Monday morning I happened to run into the local preacher, Brother Milt, at the grocery store. We were both picking up bouillon cubes, which was such a hilarious coincidence that we couldn’t stop laughing. We laughed and laughed until the store closed that night and they kicked us out. So we stood out in the parking lot laughing for a couple of hours, and then we stopped laughing.
Brother Milt is an earnest young newcomer in fashionable spectacles. He is fresh out of the seminary and eager to make a good impression, so I was not surprised by the tender, bruised quality of his quavering voice when he asked why he had not seen me in church on Sunday.
“Well, padre, I’m glad you asked,” I replied expansively. “Way I see it, a lot of folks think church is just a building.”
“It is a building,” said Brother Milt.
“You’re proving my point for me!” I exclaimed, pounding him on the back with amiable violence. I was all set for another few hours of laughing, but Brother Milt didn’t seem up to it. I could see that this well-meaning lad needed the kind of practical lesson they don’t bother teaching you in divinity school, so I cracked my knuckles and got started: “I’ll tell you, my boy, when I’m out walking around in a field, looking at butterflies and sunlight and whatnot, that’s my church. When I stare into the depths of a sparkling clear lake and see the little minnows flitting hither and yon, that’s my church. When a refreshing breeze stirs the tall grasses of the meadow, and there amid the leaves of the old sycamore I hear the chirping song of nestlings calling out for food, that’s my church.”
“But that’s not a church,” objected Brother Milt. “None of those things you’re talking about could be accurately described as a church.”
“Oh, couldn’t they?” I countered wisely. “The trees are taller than any steeple I know of.”
“They have some pretty tall steeples in Europe,” said Brother Milt.
Those seminarians had really done a number on him.
“All I know,” I continued with impressive calm, “is that I don’t need a wooden pew or a collection plate to bind me to the presence of the Almighty. When I’m out there in the glories of nature, no mere chapel on earth could make me feel any closer to God.”
“What about fleas?” asked Brother Milt.
“Oh, they’re just great, I can’t get enough of them,” I said. “Whenever they stick their little beaks in me and start sucking my blood, I feel like I’m receiving messages of peace from the angels on high.”
“Wow!” said Brother Milt.
“I know,” I replied.
“This nature business sounds like hot stuff,” said Brother Milt. “I need to get in on this action. Where can I find some of this nature you’re talking about?”
“Why, it’s all around us,” I replied. “Look at that raccoon carrying a piece of trash in its mouth. There’s a sermon you’re not going to hear from any pulpit.”
“What about that shopping cart?” asked Brother Milt. “Is that part of nature?”
“Sure, why not?”
Brother Milt’s huge smile said it all. He gazed about with an innocent wonder that was a joy to behold. The stars twinkled down lovingly on the touching scene. Brother Milt had a little bit of drool coming out of his mouth.
“What is that round thing in the sky?” he asked.
“Why, that’s nothing but the good old moon,” I replied, “or, as I call it, God’s lantern.”
Brother Milt gently shook his head. A tear trembled in his soft brown eye. At last he began to speak: “I guess I’ve spent so much time with my head buried in a set of musty old library books that I haven’t taken the time simply to look up at the moon. Obviously it is an intelligent being of immense power. I don’t want to anger it. Perhaps the only thing that will satisfy its horrible demands is fresh human blood!”
Brother Milt cried out in terror and awe, removed his pants, and scampered away into the darkness.
We don’t see eye to eye on everything, but he seems nice.