David Bruce: Church Anecdotes

John Ruskin disliked churches and appeals for money. A misguided person who wrote him, asking him to pay off the mortgage of the Duke Street Chapel, received this reply: “I am scornfully amused at your appeal to me, of all people in the world the precisely least likely to give you a farthing! My first word to all men and boys who care to hear me is ‘Don’t get into debt. Starve and go to heaven — but don’t borrow. Try first begging — I don’t mind if it’s really needful — stealing! But don’t buy things you can’t pay for!’ And of all manner of debtors pious people building churches they can’t pay for, are the most detestable nonsense to me. Can’t you preach and pray behind the hedges — or in a sandpit — or a coalhole first?”

As a scientist, Galileo supported the astronomical theory of Copernicus, which stated that the planets orbit the Sun, and opposed the astronomical theory of Ptolemy, which stated that the Sun and the other planets orbit the Earth. Unfortunately, this belief opposed the official teaching of the Catholic Church, which was powerful in Galileo’s native Italy. Galileo was put on trial by the Inquisition, found guilty, and placed on house arrest until he died in 1642. Not until 1992, after a nine-year study of the trial by Church officials, did Pope John Paul II officially state that the Catholic Church had been wrong and that Galileo had been right.

Mexican artist Diego Rivera hardly ever went to church when he was a child. Once, he attended a church service with an aunt, where he saw people praying before statues. Not realizing that the statures were symbols, young Diego thought that the people believed that the statues themselves had power. He grew very angry, and he ran to the altar, then he started shouting, telling the worshippers that they were stupid. Several worshippers thought that he was possessed by the devil; eventually, his aunt was able to get Diego out of the church.

Upset because of the Korean War, Pablo Picasso moved to a French village named Vallauris. The citizens made him an honorary citizen, and Picasso gave the villagers a sculpture titled Man with a Sheep to display in the main square, which was located near the town’s ceramics center. When Picasso turned 70 years old, the village gave him a feast and a 14th-century chapel, also located near the ceramics center. Picasso painted panels representing Warand Peace and made the chapel a temple dedicated to peace.

Ludwig Bemelmans, author/illustrator of the Madeline series of children’s books, had an Uncle Joseph who was a priest. Very few things upset him, but late arrivals to church services did. At the end of services, when Uncle Joseph walked down the aisle and blessed worshippers with holy water, he used to take a big dip of water and douse anyone who had come to services late.

While making the B horror movie Evil Dead in rural Tennessee, actor Bruce Campbell was frequently covered in fake blood made from Karo Syrup. Sometimes, he would film all night, get in the back of a pickup truck while still covered in “blood,” then pass spit-polished families going to church. All he could do was smile, wave, and pretend that everything was absolutely normal.

In the 19th century, many clergymen regarded going to theaters as sinful. The great 19th-century actor Joseph Jefferson once received a letter from a clergyman who asked him to perform Rip Van Winkle in his church, as he never went to the theater. Mr. Jefferson wrote back to say that honoring his request was impossible because he never went to church.

“I am a Christian and I worship in a Southern Baptist church. The denomination I belong to is Southern Baptist, but I want to impress upon everyone that I am more Christian than I am Baptist. If you find an individual who is more Baptist than he is Christian, you’d better watch him because he won’t do.” — Jerry Clower.

Louise Nevelson created artworks for the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City. When the pastor was asked by a reporter why a Russian-born Jew had been picked to create works of art for a Christian chapel, he replied, “Because she’s the greatest living American sculptor.”

When Barry Sanders became a professional football player for the Detroit Lions, he signed a contract giving him $6.1 million for five seasons. After signing the contract, Mr. Sanders sent a gift to the Baptist church he had attended while growing up in Wichita, Kansas: a check for $210,000.

Taking her young pupils to church, a Sister urged them to be quiet, saying, “Try to be so quiet that even Jesus will be surprised we’re coming.” The children were quiet and even walked on tippy-toes, but when they entered the church, one of the children shouted, “Surprise!”

Aretha Franklin started singing in the church choir when she was eight years old, and she made her professional debut — singing solo at church — when she was twelve years old. For singing, she was paid $15, which she immediately spent on a pair of roller skates.

A Toronto infielder named Al Brancato once arrived at the ball park with a bad limp. His manager asked what had happened, and Mr. Brancato said, “I bruised my knee.” The manager asked how, and Mr. Brancato explained, “Kneeling in church this morning.”

