Thursday, June 9, 2011

Prodigal Sons Part 3

Sitting in the sanctuary of Grace Baptist, I was ready and willing to have fireworks go off, to know for certain that I was where I belonged and that signs had indeed led me there. Unfortunately, I was also ready and willing to pick some nits.

Instead of the usual church announcements at the beginning of the service, a lot of time was spent acknowledging the birthdays and anniversaries being celebrated by members within the past week. An awful lot of time. In fact, all celebrators were asked to stand, remain standing, and then one by one tell their age or how many years they’d been married. This seemed like a less than efficient use of time to me, especially since that information was printed in the bulletin already. And a bit later, in celebration of memorial day, all veterans were asked to stand, remain standing and then individually tell of their years of service and with which branch they had served. This part I didn’t mind so much. I was afraid when it came to welcoming new visitors, I'd be made to stand up and give my age and tell everyone what brought me there that day, but this didn't happen. Instead, music was played and folks got up for the traditional baptist shaking of hands belonging to new faces, or just saying hi to their immediate neighbors. Probably 25 people came over to welcome me. I could not say by a long stretch that I had not been welcomed.

My second major item on my checklist of Good Church Attributes is the quality of the choir. Music is important to me and if not actively participating in it myself, nothing beats a good church choir. Grace's was not awful. I've heard far worse. (In fact, in my Mamaw's church, growing up, there was a lady who frequently sang solos who insisted on having the accompanist activate the Bossa Nova beat on the church organ, presumably on the grounds that God put that button there so clearly he wanted it to be pressed regardless of whether or not the song was written for or even played at that tempo.) Grace's choir sang two songs during the service, both hymns, and they mostly sang the melody. It felt a lot like what a choir does when they've not actually prepared anything special. Granted, this is a little country church, so I wasn’t expecting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But as important as good praise music is to me, I was not blown away. (Though I have to say, their pianist seemed to have a higher degree of skill than one might have expected and their organist left the Bossa Nova button alone.)

The third major checklist item, which is actually #1 on the list, was the message. The minister struck me as someone cut from the classic fire and brimstone cloth. The message that morning was about sin and he pretty much went through the 10 Commandments pointing out the major appearances of their violation in modern society and how tolerance of immorality has given way to acceptance for most of them, but particularly with fornication, adultery and drunkenness. And it was during the part about drunkenness being a most grievous sin that the minister made the proclamation that drinking “even one beer is too many.” And this was the point when I very nearly stood up and, Peter Griffin-style, said, “Ohhh, hey, look at the time… Yep, gotta be hitting the ollllld dusty trail... Catch ya’ll later… Have a good one… God bless… `Scuse me… `Scuse me.”

See, I like a good beer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Did I say I like to drink 15 good beers in a sitting? No. I like to drink one. Maybe two. About once a year, I'll have more than two, but over the course of four or five hours. And while I acknowledge that alcohol abuse is a terrible problem and can lead to the destruction of family, career and lives, I’m not one of the people engaging in alcohol abuse, nor would I wager are the VAST MAJORITY of men and women who just enjoy a good beer. I understand there are people in the world who become victims of folks who abuse alcohol and see the ruination that follows in their wake. Their lives can be forever altered because of the things they endure at the hands of alcohol abusers. Doesn't change the fact that I still like a nice Belgian porter. Also, little known fact: alcohol consumption of any amount is not even mentioned in the 10 Commandments. Think about that. Now the Bible does have a lot to say on the subject of drunkenness being forbidden, and but it does not say I can’t enjoy a Dos Equis Amber. Don't believe me, have a gander HERE.

Am I being overly defensive about this topic? Probably. It's one of my sacred cows, though.

That being my mindset, I was pretty much done with the service at that point and did seriously contemplate leaving. However, I kept coming back to the events that led me to be there and decided I’d better stay. I might not agree with that particular opinion, but this was an Independent Baptist church, as it turned out, so I was probably lucky the ladies were wearing makeup and count my blessings that no tongues were being spoken in beyond Appalachian Queen’s English.

So I prayed that if I was truly meant to be there I would receive the message I was there to
receive. I also prayed that it would be a nice additional sign if my cat was waiting for me when I got home.

