I wonder what God thinks about during church…

Church of God CareerMom and I, after much internal and conflicting debate, collected the boys and made it to church this morning. The service was full of Christmasy music and the theme was even one of debating whether or not God exists. So, it was all very holiday-serious.

Unfortunately, the preacher also preached for 40 minutes. Folks, I don’t know about you, but my attention span is little more than my 4-year old’s and after starting out the sermon by reading John 3:16–a scripture that even most Atheists can recite–my mind had started wandering even faster than usual.

But, I made it through the service and as usual, the preacher did his little altar call thing where he asks people to raise their hand if they need special prayer. It’s a sucker move see, and only new people fall for it. Those of us who attend on a regular basis know that, despite saying, “I don’t want to embarrass anyone here today,” he IS going to embarrass you later by asking you to stand up in front of everyone while the rest of the congregation remain seated. And then after you’ve stood up by your lonesome for a few minutes, he asks everyone else to stand up too.

It was after we had all stood up and while I had my head bowed in reverent prayer, that I felt CareerMom nudge me. I looked up at her thinking perhaps she was having a spiritual revival and wanted to tearfully tell me how much she loved me.

Instead, she pointed her eyes down towards the pew seat in front of us where there were two elderly ladies sitting. There was a Bible lying on the pew between them with about 1/3 of a piece of paper showing from underneath it. In a whisper, CareerMom said, “Look at that note.”

I couldn’t see much, but the words I did see, which spanned about five sentences were, in this order:

blah blah blah blah blah bras

blah blah blah blah blah pink

blah blah blah blah caught

blah blah blah black

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones having trouble concentrating.

Bras indeed!

AMEN!

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My good deed for the day?

top secret Ever since I was forced out of Children’s Church into the “Big Church” with mom, dad and all the other big kids, church has been an exercise in extreme boredom for me. I remember when I was younger, sitting in the second from the front row where all the teens sat (we figured sitting up close with our friends at least got us away from our parents, even if we were then under the watchful eye of the preacher) with my eyes fixated on the pastor as he stomped to and fro on the stage. Sometimes, I remember that I’d stare at him so long and hard that I’d actually get tunnel vision. It became a game in fact–seeing how long and hard I could stare at him without blinking.

Having been in church since I was very young, I’ve heard just about every take on every story in every chapter of the Bible. I’ve heard metaphors made out of Psalms that would make Pythagoras scratch his head. I’ve heard God’s vengeance on Sodom and Gomorrah soliloquized to the point where one could almost hear the screams of the city’s denizens as the fire rained down, and I’ve heard Jesus the Fisherman preached so much that I could almost tell you what his bait of choice was when fishing the Sea of Galilee with his buds.

You preach it, I’ve heard it, and that’s why to this day, church bores the mess outta me. But there are other reasons I go; such as for my kids.

Because we can’t seem to settle down in a church, and because I never see myself  “joining” another church, MLI doesn’t have a bunch of friends at church that he likes to go play with. Previously, any attempts to make him go to children’s church so that mom and dad could watch the service without having to constantly admonish him to be quiet while also fishing crayons off the floor, were met with extreme crying and fit-pitching. But this past Sunday, I was determined to make him go to children’s church if it was the last thing I did.

We actually got there early, thanks to having started getting ready at 7 a.m. We checked the boys in and a nice lady escorted MLI and me upstairs to a “holding area” where they put a lot of kids until all the various teachers show up. As soon as we arrived at his room, he started his act:

  • Hands in his mouth
  • Pulling away from me
  • A slowly rising whine that threatened to embarrass me in public

So, I squatted down and said, “Come here, let’s talk.”

Not quite sure what to make of this odd development that didn’t involve daddy yelling and threatening to spank him, he stopped whining and with his hand still in his mouth, came over to me.

I said, “I’m gonna tell you a little secret, but you have to PROMISE not to tell mommy ok?
(In my head, George Strait was singing, “…a secret that my daddy said, was just between us…)
He nodded.

In a hushed voice, I told him, “I don’t like church either. It’s kinda boring, and it’s long and stuff. But, mommy likes for us to go and we want you to learn about Jesus and stuff, so that’s why we all go. So do me a favor, and just go in there and try and have fun and before you know it, it will be all over.”

He looked at me with those red eyes and with a bit of a sniff, he turned to face the head lady who was coming towards him, hunched over and with a cow sock-puppet on her hand. As she got near, a spooky voice emanated from the sock puppet, “I’m scared too!”

I wanted to say, “Lady, you’re not helping,” but rather, I took off running down the hall before he could change his mind and come running back to me.

Turned out, he had a great time. They ate lots of junk food, and made rice crispy treats for me and CareerMom. In fact, he was talking about how next time he didn’t want to come in big church with us.

So, mission accomplished.

If so though, why I do I feel kinda crappy about it? At the time, I thought maybe he would appreciate a little “man to man” truth–a secret that was just his and daddy’s. But now I’m not so sure. What if I just colored his religious experience for the rest of his life? What if, rather than being open to what God wants to do in his life, he’s instead just going to go through the motions to make other people happy?

I’m struggling with this, even in the face of apparent success.

What do you think? Did I help, or hurt?

Not (yet) on Oprah’s Book List

The ShackI guess I’m probably the last person to read
The Shack” by William Young. If I’m NOT the last, and you haven’t read it either, it’s the fictional story about a man (Mack) who loses a daughter in a horrible twist of fate, and as a result, blames God…blah blah blah. The story details how Mack receives a personal invitation from God to return to the scene of his daughter’s disappearance where, over the course of the weekend, he meets with God and eventually reconciles his relationship with him. The location isn’t as plain as it would seem, and neither is his meeting with God. I won’t spoil it with more details.