As a young girl, comedian Beatrice Lillie got one of her first laughs while in church. She was singing in a choir, when a woman beside her passed gas loudly during a pause in the music. Ms. Lillie turned to the woman and said, “Well, really!”

After first arriving in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin attended a silent Quaker meeting. He fell asleep and did not wake until someone roused him when the meeting was over.

When Stevie Wonder was young, he sang in a church choir — until he was expelled because a church member heard him singing rock and roll.

A church newsletter once stated, “Council Report — Due to the length of the Parish Council meeting, very little business was conducted.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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Edgar Lee Masters: Harry Wilmans and John Wasson and Many Soldiers and John Wasson (Spoon River Anthology)

Harry Wilmans

I WAS just turned twenty-one,
And Henry Phipps, the Sunday-school superintendent,
Made a speech in Bindle’s Opera House.
“The honor of the flag must be upheld,” he said,
“Whether it be assailed by a barbarous tribe of Tagalogs
Or the greatest power in Europe.”
And we cheered and cheered the speech and the flag he waved
As he spoke.
And I went to the war in spite of my father,
And followed the flag till I saw it raised
By our camp in a rice field near Manila,
And all of us cheered and cheered it.
But there were flies and poisonous things;
And there was the deadly water,
And the cruel heat,
And the sickening, putrid food;
And the smell of the trench just back of the tents
Where the soldiers went to empty themselves;
And there were the whores who followed us, full of syphilis;
And beastly acts between ourselves or alone,
With bullying, hatred, degradation among us,
And days of loathing and nights of fear
To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp,
Following the flag,
Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts.
Now there’s a flag over me in
Spoon River. A flag!
A flag!

John Wasson

OH! the dew-wet grass of the meadow in North Carolina
Through which Rebecca followed me wailing, wailing,
One child in her arms, and three that ran along wailing,
Lengthening out the farewell to me off to the war with the British,
And then the long, hard years down to the day of Yorktown.
And then my search for Rebecca,
Finding her at last in Virginia,
Two children dead in the meanwhile.
We went by oxen to Tennessee,
Thence after years to Illinois,
At last to Spoon River.
We cut the buffalo grass,
We felled the forests,
We built the school houses, built the bridges,
Leveled the roads and tilled the fields
Alone with poverty, scourges, death—
If Harry Wilmans who fought the Filipinos
Is to have a flag on his grave
Take it from mine.

Many Soldiers

THE idea danced before us as a flag;
The sound of martial music;
The thrill of carrying a gun;
Advancement in the world on coming home;
A glint of glory, wrath for foes;
A dream of duty to country or to God.
But these were things in ourselves, shining before us,
They were not the power behind us,
Which was the Almighty hand of Life,
Like fire at earth’s center making mountains,
Or pent up waters that cut them through.
Do you remember the iron band
The blacksmith, Shack Dye, welded
Around the oak on Bennet’s lawn,
From which to swing a hammock,
That daughter Janet might repose in, reading
On summer afternoons?
And that the growing tree at last
Sundered the iron band?
But not a cell in all the tree
Knew aught save that it thrilled with life,
Nor cared because the hammock fell
In the dust with Milton’s Poems.

John Wasson

HARRY WILMANS! You who fell in a swamp
Near Manila, following the flag
You were not wounded by the greatness of a dream,
Or destroyed by ineffectual work,
Or driven to madness by Satanic snags;
You were not torn by aching nerves,
Nor did you carry great wounds to your old age.
You did not starve, for the government fed you.
You did not suffer yet cry “forward”
To an army which you led
Against a foe with mocking smiles,
Sharper than bayonets.
You were not smitten down
By invisible bombs.
You were not rejected
By those for whom you were defeated.
You did not eat the savorless bread
Which a poor alchemy had made from ideals.
You went to Manila, Harry Wilmans,
While I enlisted in the bedraggled army
Of bright-eyed, divine youths,
Who surged forward, who were driven back and fell
Sick, broken, crying, shorn of faith,
Following the flag of the Kingdom of Heaven.
You and I, Harry Wilmans, have fallen
In our several ways, not knowing
Good from bad, defeat from victory,
Nor what face it is that smiles
Behind the demoniac mask.

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