Monday, July 19, 2010
"Why Johnny Can't Preach"
Do you go to church while on vacation? Well, I do. My rationale to the family goes like this: "God doesn't take a vacation from us, so we shouldn't take a vacation from Him."
Now I lived in a vacation community for thirteen years. In the summer our church attendance would fall off by at least 20%. The pastor would say something like "our attendance is down today because many of our friends are traveling." Our little town of 2,000 would swell every summer weekend to about 4,000 with the arrival of the Lake People. I thought our attendance should soar by this influx of church-less people wanting to thank the Lord for the vacation He has blessed them with.
There are a lot of good reasons to seek out a church while on vacation. Your appearance at a different church will not be noted in your village newspaper as it would be if you tried this at home. It will be a chance to hear a new preacher; a sort of break from the menu you are used to.
We are here for our second year vacationing in the Smokey Mountains. Last year we found a small Baptist Church to attend (in North Carolina you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Baptist church). This church had a refreshing mix of young and old rural mountain people. The pastor was really nuanced and interesting and NRB (Not Regular Baptist). I'm always intrigued as to why Baptists always preface their church by saying we are not like a regular Baptist church. Somehow this cryptic description is understood by all.
We set off to church yesterday with the Dales and Dr. DiQuattro in tow. Somehow my "vacation from Jesus" spiel didn't work on Marianne. Babba's official endorsement was that the service promised to be pleasant and enjoyable. As soon I walked in I sensed trouble; the pastor wasn't greeting us at the door. Instead, a teenager with a behavior disorder looked at David, paused and then shouted out "Who are you??" David recovered seamlessly from this bizarre welcome and introduced himself. By then, he was listening for the sound of banjos.
My distress turned to panic when I read the bulletin and realized the youth pastor was preaching and that the fellow I like was probably somewhere fishing for trout along with the other half of the congregation. It's not that I dislike youth pastors, it's that I had seen this fellow do the childrens' message before. Last year I watched in horror as this fellow lined up the front row with a dozen children and proceeded to teach about mortification of the physical body. These little tykes were forced to listen to a detailed description of how the human body decomposes in the ground. Now, I thought it was a bizarre children's message, but I figured this guy was just some pinch-hitting church member. So I was shocked to realize he was the youth pastor and we were probably going to hear him preach instead instead of the real pastor (where is the visiting missionary when you need one).
After watching a film about VBS, which was too dark to see, the little ones were marched up front for a 20 minute message about the vastness of the universe. The pre-schoolers glazed over as he described how long it would take to drive your car to Pluto (I thought Pluto lost it's planet status a few years back). With every interplanetary trip-tic he reminds the children that by the time they get there they would be dead. The only ridiculous bit of celestial trivia he left out was how many golf balls could fit in the sun.
My hopes lifted when he announced that it's five minutes to noon and he would have to move quickly through his message. He lied. He preached from Isaiah chapter 40 for half an hour. When he finished I couldn't remember a thing he said, but somehow I felt like a "booger in God's nose." I looked over and David was slumped over with his head in his hands mumbling something that sounded to me like "take me now Lord ." Mary was text messaging. I was making faces at the toddler sitting in front of me, and Carol was reading the hymnal. Finally, it was over. The choir director's wife's face said it all as she invited us to come again. We walk out into a monsoon rain.
I start apologizing before we're out of the parking lot. I don't know why I feel so bad; it's not like I picked out a lousy restaurant. Perhaps I feel bad because the Doctor of Philosophy had to experience this theological equivalent to Water-boarding.