Family Psalm, Stuck in Lodi
Once upon a time, back in the ’70s, I was in a Christian musical group, “Family Psalm.” We toured and sang in various churches in California, and therein lies a tale. Quite a few of them, actually.
A close friend of our ministry was the Reverend Bob Hymers, who could charitably be described as “a character.” He invited us to accompany him to sing at a revival scheduled to be held in Lodi, California.
I really do not know what was up with the little church we visited there; it was as if they’d all been teleported directly from the Ozarks, with speech patterns and an accent that were decidedly not from California.
It was surreal. Perhaps it has to do with migration patterns?
Yes, many of us were humming a certain Creedence Clearwater song under our breath.
“C’mon, y’all look like you were struck with a dead, wet possum,” the preacher chided us from the pulpit in a languid drawl as he warmed us up for his sermon. We were instead encouraged to “Feel the Holy Ghost,” and to “Live in the victory!”
He called to one woman he teasingly called “Little Lutheran Lady”—obviously there was some history between them—asking her, “Do you feel the Holy Ghost?”
I’m assuming this was because he believed it a challenge for someone from a mere liturgical church background to get into the proper Pentecostal mindset.
Unperturbed, she serenely riposted: “No, but by faith I know that He’s there.”
Well done. Ten points to Gryffindor.
“Do you have the victory, Brother Wilkins?” the revivalist boomed from his lectern, waving a leather Bible in the air.
“Oh, yes, I’ve got the victory, hallelujah!”
“Do you have the victory, Sister Beulah?”
Then he asked Brother Jones the same question but the answer wasn’t in the affirmative, so everyone stopped to gather around Brother Jones, lay hands on him and pray loudly and fervently, until—
“Oh, yes, I’ve got the victory!”
Crisis averted, he began his sermon.
The sermon prominently featured King David’s rebellious son Aaaaabsalom, aka Absalom—somehow he stretched this name out to about six syllables—with specific and repeated mention being made of his long hair, which turned out to be both his pride and his undoing.
We shrunk in our seats a little, thinking this a passive-aggressive and not terribly subtle critical commentary on our appearance, since we all had long hair, a common style for young men in the ’60s and ’70s.
The revival continued with a picnic, concert and sermon in the local park, with a microphone up on a flatbed truck for the musicians and the preacher to use.
There was a musical duo slated to perform before we took the stage, so we watched as they approached the flatbed truck.
Look, I don’t know how to put this politely: these two women were immense. They were obese. Large. Hefty. Zaftig. Whatever you’re imagining right now? Double it.
I’m sorry, but this is as delicate a wording as I can manage. Reverend Hymers was less diplomatic: “They each look like two pigs wrestling in a gunny sack.”
They attempted to mount the flatbed truck, but failed. They tried again, and a third time, to no avail. Finally, they gave up and the microphone was passed down to them so they could sing in front of the truck.
They began to sing the hymn “This Old World Can Never Hold Me.”
I leaned over and remarked to a nearby friend, sotto voce, “I’m not sure that flatbed could even hold them.”
Yeah, okay, I’m not proud of this.
Then Reverend Hymers stepped up onto the flatbed, took the microphone, and began his three-point salvation message, but he couldn’t resist his own passive-aggressive dig at these two unfortunate women.
He postulated that large amounts of sugary/starchy food turns to alcohol in the stomach. Thus overeating was equivalent to the sin of drinking alcohol. (There is a rare medical condition in which this does happen but generally speaking, this is poppycock.)
“That spoon is a deadly weapon!” he thundered. The two women did not look happy.
The Lodi trip was such a weirdly fascinating excursion into Wonderland that soon thereafter we invited lighting to strike a second time by visiting a similarly quirky black church in Oakland. But that turned out to be not such a good idea.
That trip was scary. I remember the preacher’s prophetic utterance that singled out Alice and I in the front row as being guilty of some unspecified heiniousity or other, with much shouting and finger pointing.
“Young man, you two have been getting into things you shouldn’t, haven’t you?” he charged.
Like what? Drugs? Premarital sex? I was tempted to point out Alice and I were married, but I’m a coward, so I lied.
“Yessir,” I meekly responded. The man nodded, satisfied, and the moment passed, but I vowed to get far away from that place as soon as humanly possible.
After that, we resolutely decided to eschew exotic realms such as the aforementioned and remain on the planet Earth for the foreseeable future.