September 2009


Sunday morning during the service, the pastor fumbled his notes.  As the typewritten sheets made their lazy arch toward the carpeting, he muttered into the lapel mic “sheesh, that sucks.”  Then he slapped a horrified hand over his mouth.   “Oh my.  I’m sorry, folks.”

That, friends, is my influence.  I say “sucks.” A lot.

This morning while I was scanning the church bulletin for typos, the pastor came into my office to ask whether I would make a big thermometer.

What?

A big thermometer.

Like one that works?  I have no idea how to do that.

Oh no.  A fund raising thermometer.  Like the United Way uses or something.

I can’t get to it til Monday, but yeah,  I think I could do that.

Maybe not a thermometer.

Okay…

Just get creative.

Creative.  Okay.  I can be creative.  What’s the fund raising for?

The new projector.

Right.  Maybe I’ll do a movie marquee then.  With lights.

Do you think you could maybe wire so the lights light up?

No.  Absolutely not.  I’d probably burn the place down by mistake.

Then, please, don’t do that.

Gotcha.

The church where I work is raising money for a new projections system.  A lot of money.  The church is struggling financially.  and has been for the past several months.  The head of the finance committee juggles money from account to account to pay the light bills and things.  I think the new projection system is a pretty terrible idea, given the economic situation of both the church and most of its constituents, but they are paying me the $7.25 an hour the federal government requires, so I started scheming how best to make a non-electrified, non-giant thermometer poster.

I was listening to NPR as I started to fold the bulletins and heard the good news that child mortality rates continue to decline around the world.  Fewer children died this year than last from things like bad drinking water, preventable or treatable disease, and malnourishment.   The good news is that children dead before their fifth birthdays will number only 8.8 million.

That’s the population of New York City plus the population of  of Albuquerque.  That is nearly 3,000 times the number of people killed on September 11th eight years ago.

A few church members argue–and rightly so–that the existing projection system is fairly terrible and terribly outdated.  Who would want to go to a church where everything is all blurry?

American churches strive to be relevant or, barring that, to believe themselves relevant.  In the US relevancy generally seems to involve buying things: bass guitars and tambourines and  and graphics software and matching polo shirts for the greeters.  Sometimes these tokens may make church seem more accessible to the so-called unchurched among us.  They may make Sunday mornings a little more lively for those of us under seventy five.

I kept started shuffling visitor cards into my stack of folded bulletins and thought about how we could spend $1,200.  How many hungry people in right here in our town could we feed?  How many light bills could we pay for struggling families?  Whose doctor bills could we help out with or whose gas tank could we fill?

How many of the 8.8 million children destined to die this year could we keep alive with simple medications or mosquito netting or a well?

I know as well as anyone that church budgets are contentious, that they seldom contain quite enough money.  I know churches, like individuals, must make difficult decisions about how and where to spend our money.  I believe that people here genuinely and sincerely imagine that av equipment has the power to get butts in seats and, by extension, win souls for Christ.  Perhaps they’re right.  Perhaps a few people will come for the Powerpoint and stay for the altar call.  I hope so.

But when I sort through visitor cards on Monday morning, though, I’ll be certain I couldn’t look any of those newcomers in the eye and tell them that we made the right call, that we’re relevant.  But I will be able to tell them that I do not know how to make a giant, working thermometer and will not try.  So at least there’s that.

Let’s play Lazarus. Libby was the pastor’s daughter. She was two or three or four years older than me and always wore pink hair barrettes. She had a tight, prissy face, and I did not like her much. All the grownups were inside the church drinking coffee and talking. We were looking for ways to entertain ourselves on the church playground.

How do you play Lazarus?

You’re Martha and I’m Mary. She pointed to her brother. Jamie’s Lazarus. And Mary, she said to my little sister, you have to be Jesus. You’re too little to be anything else. Mary started to complain that she didn’t want to be a boy, but Libby glared her into silence.

We took off the little white cardigans we all wore over our Sunday dresses and tied them around Jamie’s chest and arms. Dead Lazarus, we’d learned in Sunday school, was all wrapped up like a mummy. Then we considered the snap-together Fisher Price playground. It was made up of a series of primary-colored interlocking panels and slides that could be reconfigured, or, more accurately, disassembled by children who then lacked the strength to reattach the pieces securely. We pulled and pulled and the big yellow tube-shaped slide popped loose.

This is your tomb. Get in.

The tomb was a little muddy inside. Black leaves were stuck to it. Jamie hesitated. Libby gave him a little shove. He kicked at the tube, looked at his sister, and then obediently wiggled inside.

Now we have to roll the tomb. C’mon.

I bent down over the slide and next to Libby. Rolling the tomb made sense somehow. All the pictures in our Bible storybooks showed tombs shaped just like our big yellow slide. And there was something about something rolling away, wasn’t there, something to do with tombs.

Our brother’s dead. We’re really, really sad.

Okay.

We started to push the slide uphill and chant our brother’s dead and we are sad boohoo boohoo. Jamie was too heavy and the hill was too steep. So Libby ordered my little sister, who’d been standing off to the side being Jesus, to help us push. Jamie laughed as he tumbled around like clothes in the dryer.

What are you doing? My mother was standing at the playground fence.

Oh. We’re rolling a dead body. I thought it was an obvious explanation. Of course three small girls would tie up a boy and roll him across the playground inside a slide and tell everyone he was a dead body. Of course.

You’re what? Mom looked shocked and disgusted. I knew I’d said the wrong thing then, that rolling Lazarus up the hill was one of those inexplicable things that must be kept secret from adults. You kids need to come inside. Right. Now. She turned and clipclopped back inside in her shiny black high heels.

We stopped pushing, and Jamie wiggled out of the slide still tied up in our sweaters. He stood there, tied up in sweaters, and grinned dizzily at us all. Jamie was freckled and brown haired and a year older than me. Sometimes I chased him around the church yard and tried to kiss him. Once or twice I caught him and he smelled like Juicy Fruit and soap and mud. He took a step or two and then fell down laughing.

What is Jesus supposed to say?

Shut up. Libby rolled her eyes.

Don’t tell her to shut up.

You shut up. Mary reached out her hand, and I took it. We walked through the gate and down the sidewalk toward the church. I looked back at our Lazarus, still tied up in our sweaters and still laying on the ground laughing up at the wide blue sky of fall.

Sunday mornings and I have never been the best of friends.  For one thing, at least for a fair part of my twenties, I tended to show up to church very, very tired or faintly hungover from the previous night’s festivities.  I  settle into my pew and assume a properly meditative stance only to discover that the music sighing out of the organ drives me ever nearer sleep.  It’s a problem.

One would hope that this first post and none that follow would prove similarly soporific.  One would hope.

I’m twenty-seven and, as best as I can tell, fully conscious right now.  I’m a self-described “church girl from way back,” an alumna of an evangelical Christian college that, one year after my graduation, had an incredibly kickass basketball team, and a church secretary.

And this is my blog.

Alright.  You can wake up now.  Wipe that little drooly off your chin.