Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Some are confused by Black Friday

November 25, 2011

The wave of fresh converts to evangelical Christianity appears to contain many who are confused about certain details of this, their first holiday season.

“I’m still learning my way around,” admitted Sonya Bennett. “I mean, I believe in Jesus and all that stuff; I’m just a little hazy on the reasons for some of these celebrations.”

Much of the bewilderment is becoming apparent during today’s so-called “Black Friday.” Large numbers of newly minted Christians showed up at post-Thanksgiving sales at Wal-Mart, Target and other retailers, thinking they were observing the day Jesus was crucified at Calgary.

“I guess I was thinking of — what is it? — Good Friday,” said Heather Thompson. “I thought Black Friday was the day the altar was draped in black cloth, and a somber service acknowledged our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for mankind. Turns out, it’s more about low, low prices.”

Thompson said many of her friends were also confused about the day. She said she felt that the Church of Christ, of which she became a member earlier this year, and the nation’s retail sector were “just asking” for there to be such widespread misunderstanding.

“I mean, think about it: Good Friday marks an occasion when something bad happened, and Black Friday marks a good day, a day of door-busting bargains. That’s just plain screwy,” Thompson said. “You’d think it would be the other way around. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one expecting up to 60% off the cost of my salvation.”

Bennett, a recent convert to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, said the church calendar at first didn’t make sense to her. She said she had time to meditate and reflect on her faith while waiting in line from midnight till 4 a.m. outside the Valley Hills Mall in Seattle.

“I finally puzzled through it,” Bennett said. “It just wasn’t possible that Jesus was crucified in late November, then born in late December, and then ascended into heaven in March or April. I know He can do some amazing things, but this just seemed totally whack.”

Similar puzzlement was expected during next week’s “Cyber Monday,” which has become the day on which close to a third of on-line Christmas gift sales are made. Either that, or it’s something to do with Simon Peter, or maybe the Immaculate Conception, or maybe Zhu Zhu pets.

“The one that always messes me up is Maundy Thursday,” said Oscar Bennett, who joined the Southern Baptist denomination in February. “I mean, is it a Monday or is it a Thursday? I’m all for talking in tongues, but come on. How can we have effective outreach to non-believers with this kind of double-talk?”

Raymond Price, a new member of the fundamentalist Mercy Schmercy Catholic Church in suburban Atlanta, defended Christianity’s elaborate calendar as something that novices should study and become comfortable with.

“It’s really not that complicated when you put your mind to it,” Price said. “Ash Wednesday is the day we remember volcano victims. Palm Sunday celebrates the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem in triumph after inventing the handheld personal digital assistant. Corpus Christi, in mid-June, marks the beginning of beach season on the south Texas coast.”

Price said his personal favorite day on the liturgical calendar was Ruby Tuesday.

“Any day that honors both the Rolling Stones and the Seaside Sensations combo platter is truly a holy day in my book,” Price said. “Ruby Tuesday — Fresh Taste, Fresh Price.”

Earthquake was God’s will

August 24, 2011

An angry God shrugged off criticism of His aim following yesterday’s earthquake in central Virginia, saying He missed His intended target of Washington, D.C. by only 90 miles and “that’s pretty good when you consider how big the universe is.”

Taking His own name in vein, the Almighty then acknowledged that He “might head out to the practice range” before launching His next attack on the nation’s capital.

“I had the right distance on the shot,” He said. “I just hooked it a little to the left.”

God said He was aiming to destroy Washington because of Congress’s failure during last month’s debt debate to “realistically address America’s long-term financial health.” He said that He, like many Americans, had been disgusted by both legislators and the president playing politics with such a critical issue.

“You can’t continue to have spending outstrip revenue to the tune of over $14 trillion,” the Lord said. “That’s just crazy. Even I have trouble wrapping My Head around a figure like that.”

God cited the average family as an example of how the government should manage its finances.

“You don’t see regular people borrowing large sums of money,” God said. “They have to live within their means.”

When told that car loans, home mortgages and credit card debt were actually pretty common examples of people using borrowed funds to make investments in their future, the Almighty scoffed.

“Okay, maybe that’s not the best example,” God told the group of reporters who had gathered outside His home for His reaction to the quake. “Still, look at what S&P did to your credit rating. That shows the markets don’t have faith in your plan.”

“The markets are only one small part of the global economy,” countered AP economics reporter Paul Donaldson. “Don’t You think increased government spending would have a positive impact on jobless numbers?”

“That’s a ‘gotcha’ question,” the Almighty answered. “I’m not going to answer those.”

God said He chose the earthquake, measured at 5.9 on the Richter scale and felt from Canada to South Carolina, because He felt like America “needed a good shaking to knock some sense into its head.”

He dismissed claims that He may have done His own cause more harm than good, considering that the only major damage reported in Washington was to the National Cathedral.

“I had good intelligence that Eric Cantor would be walking by the cathedral at 1:51 in the afternoon,” He said. “I meant for those stones from the corner spires to fall on his head. God damn him for being on vacation.”

Jehovah said He decided on the earthquake after considering several other catastrophes that He could unleash on America.

“I vaguely remembered the ten Biblical plagues, and how well they worked getting the ancient Israelites freed from Egypt,” He said. “I had to look it up on Wikipedia to remember them all.”

He said the plagues of locusts, frogs, lice and boils would not translate well to the modern world. Animal pests are easily dealt with by exterminators, and over-the-counter cures for lice and boils are available at most leading drug stores.

“And pestilence,” He added, “I don’t even know what that is.”

The Lord said He briefly considered some contemporary calamity to rain judgment down on the sinful, but opted in the end to simply vibrate people’s knick-knacks and cause their overhead lighting fixtures to sway gently.

