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Thou Shalt Not Muzzle the Ox
by Patricia Backora
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“Oh, isn’t he absolutely WONDERFUL!” Sister Gloria sighed in ecstasy.

“Just like a breath of fresh air, Martha,” her friend replied.

“Amen,” Martha’s husband Jack added. “He’s a real prophet of God. Not like those mealy-mouth powderpuffs I’ve listened to before. I swear, Gloria, most preachers put me to sleep.”

“Careful, Jack,” admonished Martha. “The Bible says to ‘swear not at all’.”

“And that message about casting your bread upon the waters was SO inspirational!” Gloria glowed. “I wonder what he has in store for us tonight.”

“Whatever it is,” Jack said, “we can surely depend on Brother Foghorn to break the best spiritual bread to us all.”

“I’m counting the hours till tonight,” Gloria giggled. “Gotta go. I’ve gotta go get groceries and rustle up supper. Rosco will be in at six.”

* * * * *

After the usual praise choruses, announcements, and the offering, Deacon Davis prayed a gentle prayer for God to bless the message about to be delivered. The 5000+ congregation of Flagstone Cathedral grew quiet.

In walked a giant of a preacher, so massive the podium floorboards creaked beneath him. Brother Foghorn acknowledged the thunderous applause with a vinegary grin, which quickly reverted back to his usual expression: a stern glare which seemed to be super-glued to his angry jowls. His navy blue suit looked crisp and new, though his jacket strained a bit at the buttons. His beefy hands boasted a shiny watch, a gold wedding band encrusted with emeralds, and a diamond ring. The Good Book was reverently set on the lectern, which was dwarfed by the mountainous man behind it.

He cleared his throat and began: “Before I get into my main topic, I want to wish all our mamas and grandmamas out in the congregation a happy Mother’s Day.”

“A godly woman is the dearest thing to God’s heart on this earth,” Brother Foghorn said in a creamy voice. “The Bible says in Psalms 31: Who can find a virtuous woman? Her price is above rubies. She will do her husband good and not evil all the days of her life.”

“Now, a lot of y’all think the only criteria needed for being a Stepford..I mean, virtuous wife is to work like a mule, get up at the crack of dawn, and be on call 24 hours a day. But that ain’t necessarily so. Self-denial and discipline are also part and parcel of what goes into a good woman. Vicki, come on up here! I want everybody to know how much I appreciate you!”

A shy-looking lady daintily ascended the podium. Brother Foghorn’s third wife didn’t look older than 45 or so, though her husband must be close to 70. In fact, Vicki appeared no older than Brother Foghorn’s granddaughter…by his second marriage, of course. Vicki’s professionally styled coiffure overpowered her slim wedge of a face. She wore a pastel suit with high heels and pearls. Her hands, like those of her husband, sparkled with jewelry.

Brother Foghorn gave her a peck on the cheek. “If ever a virtuous wife lived, she’s standing right here before you all,” he said. “In good times and bad, Vicki keeps this old soldier all revved up and rarin’ to go. It’s mighty lonely at the top, saints. Many a time I would have gone to bed discouraged, but Vicki was right there beside me, bringing warmth and cheer to my heart.”

More applause, then Brother Foghorn said: “Vicki respects me. So much so that she shines her brightest for me as she represents me to the public. Vicki hasn’t gained one solitary ounce since we married a few years back. Every morning Vicki starts her day with half a bowl of bran flakes and a little orange juice… AFTER she whips up my bacon and eggs, waffles, hash browns, grits, biscuits, and gravy. After breakfast Vicki fetches my morning papers, then puts on her sweatsuit and runs three miles to stay slim for me. When we go out to eat at the Sombrero Steak House she’ll usually nibble on a shrimp salad while I chow down on the Macho Texas T-Bone, along with chili fries, Bravo Beans and garlic bread, with lemon ice box pie for dessert. And if we get hungry for a snack before bed, Vicki will have half a grapefruit while I attack a bucket of popcorn chicken.”

Brother Foghorn pulled up his sagging belt. “Can’t help it, folks. I’m just a big man, and it takes a lot to run my engine. I grew up on a farm FULL of fat chickens just waitin’ to be fried on mama’s wood-burnin’ cookstove! SOMEBODY’S gotta eat those varmints, or the whole wide world would be overrun by roosters. Those lily-livered liberal lefties are lyin’ when they say Republican preachers don’t care about the environment.”

Brother Foghorn scratched his head. “Speakin’ of wood….Next week we’re holdin’ our annual WOODSHED Festival, to celebrate family discipline. Saints, if you haven’t given your kid a good wallopin’ in the past week, you’re sleepin’ on the job! Surely some of you have a kid that knocked over a glass of milk or laid in bed five minutes after you told him to get up for school.”

The preacher removed his belt. He waved it over his head and hollered: “And I don’t mean usin’ no wimpy fly-swatter, neither! When I was knee-high to a grasshopper I learnt to say ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ to my ma and ‘no ma’am’ and ‘yes ma’am’ to my pa! And if I talked back my pa would drag me out back to the out….I mean….woodshed…and whale the tar out of me with his with his secret WMD: the Star Wars Strap! He’d go ‘WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!” and I’d see the stars!” Brother Foghorn pounded the pulpit a with a few good licks.

