It is a great thing to know the season for speech and the season for silence.
I should have gone to a movie. With a plethora of worthy options showing nearly every hour at the local multiplex, it would have been a much more enjoyable and entertaining evening.
Surely it would have been quieter.
Instead we went to church.
My son has been attending the Saturday evening service at one of the largest in this City of Churches with his girlfriend for a couple of months now, and has decided to attend a youth retreat this coming weekend.
Girlfriend? Oh yeah!
So I figured it might be a nice idea to pay them a visit, meet the youth leaders, sign their forms in person, and give them a very big check. I dusted off my big black (genuine!) leather monstrosity of a study bible, loaded up the family – it really is just like riding a bike – and sally forthed.
The pastor met us at the door with a firm handshake and a smile. Not what I expected at such a big place. Perhaps we were just lucky that we chose to enter through that particular door instead of one of the other twenty-seven. Or maybe we showed up early enough to catch him, before the rest of the throng arrived and we ended up lost amidst the shuffle. No matter. He seemed focused and genuine, and I liked him immediately. We also met a lovely lady who recognized my son and greeted him warmly. Also very welcoming and smiley, to the nines of sorts in black stockings and a charcoal power suit, she never shut up. She took some getting used to . . .
We herded the wee ones off to their age-appropriate programs. Zoe attended a gathering of 1st and 2nd graders in a section of the building known as Big City Studio. The staff wore wireless microphones strapped to their ears, like Britney, and led the kids in an assortment of games and activities. My little girl got to talk on a “fancy” phone with a big dial in the middle (!) and won a not-cheap stuffed leopard after they drew her name out of a hat. My middle two visited The Goal Line, a sports-themed hideaway complete with three Nintendo Wii consoles, a couple PS2s, a basketball hoop, and the Ravens game on in the background.
None of them can remember much of what they may have learned about Jesus.
We grown-ups weren’t so lucky.
Our entourage snuck in to the upper level of the sanctuary, my whistle whetted by a courtesy can of Diet Dr. Pepper, just as the worship team hit their stride. Blessed monotony! Apparently there have been no new worship choruses penned in the past ten years. Nothing original and inspiring anyway. I’d give my kingdom for a worship team willing and talented enough to belt out “Where the Streets Have No Name”. I could sing along to that one, without the power point lyrics. And the sermon was nothing new. Following a tender testimony by a young couple concerning the loss of their child, we learned that the trials and tribulations believers endure “are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” The subtle, not-so-blatantly spoken point? We should invite and welcome as much heartache as possible, for those who suffer the most will have the best stuff in heaven. Endure now, rejoice later. Indeed, the toughest pills go down smoother when we have glory to look forward to. Then the pastor ended the service with a Christian classic. The setup was unique but I groaned at the inevitable punchline: “I’ve read the back of The Book and we win!” People laughed – perhaps some out of pity, though I doubt many – as another classic sprang to mind: “The last time I heard that, I fell off my dinosaur and broke my stone underwear!”
I’ve sat through worse church services, I assure you. This one, like so many others, just felt so familiar and stable, a dime-a-dozen rendezvous with the gentle, meek, marketable Messiah. Yet all this would have been bearable and un-post-worthy had it not been for a group of teens sitting directly behind us. They too were decked out, in the latest teen fads, yet wore smirks betraying their feelings about having to hang out in church on a Saturday evening. At least they had each other, a solidarity borne in suffering and boredom.
And they never shut up. Despite numerous glares from distracted parishioners, and a talking-to by an usher, they just kept chatting.
I know how to chat in church. I grew up Pentecostal, so my friends and I had to talk rather loudly in order compete with all the glossolalia, holy fire pouring down from heaven and spewing forth in the boisterous voices of the saints. We blended in smoothly, but always got busted for our heathen utterances.
At least we kept it clean. Not these guys. During the final prayer – the prayer, for God’s sake! – one of the kids stepped on the pop can of his friend, who, in turn, declared his offending friend, with a chuckle, a dick.
I think I might have blushed.
My father would have had me bent over a pew in the basement, spewing and slobbering forth my own attritional nonsense, at the end of his belt. He’d probably do it today, given the opportunity. And I’d deserve it. There’s a time to say shit like that, and a time to shut your trap. Despite my feelings about church, I can safely say that this just seemed . . . wrong. Not in a heading-for-hell kind of way, but in a have-a-little-respect kind of way.
This post could go so many directions. Yet here I am, way past the point where I should be getting to the point. I want to go on about how distracting the kids were, and how I would have had better luck avoiding such rudeness had I gone to the movies. Way at the top, that’s where I imagined this post heading. But I’m not feeling it. In the spirit of memoir, I could branch off and share more about my own checkered past as an impressionable and gullible teenager, forced to go to church every time the doors were open, and how in many ways I am scarred. Or, being my own worst critic, I could even come clean and admit that my own deeply cynical attitude is probably a more harmful thing than the overt actions of some bored teenagers.
I’ll spare you the sermon. I’m no preacher. I guess I just hope I’m not a dick . . .