By SONNY SCOTT
Ah, ’tis the season to be a curmudgeon, so let me share a few observations on life and love – hard earned, if slightly jaundiced.
Like most every youngster of my generation and locale, I grew up going to church. Unlike most of my contemporaries, I took it seriously. A chronic sense of unease dogged my youth, as I found my church’s doctrine increasingly implausible. The unease became acute in adulthood when I finally realized that few of my elders believed it either. So, I embarked on a search for a church with a more plausible creed, and in so doing, developed a guide to the selection of likely churches. In the American tradition, I will share my discoveries with you.
First, I’ll list the deal-breakers – those characteristics that render a church unacceptable. And first in this catalog of negatives is a sound system. If the hall is large enough to need a system, the congregation will be too large to allow the kind of personal interaction that makes church membership worthwhile. If the hall is not too large, then the music will be too loud, there will be solo performances, and there will be applause – as unwelcome as flatulence at a dinner party for one of my age and sensibilities.
Then there are the churches with reserved parking for staff. Highly unnecessary – unless the pastor is a paraplegic, of course. Look up the term “pastor.” Consider the etymological ramifications of the term. If one has a don’t-park-in-my-space attitude, he’s not likely to be very pastoral, do you think?
If there’s an American flag prominently displayed on the podium, be advised: there’s little chance that you will encounter the kind of fellowship that risked martyrdom to defy the might of Rome, and kept the faith in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword. More likely, you’ve wandered into a heterodox group practicing a blend of religion and politics, and it is unlikely that they can tell where one ends and the other begins. If such is your desire, consider a good civic club instead.
If there’s a fellowship hall or family life center, be advised that your contribution will be absorbed into an enormous operating budget, and there will be few opportunities for eleemosynary activity. Other negatives include names more than three words long, lighted signs, and broadcast ministries. Paved parking and landscaped grounds raise questions about priorities, and hymns or chimes played over loudspeakers raise questions about taste.
A piano and/or organ are optional, as are AC (even electrical power), but drums are intolerable. Violins or bagpipes will atone for a multitude of sins, however. A statement of faith is necessary – make-it-up-as-you-go is too risky, and subject to abuse. Tee shirts or the pastor’s books on sale in the foyer? No.
Some say that God loves us, and wants the best for us. Some say that we’ll understand everything, bye and bye. (Some say both.) If these folks are right, I want a seat on the front row when God starts to explain sex. I’ve been married almost as long as I’ve been a church member, and I’m no closer to understanding women than I am to understanding theology. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if all those who keep yammering about the “Sacred Feminine” might not be on to something. It would explain why the Almighty keeps me as off-balance spiritually as family life does physically. Maybe that’s the secret: understand God or Woman, and you die – like Uzzah touching the Ark of the Covenant.
Apparently God can get along just fine without humans, just as women can get along without men. A man, on the other hand, is incomplete without God, and without a wife.
Charles Colson has reminded us that the role of the church is “not to make man happy, but to make him holy.” By the same token, we would be well advised to remember that the purpose of marriage is not to make the spouses happy, but to foster the rearing of children by creating a stable social and economic environment. Accordingly, the couple’s vows are not primarily to each other, but rather to God and the greater community. Hence, one’s unhappiness is no more reason to dissolve a marriage than it is to resign one’s church. God didn’t give us a wife or faith for our happiness. According to Benjamin Franklin, that’s why He gave us beer.
Sonny Scott is a Chickasaw County resident who writes as a community columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.