Yesterday I went to church with my mom to hear Don Piper speak. He is the fellow who wrote "90 Minutes in Heaven." The short version of his story: killed when an 18 wheeler hit him head on in excess of 60 mph. Declared dead by four different sets of EMTs. Dead. Definitely dead. 90 minutes and lots of prayer later, he was singing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and somebody was telling the police officer, "Hey, the dead guy in the red car is singing."
I'm not going to weigh in on the tale or the religious implications. I haven't reviewed x-rays or medical charts or verified eye witness accounts and don't feel particularly driven to do any of these things. Draw your own conclusions. Aside from the amazing personal account I left church with one other burning question.
Why is church funny?
Am I just by nature sacreligious? I don't think God is funny, although I'm pretty sure He has a sense of humor. But honestly, I cannot get through an entire church service of any type without stifling laughter at the most inappropriate times. Yesterday, for example, I almost lost it when the internalized narrator noted in a dry voice that the soloist bore a disconcerting resemblance to BTK. Perverse, I know.
If you could get inside my head at a funeral you might be diagnosed with grief induced hysteria. My own wedding witnessed shudders of silent laughter that began with me and spread to include my sister and the very dignified, dedicated pastor performing the ceremony. (The flower girl rolled backwards down the stairs with a series of thuds that sounded for all the world like a bowling ball. In my defense it was pretty funny.)
I think it is all the dignity at church that makes me laugh. People are just not dignified. I sit there in the pew and contemplate the nature of God, the failings of humanity, the remarkable notion of redemption, and wonder how many other people there are hungover or thinking about lunch. Stomachs growl, the guy next to me in the pew has killer garlic breath and sings with too much gusto, kids who are too old for the children's service squirm, we all sweat or shiver because one octogenarian power-hungry harpy of a church secretary controls the thermostat. No single place in the world brings to focus the foibles of humanity like church.
I have many friends who no longer attend church (or synagogue or whatever). They cite a host of reasons for their lapse but chief among them is that church is full of hypocrites. Naturally church is full of hypocrites. How can you have hypocrisy without standards that you value and fail? It's really the whole point of church, if you think about it. A place for all us hypocrites to get together and try (or pretend) to be better than we are.
It's the dichotomy, I suppose. The incongruous juxtaposition of the beauty of spirit and selflessness with the inescapable reality of corporeal form. That being said I really should go to church more. If nothing else, it's good for a laugh. And if the sermon takes too long I usually leave with a really good idea for a book.
Yesterday's service taught me one very important thing about myself. I do NOT want to get run over by an 18 wheeler in order to achieve publishing success. God does speak to us, even if we laugh too much during service.