Dick

It is a great thing to know the season for speech and the season for silence.

~ Seneca

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.

Tubing? Check.

Fireplace? Check.

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 . . .

[photo credit]

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20 thoughts on “Dick

  1. i went to a denominational gathering of believers today.
    in this congregation there is no one that is not a dick, and the thing is that everyone knows that they are a dick, sinner, imperfect human… so for the most part everyone just shuts up and gets along because they know that they are no better than anyone else. they get through the time together knowing pretty much what to expect from eachother, but, not from God. they all have a different view of God and a different walk, yet they can come together in their differences and be unified enough for an hour to sit down and behave them selves and listen to what God might be saying to them in spite of all the usual unusualness of it all.

  2. The extra “T” in the sign is making me breaking out in hives….

    I’m so sorry your experience at church was ruined by a bunch of unsupervised, rude teenagers. It seems like that is the “norm” now, which is completely sad. Maybe it’s because most of them are growing up as latchkey kids, alone and left to their own devices. Seems like someone should do something, but who? And what?

    Hope your son enjoys the retreat. He has a specific motivation for being there, but maybe the whole thing will grow on him, too.

    Peace – D

  3. I’ll spare you the sermon. I’m no preacher. I guess I just hope I’m not a dick(Cheek)

    Well I dont know about everyone else, but I was a dick once or twice in my Teen years. The difference today is the prisoners are running the prison. The real “Dicks” are the adults who do nothing. I think the man for the job would be Walt Kowalski(from the movie Gran Torino). Go see it you’ll know what I mean. 😉

  4. Funny you mention U2; a buddy of mine participates in a U2 themed liturgy at a local Lutheran church once a year. I’ve yet to make it due to schedule conflicts, but it does sound innovative.

    Hang in there and keep looking. With the homogenization of the local church this is a common thing – one reason that I find myself drawn back to the old standards I guess. Kids will be kids regardless of where you go so don’t let that stop you.

    Sometimes you have to fight for your own happiness.

    =D

  5. it is not about being happy, it is about loving what is there.
    give Love to what they are now.
    be glad everyone is alive and there.
    go to other churches and meet more people that are not perfect
    get out and see what is out there in all the churches in your area
    then after you have done this for a couple of years
    write about it as you go
    and see the changes that take place

    don’t be such a whimp

  6. i mean that in a Loving way
    even though it does not sound too “nice”.
    i believe that you can appreciate it just the way it is.

    don’t be a whimp in your beliefs.
    it is not easy to Love people.

    and i Love you and think that there is so much more for you to see.
    so i do not want for you to draw the lines just yet.

  7. You know, in middle school, I desperately wanted to be an atheist. Like, hardcore. I was convinced that God didn’t exist, because how could He? since my world was shit and then it would have been His fault and since that wasn’t possible, therefore there was no God. I went to Mass every week and memorized the Gospels and the hymns (including some of the latin and spanish songs) because what else was there to do? I changed my mind, of course, but the recent times, they haven’t changed so much, because my dad used to tell me of the times they’d run in, steal a bulletin, and run back out for breakfast. They’re teens. They’re all assholes, especially if their parents aren’t around. I understand your chagrin, though.

  8. I don’t have a great comment. I am known for telling kids to be quiet (the teacher in me). I have never been a part of a church.

    They were trying to look cool?

  9. I have to smile at the thought of people walking around with wireless mics in my tiny, 200-year-old Espicopal church. No power points. No “worship teams.” Just the ancient liturgy.

    And I have to ask about tubing…around here that’s a water sport–stritcly for summer. I assume it means something else where you are.

  10. Such a nicely crafted post. Your writing feels so organized, logical, and flowing, yet personal, real, compelling.

    Question for you. Feel free to ignore. What was the real target of your annoyance? Seems like there were a few. Personally, I’m not sure it was the teens. (I haven’t met one that didn’t annoy me yet. I mean just look at them!) They may have been the straw.

    Glossolalia: great word!

    I grew up in the Pentacostal church too. (Might explain my love of Bluegrass murder ballads.) Fear and shame were the editorial themes. I never felt at home. But. But. I miss the community and the spirit of communion (not sure if I used that word correctly). Still looking for a replacement.

  11. So many great comments. Thank you all.

    Tubing is most decidedly a winter sport in Indiana. Though you’ll find some tubes on lakes in the summer, I’ll always think of it as a wintertime activity . . .

    Michael, I tried to have an open mind about the whole deal. But it was a MASSIVE church, and there are so many things to hate about an atmosphere like that. The kids just topped the cake . . . “Fear and shame were the editorial themes.” Brother, you said a mouthful . . .

    Cuz, I would so attend a U2-style worship service. At least I’d have a firm footing to stand on . . .

  12. my comment is probably not going to be too popular- sorry they distracted you-

    my opinion?

    The blank openness of that teen- not changing because he is in church- is a bit more refreshing to me- a bit more honest-

    then the real dicks up there pretending that they don’t say dick.

  13. oh- and our tubes over here are for summer and winter 🙂

    we float down the farmington river on them in the summer- or jump on them in the lakes- or get pulled by motorboats on them……

    but in the winter- they go faster down snow and ice covered hills than almost anything-

    personally, I prefer those old fashioned metal saucers that we melted wax on the bottom of when we were kids!

    ha!

    and we didn’t even wear helmets then-
    which might explain a lot. 🙂

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