When I was a teenager and I got hauled along to this little church, I pretty much wanted to die. The whole experience embarrassed me beyond belief. It was a lot of stupid people with uneducated, loopdy-loo wacky ideas and clapping by people who probably liked to burn crosses and gay people and thought humans rode dinosaurs, as far as I was concerned. One tiny chink in my armor was that I like some old hymns, some of them remind me of my great-grandmother, the one who sang “In the Garden” and played her little electric organ in Columbus, Georgia, wearing her fabulous wig.
I happened to return to the same little church recently, accompanying some people I loved and wanted to accompany, and also bringing an unwelcome guest: one of these idiotic headaches I’ve been having. They’re probably punishment for believing in evolution.
The service started with us reciting the pledge of allegiance. The pledge of allegiance always reminds me of Nazi Germany, and then World War I, and how nationalism is destructive and meaningless. I know. I’m insane. I muttered my way through it.
Then we sang songs. We sang a nice old hymn I knew, and I got to sing harmony. The guy in charge told us that this was a safe space for everyone. Maybe he even meant that. Then we sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” which isn’t a Christian song at all, as far as I can tell, and I wasn’t happy, my head was occasionally throbbing, but I sang anyway and stomped my feet. Whatever.
The guy talked again, not way too long like they often do in that style, so long that I start imagining everyone doing inappropriate things, and imagining lunch, and composing my Oscar speech, but just long enough. He said a lot of nice things about how no matter how messed up you were, Jesus could help you, and about how you should let God help you, no, not even necessarily today, but hopefully today you would start considering maybe sometime in the future letting God help you, which I thought was a good soft sell.
Because of my headache, I felt weak. My defenses were so weak that I was able to be touched by music and consider myself a grouchy participant, rather than a snobbish outsider. I wasn’t even worried that they could tell I was a socialist, or that I thought they shouldn’t be allowed to own guns. Weak people are better suited to the gospel, which is why Jesus sought them out. Or, as one of my favorite Buddhist teachers says, “You may be the worst person in the world. That’s a great place to start.”