“Which brings me to my next diversion from our main topic: Don’t forget to bring in any discarded canned goods to our church food pantry. If you’ve got any cans of pinto beans that you’ve been storin’ in your bomb shelter for twenty years, bring ‘em if the lids ain’t swollen yet! That goes for any long-forgotten boxed goods on your shelf, too, like macaroni, gravy mix and stale crackers. I see the looks I’m gettin’ from that corner over there. Well, let me tell YOU something, Brother So-and so! Beggars can’t be choosers! If people like you would get off your lazy blessed assurances and go out and git a job, we wouldn’t NEED no church pantry! There’s six working days in a week and twelve hours in each working day! So GO TO WORK!”

“Which brings us back to Mother’s Day. I heard a lot of buzzin’ goin’ on out in the congregation when I compared my wife’s eating habits with my own. You old hens out in the congregation don’t think it’s fair that we men can eat whatever we want while you have to diet all the time! Well, tough beans! Life ain’t fair! The Bible says that the man was not made for the woman, but the woman for the man! We don’t rehaul ourselves for y’all, y’all do that for US! You girls get all spruced up and look your best for us men before you get married, but after you catch the bus you stop runnin’ after it and git lazy about your looks! If my first wife Rowena had gotten her figure back after havin’ our three kids, she’d still be with me today. I laid down the law but she was stubborn as a mule. I told her to put on a little war paint and quit lookin’ like last year’s oatmeal. Finally I said, “I’ve got to consider what’s best for the image of my ministry. I need a fresh new face and figure to represent ME, and get away from the old stereotype of a dowdy do-gooder with a doorknob hairdo. And YOU just don’t fill the bill.’ So I gave Rowena her marching orders and got hitched again. Well, wife number two didn’t pan out either, but I didn’t give up. I finally hit a home run with Vicki here. Heck, I figure that what little she costs me in plastic surgery and diet pills is well worth it.

“Which raises my next point: Just what is Flagstone Ministries worth to YOU? You tithin’ deadbeats out there in TV Land and Pew Paradise had better wake up! We’ve all gotta pull together or our ship will sink on the stormy sea! Which raises my next topic: sabotage! Sister Sandstorm quit our church last week. WHY? Because she’s ashamed to show her face around here anymore! She made, as y’all know, salacious allegations about our janitor, which were plumb ridiculous, because Brother Barney blushes to see his salad dressing. So I told Sister Sandstorm to quit tellin’ stories. So how did she react? Instead of forgiving and forgetting like any Christian would, Sister Sandstorm is suing our church.”

Brother Foghorn grew red as a beet. “That witch can go to hell in a hippie helicopter! I’ll show HER! Everybody, whip out your Bibles!”

Brother Foghorn read from Psalms Chapter 35. He stopped at key verses and raised his hands, calling for the entire congregation to join in his curse:

“Let Sister Sandstorm be confounded and put the shame for persecuting us!

“Let her way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the Lord persecute her!

“Let destruction come upon Sister Sandstorm when she can’t even see it coming!”

After several minutes of chanting, hollering, and pleading for the woman’s soul to be delivered over to satan and roasted in his hickory pit, Brother Foghorn got a devious grin on his face. “I guess we took care of HER! Which brings me back to my original point: If you hefty heifers out in the congregation want to save your marriage, you better lose your lard! Popping out a passel of kids is no excuse for being bigger than you were on your wedding day! So knock off the Nachos, Dove Bars and Ding Dongs! His voice reverberated throughout the vast auditorium.

Gloria, who almost worshipped the preacher, burst into tears. Her husband nudged her on the arm and picked up the baby, then told Gloria to walk out with him. “Oh, Rosco, you DO love me!” she cried. A very few women (and some men, even) found the courage to walk out with them. None of them had joined in the witchcraft curse put on Sister Sandstorm by the congregation.

“Good riddance!” the preacher bellowed. “If you can’t take the heat, git out of the kitchen! That tightwad girlie-man wasn’t a tither anyway! And that brings us up to my main topic: ‘None shall appear before the Lord empty!’

After mutilating and misapplying a few favorite Old Testament Scriptures, Brother Foghorn said: “Unless you bring an offering, AND YOUR TITHE, Don’t bother to show your ugly mug ever again at the House of the Lord. The Bible says: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn!

“I got news for y’all! I gotta eat too! My word, you gold-diggers want this and that out of the Lord, but whenever He asks for your tithe, you head for the hills! Week after week we break spiritual bread to all y’all but whenever we take up tithes so the ministry of this church can eat, you make excuses. Some of you say ‘I’m unemployed now’, or ‘I’m just a homemaker, and my husband isn’t saved. Therefore I can’t pay any tithes.’ Excuses! Excuses! What are you people trying to do? Starve me out of a job after I’ve fed y’all such good spiritual bread?”

* * * * *

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