We're not anti-church, or anti-God, or anti-religion or anything.... I am, however, anti-drag-ass-out-of-bed-early-on-a-Sunday-morning-to fight-with-the kids-about-what-time-we-have-to-be-out-the-door-if-we-want-to-get-to-church-ON-TIME-and NO-you-are-not-wearing-that-and-OH-MY-GOD-DID-YOU-GET-DRESSED-OFF-THE-FLOOR-and-HURRY-UP-and-brush-your-hair-and-for-the-love-of-God-brush-your-teeth-and-when-church-starts-at-8:30-we-do-NOT-leave-the-house-at-8:30-and-if-I-have-to-tell-you-one-more-time-to-get-in-the-car-I'm-just-going-to-leave-you-here!
I'm also against voluntarily and systematically elevating both my blood pressure and my frustration levels on a weekly basis if I can help it. And frankly, nothing launches those numbers skyward faster than embroiling myself in a losing battle in which my 4 and 6 year old boys are required to sit still and be quiet for extended periods of time. I find that leisurely Sunday mornings spent reading the paper on the couch with the kids playing nicely upstairs beats the Hell out of smiling politely at a large group of people while I grit my teeth and whisper things like "Sit down! Sit up! Be quiet! Get out from under there! Stop whining! It'll be over when it's over! You can't hold it? Seriously? Because I'm pretty sure you pooped before we left the house this morning! Please don't touch that man's head again! I don't know why he doesn't have any hair.... He just doesn't. NO! We don't ask people things like that. He already knows he doesn't have any hair, you don't have to tell him so. We've been over this before: Men can't have babies, only women can have babies. Just because he has a big belly doesn't mean you should ask him when his baby is due. In fact, please don't ever ask anyone when their baby is due unless I tell you it's ok. OK? Now SIT STILL AND BE QUIET."
Not that I didn't get anything out of church when I was a kid. I did. In fact, now that I think about it, I'm sure it was those Sunday morning bulletins that nurtured my desire to cross things off a To-Do list. Prelude? Check. Lighting of the candles? Check. Processional? Check. Call to worship? Check. There was something very satisfactory about crossing off all that we'd accomplished -- knowing that with each crossed off item, we were closer to the end.
At hymn singing time, I practiced my harmony. My bother practiced his "Bob Dillon". He also did a really good Neil Young impersonation, and he even had my mom down-pat. He could belt out her "operatic" style -- assuming here that operatic is actually a word -- in a fantastic falsetto. Seriously, he was pretty good. He still is, so if you live near Eaton, Ohio you should stand near him in church. Though I'm not positive that his wife lets him get away with it anymore, since she doesn't find him to be nearly as funny as I do now that I'm not living with him.
I also honed my deductive reasoning aptitude with wild games of Hangman. You'll know I was raised in the mid-eighties if you can solve this hangman puzzle:
If I recall correctly, he was a regular solution to the game. I mean, really.... He WAS the coolest.
Another skill I picked up at church was the ability to strategize. Do you want to know how I sharpened my strategic know-how, each and every Sunday? The box-building game. I learned it from my best friend, Brooke, and now that I think about it, I'm not even sure if that's the proper name. We never really spoke it out loud -- we just passed the paper and pencil back and forth in the pew, each of us drawing our lines, one at a time, trying to outmaneuver one another and create as many boxes as we could. For whosoever believed that she could create the most boxes would not perish, but be the everlasting champion.
(You'll note that I gave her more boxes in my example because I want to be as authentic as possible -- and she always kicked my ass. Her "strategery" was better than mine.)
I also learned how to be resourceful. One particular Sunday I thought I'd figured out a great way to beat the system, and the perpetual boredom of that hour long service. I smuggled the latest Nancy Drew into the choir loft under my burgundy polyester robe. I thought I was brilliant -- it was a foolproof way to both pass the time AND be quiet. Two birds with one stone! And things were splendid until I caught my mom glaring at me from across the church. (She has a phenomenal evil-eye so it's worth noting that her solitary arched eyebrow can stop you cold in your tracks. Ask any of her former students.) Apparently I was not very covert. I mean, who would guess that being hunched down in the pew with the book propped up on my knees would be a dead-give-away that I wasn't paying rapt attention?
Brooke and I also proved that we had quite a knack for dexterity during those long church services. We were masters of the skillfully placed spit-ball, minus the spit. We'd take turns rolling very small pieces of paper into teeny little paper bombs, and then, in a display of expert marksmanship, we'd launch them off the balcony railing in an effort to see who was the most adept at accurately hitting the target below us. The target, naturally, was the rack of an anonymous woman* sporting the most enormous ta-ta's we'd ever seen. Not only did they extend straight out, they also stood straight up, and frankly, they were just begging to be used as a paper-ball-trampoline for our entertainment. We hit the majority of our shots, but our success was short-lived. Eventually, we were banned from the balcony. Our parents forbade us to sit up there ever again. At least not together.
So maybe I can't remember exactly why Gepetto** was swallowed by the whale, or why Joshua was so intent on winning the battle of Geritol***, but I do think I walked away with the important stuff. It's the stuff I try to pass onto my own kids. Be kind. Love one another -- not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard. Be tolerant and respectful of everyone's differences, knowing that variety and diversity make our lives richer. Judge not. Offer grace and a helping hand to everyone -- and especially to the ones who need it most. Say you're sorry. Practice forgiveness. Trust. Have faith, give of yourself, and do the best you can.
This is not to say that I have all those lessons nailed; That I exude grace under pressure, or that I'm tolerant of viewpoints that are one hundred and eighty degrees from my own. I can freely admit that I don't always have the most grace in that regard. But I work on it every day. We all do. Even when we're chillin' on the couch on Sunday mornings reading the paper instead of getting dressed for church. I'm at peace with our choices, and I know God understands. After all, She has children too.
* * * * *
* Let me take this moment to extend my apologies to this poor woman, who must have had to muster up all the inner-strength she had in order to stay in her seat and pretend there was not a steady stream of paper raindrops cascading down in front of her face and bouncing heartily off her chest. She would have been well within her rights to march up the stairs and throttle the kids who thought there was nothing funnier than watching little balls of paper spring up off her boobies. Lady, if you're out there, I'm sorry. But, dang, that was funny.
** Just kidding, mom. I know it was Jonah.
*** Mrs. Ertle let us sing it like that, so that's how I remember it.