The rest of the message was pretty standard fire and brimstone preaching, which is to say very loud and definitely pointing fingers at aspects of our society and world that don’t live up to the 10 Commandments. The message was still one of hate the sin, love the sinner, but with a little more of a bite to it than I really appreciated. For instance, it was the minister's assertion that the nutty weather we've been having is directly due to the sin in our world and that there's much more punishment to come. This is something I don't really buy into. Not that I don't think punishment can be dolled out from on high, but mostly because I think people's memory of destructive natural disasters is sometimes really short. Yeah, we've had a lot of tornadoes this year, but there are tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and volcanoes extending back to the dawn of time, some MUUUCH bigger than anything we've seen in our lifetime. Like they say around our state: you live on the river you're gonna get wet; it might not have happened for 50 years, but eventually that river's going to flood.

The major point to the guy's message, though, was not how rampant sin is in our society, but how accepted it has become even among Christians. We are willing to take our own major and minor sins, from drugs and drunkenness, to fornication, to lust, to even swearing (another arrow that hits close to home), and chalk it all up to Ah, it's my nature. Can't change it. Why bother to fight it? Whattayagonnado? And in this we become tolerant of behavior in ourselves and in others that would have horrified us at one time. And it was this aspect of the service that stuck with me after I left. Maybe it was why I was led there. Not sure. And as many issues as I had with the service, and despite the lack of klieg lights from above, I wasn't scared off by any means.

When the service was over, I didn't hang around to chat with anyone. I wasn't angry, but I was still a bit bewildered. I left, but didn’t drive straight home. I headed to Wal-Mart for a few groceries first, (though not any beer, I have to admit).

Half an hour later, when I pulled up my driveway, there was no sign of Emmett Kitty. Perhaps I had just been suffering from a case of heavy coincidence instead of signs, I thought. Or perhaps it was somehow too much to expect that my prayer would be answered in so direct a manner.

I got out of the car and began hauling my grocery bags toward the house, fending off a vicious attack of excitement from Sadie and Moose. While they were running around, I looked at them fixedly and said, “What did you do with Emmett? Where is your Emmett?” I didn’t really think they’d had anything to do with Emmett’s disappearance, I was just talking to talk.

I stepped onto our boardwalk that led to the back door. As I reached the half way point of it, though, something grayish shot past me that wasn’t a dog. At first I thought it was D.J. Kitty, who is very gray. But then I got a good look at the cat that was even then standing at the back door.

I nearly dropped my groceries. It was Emmett. He was really thin and hungry-looking, but it was definitely, undeniably Emmett. I stood frozen in place, the weight of the groceries my only real sensation beyond shock and relief and shock again.

“Thank you, Lord,” I said aloud.

I opened the back door and put the groceries on the floor. Emmett dashed up on the butcher block table where the cats eat and began looking in the bowls for some food. I could still scarcely believe my eyes. I wanted to take pictures of him because I somehow thought my wife wouldn’t believe me otherwise. I took three blurry photos with my phone before realizing I was being an idiot. I poured both of the cat bowls full of dry food, then fetched our little prodigal a healthy dose of canned food from the fridge to go on top.

I then called the wife at work.

“Uh, Emmett’s back,” I said.

“He is?! It’s really him?”

“I’m looking at him right now.”

“Is he okay?”

“He seems fine. He’s really skinny and definitely hungry.”

“But is he hurt or wet or anything?”

“Nope. Just skinny,” I said. Then I added, “I, uh, I think I may have found us a new church. At least one to try.”

I then told her the events of the morning and how my prayer for Emmett’s return had come to

I'm sorry to say that I hadn’t had the faith to believe my prayer would be answered when I prayed it. In fact, part of me thought it was a safe bet that it wouldn’t be answered and that I could consider that in itself an answer to whether or not I was really supposed to be at Grace church. Now, and despite my misgivings about my experience, I do feel obligated to give it at least a second shot and bring the wife with me. She's up for it, too. It's hard to look in the face of such directly answered prayer and turn away.

If Grace is not our new home, perhaps the answer is only that I need to start paying more attention to my spiritual life and get myself to a church, if not that one. But we have to try that route first to see. I hope and pray I'll find out.

1 comment:

jamie said...

I'm so happy that your kitty came home. I know what it is to lose a cat. I hope he has the good sense to stick close to home in the future.

BTW your RSS feed is messed up. I got your three last posts all together this morning (6/11). Posts have been clumping up like this for a while.