All Images Copyright of James Mellick
The Art of James Mellick: Pecking Order I
Pecking Order I, 1993
Corporate Collection, Boston, MA
40" x 16" x 16", Acrylic on poplar with copper trim
The last time Gladys Grimsbach quit the church was the Sunday the congregation found out why the pastor and the church organist were never completely rested or prepared on the Sabbath morning, no matter how late they worked the night before.
Late one Saturday night, Gladys remembered seeing Myrtle Finney's car in front of the church. The lights were on in the pastor's office but the strangest noise was coming from inside the sanctuary. A ghostly and deep moaning sound came from the choir loft, like all the stops on the organ had been pulled and something heavy lay across the foot pedals.
It seems their sins found them out when, in their last encounter, passionate movements bumped the console and started the cassette recorder. The one used for taping church services for "shut-ins". The following week the "shut-ins" got more than they expected. When Brenda Coon's mother heard the beginning of the tape, she first thought it was that flamboyant substitute organist form Oberlin again. It set her gallstone recovery back several weeks.
So Gladys decided that she would become one of those "shut-ins" until they found a new pastor. No one knows why she decided to punish herself, but she spent her Sunday mornings watching one televangelist after another.
Mrs. Grimsbach lived alone with her three pets--a canary, a cat and a dog--and she gave all three the run of the house. They seemed to enjoy watching TV with her. Sometimes Gladys would leave the set on all day. The sounds and voices of other people, even Sunday afternoon football, made her feel less lonely.
Last Sunday Gladys was bending over, gathering clothes from the dryer when she saw a flash of yellow fly by. Her cat soon followed in hot pursuit, spinning its legs on the linoleum floor. After the cat came the dog which, thanks to television, was an over-weight, couch pooch. The vibration of the dog's running released the fold-away ironing board in the wall and it came down squarely on the head of Gladys who took a face-first dive into the laundry. The next thing she knew, she was facing a bright light at the end of a long tunnel. She had heard about this bright light as proof of an after-life but she was unprepared for the cheers and the music coming from the illumination. It seemed that the angels knew the music of John Philip Sousa.
A warm and wonderful sense of peace came over her as she floated toward the light. It was a peace that she had not felt in a long time. For the first time in fifteen years she felt no pain, as though a great weight had been taken from her back. In the light she could make out the silhouette of a strange and glorious event. There was her dog with his nose in the air like a seal. Balanced on the dog's nose was her cat curled in the form of a crescent moon. The cat was holding a ball in its paws and on this orb perched the canary as if it were the king of the world. This was strange. This was not the way that birds, cats and dogs are to behave. This was not the natural pecking order. Maybe it was all that Sunday morning TV, but somewhere along the way--in spite of the personal lives of oversexed TV evangelists--her pets got religion.
All of a sudden Gladys had this revelation that the church and faith were more than ministers who gave new meaning to the term "lay leader" or priests who fondled young boys. The power of the Good News is not based upon control and domination. The power is in compassion and service which goes against the natural pecking order. At the top of this pecking order are the meek while the strong support from the bottom. Power enables through the strength of love...
"We're back and ready to start the second half" was the first thing Gladys heard when she came to. It was then that she realized that part of the warmth she felt was a combination of the laundry and the dog licking her lips.
This Sunday things were back to normal. While Gladys was in church, the dog drank from the toilet, the cat forgot to cover in the litter box and understandably, the canary hung upside on its perch….but, the TV was turned off for a whole day.