CareerMom bought this book for me over Easter and as I pulled it out of my basket, she said, “I got it at Sweet Spirit. It was on the Best Seller’s list, so I just got it. I don’t know if it’s good or not.”

Normally, I might believe her lackadaisical attitude about why she purchased the book, but the back cover of the book explains… well…you read it:

shack excerpt

It’s a not-discussed non-secret between CareerMom and I that my personal beliefs about God, while still strong, don’t run towards the “gotta go to church every Sunday” direction and that my frustrations with God generally stem from a seeming lack of interaction (or interest) on his part. Given the facts, I’m pretty sure her wish was that this book would hopefully give me some answers, while guiding me back towards a closer relationship with him. Having read a number of these “Where’s God” books, I didn’t hold out much hope.

Surprisingly, it may actually work out that this book provides some insight, if not actual answers, but not in the way she thinks. This book, a piece of fiction containing “real conversations” according to the author, won’t come as a shock to the millions of us who have grown up and cast aside the traditional religion we grew up with and who, have instead, embraced a more personal God, according to his or her own views of spirituality. It will, and has, cause a visceral reaction among those (like my mother) who believe God is up there diddling his finger around in everyone’s business and who also believe he has a plan for absolutely everything that happens.

The shack doesn’t portray God in a manner that fulfills any one religion’s perfect ideal, and some of the theology taught by “God” in the book would probably give even the youngest Pope a heart attack. What it does do, is tend to bolster the agnostics’ belief that we’ve gotten religion all wrong (and I’m talking about Eastern and some Western religions) and that there are many paths to God and not everyone will get there the same way. The shack portrays God as more a relationship oriented being, rather than a rules oriented being.

There’s a part of me–the part that went to a Bible thumping, fire and  brimstone church when I was a kid–who wants to scream “HERETIC!”, but then there’s another part of me that wants to believe what is written here. But despite all this, what I haven’t found in the book, is a concrete answer about what a person needs to do to gets on God’s eternal good side. Is there a prayer I need to say to ensure I go to heaven? Do I need to get sprinkled with water again, turn around three times and do ten pushups? What?

I’m not quite finished with the book yet and these answers may still reveal themselves. Either way, I have gotten one thing from the book and it came in a very offhanded passage where I don’t think the author was actually trying to make a point; which actually lends authenticity to some of the book’s tenets.

From my own church background, I know that the Bible tells us to model our prayers after the Lords prayer:

  1. start by praising him (“…hallowed be thy name…”)
  2. next comes our submission to him (“…thy kingdom come, thy will be done…”)
  3. then we ask him for things (“…give us this day our daily bread…”)
  4. ask for forgiveness (“…and forgive us our trespasses…”)
  5. ask for guidance (“…lead us not into temptation…”)
  6. Conclusion

In following this, I always find myself thanking God over and over for the same things. In fact, I’d bet most of us use the same prayer playbook–generally speaking–and honestly, I get bored with it and I figure he does too. But, in The Shack, it details how Mack is sitting around the table eating dinner with God and he’s telling God all about his friends and then he says, (I’m paraphrasing) “Hey wait a minute…what am I telling you all this for. Don’t you already know everything about them?” And God answers (again…paraphrasing) “Of course we know, but in this moment, we are turning off that part of us that knows all about them, so that we can enjoy listening to you tell us in your own words.”

I must say that was a bit of a revelation to me. What if that’s REALLY how it works for God? What if each time he hears our cries and our praise, it’s as if he’s hearing it for the first time? Sort of brought back a renewed interest in prayer for me.

So as I finish the book, we’ll see. If I’ve gotten you interested in more, then great. Hope I didn’t turn anyone off though. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Take ye this bread and…try not to crunch too loudly

After nearly two months of church-skipping, I made a command decision this weekend and announced that we would be going to church. Now, I’m not thrilled with our current church, but it does have its “up” side. For one, it has an early service, which lets us get in and get out quickly. It also has a good childcare department and it’s the right size (not too small, not too big). And lastly, it’s uncomplicated. From the parking, to the quick-exit, I know where everything is; I know where I’m going; it’s just…comfortable, for lack of a better word.

My wife (hereafter to be known as “Career-mom”) doesn’t really like our church that much and holds onto the irrational belief that the perfect church is out there somewhere and all we have to do is visit enough of them to find it. She’s playing with statistics here. I, hating little more than being the new guy in a new church, try and avoid this as much as possible and I got lucky this week because the two churches she was interested in, didn’t appear to have much for the kids. So new scary church out…old comfortable church in. Yah me…I win!

Now, our oldest son doesn’t like going to the kids’ church, so after dropping off the baby, my wife brought him into the big church with us. To his credit, he did very well, only whispering overly-loud one or two times and certainly not reaching the volume that two children did about five pews ahead of us, which prompted one of the bouncers (AKA: elders of the church) to get up and politely ask them to take their child elsewhere.

But wouldn’t you know it…this Sunday was Communion Sunday. Unlike Catholics, we Pentecostals take communion at our pews. Consisting of little unleavened wafers (think tiny oyster crackers w/out salt) and an itty-bitty cup of juice, Communion for us is a complicated affair of holding onto your micro-wafer while simultaneously trying to pass the juice-laden tray to the next person without causing a complete disaster. My son was sitting next to Career-mom and I noted, quite amusedly, that she got sacraments for him too.

The whole sacrament distribution process takes about five minutes (we’re very efficient), and after everything was passed around and the Pastor had reverently recited the proper passage from the Bible about how the bread represented Jesus’ body and the juice his blood, we all partook…it was all very holy and quiet.

But just as I was putting my now-empty plastic cup of juice in the holder, my son looks over at Career-mom and me and says, “But I’m still hungry.”

You know you can’t get mad at that!