I’m Not From Here, excerpt 2

This month Cascade publishes my second novel, I’m not from Here. It’s a parable, in Southern idiom, the Don Quixote-like adventures of Felix Goforth Luckie who, while attempting to be a salesman in a small town, Galilee, Georgia, discovers himself, the world, and God.

In this excerpt, Felix heads to church in Galilee.



Felix’s goal that Sunday morning was church, though he was gradually, with the help of The Prophet, extricating himself from the clutches of conventional religious practice. The reason for his venturing forth this morning was obedience to his mother’s injunction, “Go to church so you can get a good start. 

As he walked he listened to his iPod: “But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you, . . . so the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all. Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self. You are the way and the way-farer. 

He paused before crossing the last street and surveyed the church—rambling, squash-colored brick with a bell tower to the side, preserved meticulously from the early twenties. Switching off his iPod, he pondered the inscrutable wisdom that he had just heard. Could he be in a procession towards his god-self, both wayfarer and way. 

The rusted black sign read, “GALILEE FIRST METHODIST CHURCH, SOUTH, The Revernd Doctor Dimsdale Witzkopf, DMin., 11:00 Sundays. youth Activities Cancelled All summer. No United Methodist Women’s Meetings until Farther Notice.”

Two aged Fords were parked beside the church, even though it was 10:40. Felix climbed the worn granite steps toward a door on the left side and optimistically pulled the handle. The door refused. He turned, faced the street and smiled, feeling stupid. He walked down the steps and over to the front of the church, half-hoping that someone might appear so he would not have to risk trying another locked door in vain. He gave thanks when the central door gave way. As he stepped blindly into a darkened entrance hall, an elderly woman’s high voice called, “You are new, I take it. Heard you rattling the side door. It’s always shut to protect from wetness.”

“Thank you,” he responded awkwardly. “I’m from Salisbury.” Her expression did not change.
 

“Yes, well, there you have it,” she declared as she shoved a folded piece of paper at him, opened the sanctuary door, and gestured him into the main body of the church. “Our large organ from Ohio is susceptible to wetness. 

At fifteen minutes before the churching hour the room was empty except for a couple of shuffling members of the choir in the loft behind the pulpit.

“I’m not really going through Galilee,” Felix said in an attempt to prolong their conversation. “I’m a new resident, having just moved here to begin work in communications technology.”

“One would think, as hot and dry as this summer has been, wetness wouldn’t be a problem,” she continued. Then, shoving him into the empty sanctuary, the woman laughed, shaking her head in amusement. “No, you are just passing through.” 

Plopped on an empty pew, he stared at a sprawl of gladioli on the altar table. A minute or two before eleven, Felix heard a church bell clang, as if someone were beating a bucket with a hammer. Then slamming doors and muffled voices. People shuffled in, murmuring as they took their habitual seats. The organ gurgled a prelude. An aged choir (four older women, two ancient men) chirped a tremulous call to worship, “Here We Are,” sung with resignation.

The pastor appeared from a side door next to the choir loft and then disappeared in a chair behind the pulpit. All that could be seen of him was his spouting hair. When an usher thrust the attendance pad at him, Felix dutifully signed with the blunt golf pencil that had been provided. He included his new address and checked “Desire a Visit,” because there was no category for newcomers. On the “Prayer Concerns” line, he wrote, “‘You are the way and the wayfarers’—The Prophet.” He smiled as he stretched to his left to pass the pad to his sole companion in the pew, an older woman who glared at him as she received the pad, jerking it. 

The pastor seemed as little interested in the subject of his sermon as the passive congregation. His text was from one of the gospels, wherever Jesus says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The preacher announced, “This is what Christianity is all about. The whole point of Jesus, in case any of you were wondering. 

Felix smiled. He saw himself as on a pilgrimage in search of the point of it all. He had ventured forth on an assignment that took him away from the narrow, negative, judgmental Christianity of Beulah Baptist, upwards into some new but as yet indistinct, graciously vague, neighborly spirituality. The preacher’s declaration that the point was “love your neighbor as yourself” sounded like The Prophet.

Witzkopf’s interest in his subject quickened. His voice rose as he pronounced that most people don’t notice that Jesus stressed “as yourself” as the key to Christianity. “So ‘love your neighbor’ isn’t the mush you people think it is.”

“Self-love is the basis for all true love,” claimed the preacher. “If you can’t love yourself, lots of luck loving anybody else. Schopenhauer said that love does not let itself be forced. So there. I say unto you that love, like faith, isn’t forced. No means no.” Witzkopf gave a giggle that was unreturned by the congregation.

Felix scarcely had time to turn over these arresting thoughts before the preacher sneered, “As my mentor, the great Schopenhauer, put so well, ‘If we were not all so excessively interested in ourselves, life would be so uninteresting that none of us would be able to endure it.’ Get it?”

The preacher mentioned “the insidious myth of altruism,” and some other things, then carefully read, spitting the words, “Again, Schopenhauer: ‘Truth is no harlot who throws her arms round the neck of him who does not desire her. . . . She is so coy a beauty that even the man who sacrifices everything to her can still not be certain of her favors.’” A couple of older women toward the front turned toward one another and frowned.

Felix liked the quote. He saved “truth is no harlot” to the notepad on his Dragon, thinking, “That sums it all up.”
I’d be happy to send you an autographed copy of I’m Not from Here for Christmas giving. Send your name and address to me at will@duke.edu and I’ll sign a copy of I’m Not from Here, send it to you postage free, and charge you later.

 

I’m Not from Here: A Parable https://www.amazon.com/dp/1625641850/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awd_hagBwb3TGRFG9

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