Worshipping Mr. Loh

Since religions no longer depend upon location and culture;
since one can be a Lutheran Buddhist, or a Shiite Mormon, or a
Neo-Pagan Universalist; since my wife and I both rejected the
religions we were brought up with; since faith is now a matter of
convenience rather than calling: Cathy and I have decided to ignore
the existing religions altogether and worship our own personal
deity. His name is Mr. Loh.

Regular listeners to the PRI radio show This American
Life
might recognize the name. In 1996, writer and performer
Sandra Tsing Loh recorded a portrait of her 76-year-old father and
the Malibu rock band that adopted him as a mentor. The band, Boy
Hits Car, wrote a song about Mr. Loh and his apparent freedom from
conventional patterns of behavior. In it, Mr. Loh walked the beach
naked, sang his wisdom, and swam with dolphins-an image of her
father that Sandra Loh found absurd.

For a while this idea, that an eccentric Chinese man could serve
as a spiritual figure for a group of X-generation slackers, was a
shared joke in our marriage. While we were looking for a parking
space, for example, we would comment that Mr. Loh wouldn’t need a
parking space; he was beyond the need for parking spaces. At the
same time, we recognized that Mr. Loh’s ambivalence toward parking
spaces was precisely what would make them appear. And so, when an
exceptional parking space appeared for us, we began to thank Mr.
Loh for loaning us his power.

When Cathy and I decided to buy a house together, we felt the
need to create some sort of ritual that might help our odds in such
a tight real estate market. We belonged to no church, so in an
ironic gesture, we decided to build a small altar (left) for Mr.
Loh. It had a Buddhist flavor. We lit candles and set out small
gifts of food and alcohol. Then we solidified our intent by asking
Mr. Loh aloud for his help in finding a house.

A week later we jumped ahead of all the other applicants trying
to get into a beautiful old Craftsman-style house in Portland’s hip
Hawthorne neighborhood. Mr. Loh had come through.

Subsequent ritual prayers had similar results. Mr. Loh helped me
get into a very competitive graduate school, helped our friend
Heather’s newborn go through several surgeries, and helped us to
conceive in a single go.

For two people with little religious belief other than the
feeling that Something Is Out There and We Are All Connected, this
was a bit exciting. Because of our distrust of organized religions,
we still didn’t take Mr. Loh seriously, but at the same time he
ceased to be a mockery. In moments of uncertainty, Mr. Loh provided
a focal point for hope and decision, gave us a receptacle for
anxieties, and, ultimately, got results.

Like all religions, ours has its rules. Offerings made to Mr.
Loh must be somewhat in accordance with the request. For example,
while asking Mr. Loh to help us find housing in a new town, we
placed Monopoly houses, an old wasps’ hive, a bird’s nest, and
several shells on his altar. Regardless of the request, alcohol
must be present. Mr. Loh is a tippler.

Requests made to Mr. Loh must be serious but not ridiculous. For
example, when Cathy won $72 on the local lottery, she attributed
that to Mr. Loh’s influence. But we wouldn’t ask his help to win
the $50 million Powerball. It would be presumptuous.

Over the course of three years, our belief in Mr. Loh has moved
from ironic to partly heartfelt. Belief in Mr. Loh gives us a place
to focus anxieties about the future; in a way it is a method of
removing responsibility toward what we cannot control. At the same
time, interacting with a god engages an attitude that things will
work out and helps us to recognize the limits of what we can
affect.

The Mr. Loh we worship now has little connection to the elderly
Chinese man we once heard about on a radio show. I’m not sure what
he has become, or what it is that we name ‘Mr. Loh.’ A belief in
something? A trust in the universe? A superstitious need for a god?
Whatever he is, he serves our purpose and helps us through times of
stress. I don’t know whether the positive results we experience are
caused by some astral entity or by our improved attitude or just
good luck, and I don’t care. What we’ve got works for us, and that
is what counts.

Steve Wilson is the editor of Motionsickness
(www.motionsickmag.com),
a quarterly magazine that aims to cover ‘the other side of travel’
— everything from the adverse cultural impact of international
travel to profiles of travel-industry workers to a critique of the
mainstream travel media. This article is reprinted from
Clamor
(Nov./Dec. 2003). Subscriptions: $18/yr. (6 issues) from Big
Top Newsstand Services, 2729 Mission St., Suite 201, San Francisco,
CA 94110;
www.clamormagazine.org

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