Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Church Part 2

I peeked left.
I peeked right.
I was both relieved and a little disappointed to find that, no, heavenly hands had not found their way to me.  Rather, in a scene that I am sure would have looked comical to any one of the few readers I have, had one of you walked into the room, all of the youth leaders had gathered around me, touching me and muttering soft prayers in an attempt to intensify the saving effects of ###’s own prayers.  I pushed from my mind the thoughts of how ludicrous a scene it must have been, telling myself “it’s now or never, Danno.” (I call myself Danno in my head, you see) “If something tangible is going to happen, it’s going to happen right now.”

### begged God to show me the way.  He proclaimed that he knew I was lost and searching for answers; that I was looking for something tangible and real tobelieve in.  So far so good, this guy sure can riff.  His fingers dug into my head and he went silent (I remember thinking: “If this were a porno, the money shot wouldbe next.”)  He spoke to me now, telling me to open up my heart and let the lord in, while the youth leaders tightened their grips on me too, and whispered in agreement.  I did as he said.  I cleared my mind and opened my heart… I really wanted this… I really believed in this… something was about to click I just knew it!  I held my breath and waited… their hands tightened on me… I waited… I was sweating from the warmth of all their grips…I waited… I waited… I waited… their grips loosened... I opened my eyes… the group was dispersing… the moment had passed… nothing had happened.  I’d been brought to the brink and left hanging, and for the rest of the night I suffered from religious blueballs.

This entry has already spilled into two parts, and I really don’t want to move into three or four part territory, so I will not be transcribing every note I took.  My notes from a sermon I attended about guilt will be the final chapter in the church series, at least for the foreseeable future.

I woke up early on the morning of this sermon, I think because I was having such anxiety about what I was supposed to wear to church.  I decided against a full suit and didn’t even end up wearing a tie or a jacket, settling on a pale blue dress shirt.  I realized in the car on the way over that I’d gained about 2 stone since I purchased this shirt and buttoning it up was a real problem, so I left it open. I was certain I’d look under-dressed and be judged harshly.
On that same drive over, I hit every green light on the way to the church.  Shall I interpret that as a sign from God?  He’s not really doing much about the poverty and murder in the world, so perhaps he is concentrating on traffic lights instead?  When I walked into thechurch, my fears of being under-dressed were quickly alleviated.  Only one elderly couple were wearing their Sunday’s best, the rest of the congregation were decked out in t-shirts and jeans, and in a way I actually felt a little over-dressed.  I sat with a group of the people I knew from the youth group, who were all wearing sandals, band t-shirts and ripped jeans, and felt like a bit of a nerd in my overly tight dress shirt.
We were all prompted to stand and hear some songs of worship, lead by a 6-piece Christian rock cover band.  The singer had a good voice but, suffice to say, his face would have been improved by a harelip, because at least it would have drawn attention away from his massive unibrow.  Once the bandfinished playing, the pastor informed everyone that they were beginning a “men vs. women” collection competition, to see which sex could raise the most money for the church.  I donated five dollars… not to support the church or anything, but I just hate women SO DAMN MUCH!
The pastor then went into a joke, and although it was a corny church joke, it actually succeeded in making me laugh out loud (or “LOL” as the kids say).  The joke went like this:
An elderly couple at the church, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, had recently celebrated their 50thwedding anniversary and the pastor took a moment out of his sermon to congratulate them in front of the congregation. Polite applause from everyone followed, and then the preacher asked,“Mr. Smith, what is your secret to a long, happy marriage?”
“Well,” Mr. Smith began.  “My wife loves to travel, so for our first wedding anniversary I took her to Beijing!”  This was greeted with more polite applause.  “That was very nice of you,Mr. Smith,” the pastor said.  “What did you do for your 50th anniversary?”
“I picked her up.”
As far as corny church jokes go, that’s the only, and therefore best, one I’ve ever heard.  So far I am not minding this church experience. Casual clothing, live music, jokes… I could see myself doing this every Sunday.  I really have a lot of trouble with my tenses don’t I?  Parts of this are in present tense, parts in past tense, I’m losing heavy marks on the blogging rubric. Also I’m having trouble with my wigwam and my teepee!  Get it?  Because they’re TENTS!  Tents and tense sound the same!  Homonyms, motherfucker!  Now, how about we launch into some quotes from the sermon, shall we?
-The first note I jotted down from the sermon was about the pastor’s take on prayer.  He told us that it was good to pray, but that our prayers would only be answered if they were part of God’s pre-ordained plans for us in the first place.  This begs the question:  why bother praying at all?  If God has already decided what will and won’t happen in our lives, then praying to Him and asking for His intervention seems like a pointless waste of time.
-The topic of the sermon, as I alluded to above, was guilt.  The pastor quoted Mark Twain (who was an atheist by the way, which I suppose is somewhat ironic.  The pastor also quoted Yancey and Kierkegaard at different times in the sermon, which I thought was rather forward-thinking for a Christian church), who said: “Men are unlike animals in that they blush… or need to.”  Then he informed us that guilt is God’s gift to the world, so that we can feel when we’re jeopardizing our immortal souls,and so that people who don’t love God feel bad at all times.
-The pastor then began talking about evolution by doing an impression of a monkey and saying“oohooh aah aah, I’m a monkey’s uncle!” which elicited uproarious laughter from the congregation.  He posed the following questions to us:  “If we evolved from monkeys, where did our guilt evolve from?” and then “If we evolved from monkeys, where did our SOULS evolve from?”  He then gave us a smug little “there, I’ve proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt” kind of smile, and everyone in the church nodded along in excited agreement.  Now look, if I open my mind and try really really hard, I may be able to concede that animals don’t experience guilt (although you could always tell when my old dog, Cameron, had done something he wasn’t supposed to by the look on his face when you walked into the house), but I don’t think I can wrap my head around the idea that animals don’t have souls. A girl’s horse won’t be waiting for her in heaven?  A dog that drags a boy out of a burning house is a heathen creature who isn’t allowed access to eternal life?  I could feel my will to “be saved” slipping at this point of the sermon.
-Next, the pastor revisited his previous statement that guilt is a gift from God to remind us when we are sinning.  But, he elaborated, that does not mean that every time we sin we go to hell. Rather, he said, every time we sin, every time we mess up and feel that guilt, we miss out on God’s love on earth.  I liked this, because earlier in my experience with this church, I was told that any sin without repentance gets you a one-way ticket to hell.  After that, I felt slightly better about this church’s message – that is until he made his final point…
-I am not sure how this ties into his theme of guilt, but the pastor closed by saying: “Joy and peace do not come from within, that’s a phony idea, and anyone who believes that is a phony. Joy and peace must be experienced from without.”
If that’s the drug Christianity is selling, I’m staying edge.

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