been given permission by the previous owner to cut down old almond trees for firewood. When he called the church’s minister to get permission to remove the several cords of wood we had cut he informed my dad that the church had bought the property, lock, stock and barrel, and that the wood was theirs. When that pastor was warming himself in front of his fireplace, I do hope he was feeling some pangs of conscience.

I pull into the parking lot of that church and find it hard to believe how nervous I am. “It’s just another church”, I tell myself. Quickly my fears are calmed as I walk towards the sanctuary.

The property is well-kept with many outbuildings. I walk towards the main building, past the coffee kiosk, and into the sanctuary. I notice a book and CD table and look at what they have to offer. There’s nothing about cults or about how bad other churches or religions are, which is a good sign.

I pick a place to sit in the back row and think, where is everyone? Where is the choir? A young man starts singing a capella and a few people join in. Something’s odd; there are mostly older people sitting in the pews. The pastor walks in and asks everyone to open their Bibles. Luckily, I remembered to bring mine, but wonder if anyone will notice the small yin and yang decal I have stuck to the front. I soon realize I’m there for the Adult Sunday School and not the regular church service which starts in an hour. Oh well, it looks like I’ll get more church than I expected today. I open my Bible and join in the study.

The theme of the Bible study is how we need to be a living sacrifice. The pastor, Kerry Brown, quotes from Saint Paul where Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that he “dies daily” and that he is consumed with serving the Lord, not with his own desires. Again the pastor quotes Paul: “My desire is on the altar.” Pastor Brown explained that we need to give our all to God because we often only give God part of ourselves.

Once the Bible study is over and the regular church service begins, many more people come into the sanctuary. It’s a much younger and more unique crowd now, although the congregation is almost entirely Caucasian. There were no African-Americans in attendance.

Pastor Brown’s sermon continues with the theme of being a living sacrifice for God. He speaks about the prophet Jonah who tried to turn his back on God and how we are often like Jonah and that we often just want to do our own thing, and hope that God blesses it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sermon and felt that it was a good message. To do our best to serve God and do His will. Of course, that’s easy to say, but doing it is another matter.

Pastor Brown ends his sermon and asks everyone to join him in prayer. I bow my head and after he’s finished praying and everyone says “Amen”, I keep my eyes closed. I think back to the time when I was working hard in that almond orchard where the Baptist Church now stands. I can see myself as a young man, piling the cut almond branches and I can almost smell the scent of fresh cut almond wood. A deep fog embraces the orchard as wild geese cry out overhead.

I open my eyes and look out on the congregation. It’s a mixed crowd now, old, middle-aged, young, some with tattoos, some not. I can see the butt-crack of a twenty-something man in front of me, but I don’t mind. I know he could be somewhere else on a Sunday morning.

I get a premonition, as if God is talking to me, “I love these people.”

“Even if they stole our firewood?” I protest.

“Even if they stole your firewood.”

BB!
Outside the Bible Baptist Church