“Believe Me, I thought about something much worse,” He said. “I considered making that 16-year-old girl who married that 51-year-old man your next president. But, in the end, I figured that was too cruel, and that an earthquake would be more typical of what Man might expect of a Vengeful God.”

The Almighty said He’s already lining up His next attempt on Washington, which will come in the form of Hurricane Irene slamming into the Potomac basin this weekend. However, the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center now show the storm will just graze North Carolina’s Outer Banks before veering back out to sea and missing the populated Northeast corridor entirely.

“Curving off to the right, is it?” Jehovah asked reporters. “Great. Now I have a slice.”

"This is mildly annoying," noted workers evacuated from Washington buildings. "We really do need to get our financial house in order."

A prayer for more prayer

August 8, 2011

I laid me down to sleep for years with a goodnight prayer before I dozed off. As childhood prayers went, it wasn’t particularly comforting.

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take

To a four-year-old and his limited understanding of Lutheran theology, the sing-song rhyme did little to mitigate the fatalism of the third and fourth verse. I was already scared of monsters and robbers and the dark in general; now I had to add sleep apnea to the mix.

Within a few years, my parents suggested adding a series of blessings to the recitation. I was to name everyone I could think of who was dear to me, and ask that God bless them.

God bless Mommy and Daddy,
God bless Sis,
God bless Uncle Jack,
God bless Augie Doggie,
God bless Creepers

I was told after the first few nights that the blessing request for my dog and cat was inappropriate. I countered that ordering God to bless a long list of vaguely identified people seemed like an imposition on Him anyway, that He’d have to look up exactly who “mommy and daddy” were, that He’d bless whoever He felt like and surely didn’t need suggestions from a third-grader. My parents said that still, He liked to be asked, and don’t be such a wise guy.

After my confirmation in the church around age 13, I decided on my own to add the Lord’s Prayer to my nightly address to the Almighty.

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.

But within a year or so, teenage sarcasm had crept into the missive. “So what is our Father’s name anyway?” I wondered. “Is it ‘Art’ or is it ‘Harold’?”

And so began my decline into agnosticism.

I’ve often wished I could be a believer in the power of prayer. How handy it would be to implore an all-powerful being to positively influence the hassles of everyday life. Just by closing your eyes, bowing your head and muttering under your breath, you could breeze through any number of minor inconveniences.

“Please God, make that traffic light stay green until I get there.”

“Dear Lord, let there be no one in front of me at the McDonald’s drive-thru.”

“Sweet Jesus, will You tell that moron to turn off his left-turn signal?”

So naturally, I became interested in this weekend’s “The Response,” the seven-hour prayer-fest held Saturday before 30,000 Christian congregants in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The event had garnered much attention in the press, primarily for the role Texas governor and possible GOP presidential aspirant Rick Perry played in turning the event into a call for miraculous intervention to heal the nation’s problems.

The event was actually the inspiration of the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group founded as the National Federation for Decency in 1977. Its original leader, Rev. Donald Wildmon, has fought for decades to clean up the popular media with campaigns against obscene music lyrics and sex-obsessed TV shows. (Great job there, by the way). Now, under Wildmon’s son Tim, the group is trying to hitch a ride to the White House on Perry’s back.

By all accounts, the event was a success. Perry kept his message largely apolitical, though he couldn’t resist praying that the Lord “impart Your wisdom” upon President Obama and noting that God is “wise enough” not to be affiliated with any political party. I’m sure God appreciated the non-partisan shout-out.

Other participants were not so filled with love and goodwill. Mike Bickel from the pancake-themed International House of Prayer of Kansas City, implored God to get busy and “heal the financial crisis in this nation, heal the families in this nation, forgive us for abortions,” to which the deity probably thought “that’s a lot for a Saturday, my day off.”

There were some heathens in attendance, and not because they were looking to be saved. Barry Lynn, of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Gov. Perry was trying to “out-Jesus” other candidates of the far right like Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.

Protester Brandy Deason, a self-described atheist, said it was not cool for a government official to hold a religious meeting to try and solve our problems, offering the absurd premise that “logic and problem-solving is the only way to go with this, not by prayer.”

I certainly sympathize with those opposed to the increased mixing of piety and politics. Many people who would otherwise be attracted to the bone-headed ideas of the Tea Party fringe may be turned off by excessive God-loving. Some may think that standing in the 115-degree heat index of an August afternoon in Houston demonstrates not fealty to a higher being, but rather an inability to recognize Hell on Earth. Others would contend that core Republican policies — more money for the rich, less for the poor — are not exactly Christian sentiments.

But I’m starting to think that maybe there’s something to this whole prayer thing. If there is some kind of Omnipotent Being out there — be it called God, Allah, Vishnu, Yahweh or Oprah — isn’t it worth at least asking them to intervene on our behalf in this hour of need? The worst that could happen is that they’d say “no.”

I suppose they could call down plagues of disease and famine to punish those cheeky enough to ask a favor of the divinity, but that seems very much out-of-character.

So, I say, let us pray. Let us pray that the Dow rebound to its mid-July highs, and that the Fed decide against another round of quantitative easing. Let us pray that we’ll see a rebound in the manufacturing sector which could help push unemployment down below 9%. Let us pray that the Islamists fighting us in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere see the light and turn to Christ.

And, for God’s sake, let us pray that it rains in Texas so that the string of 100-degree-plus days stops frying the brains of those without the sense to come in out of the elements.

A visit from the mother-in-law

August 1, 2011

The phone call that came Thursday afternoon announced every husband’s worst nightmare.

No, it wasn’t an alert that the Earth was about to be crushed by a giant radioactive asteroid but first, here’s a new episodes of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” Instead, it was my mother-in-law, telling us that she was going to visit on Saturday.

It’s a cliche that mothers-in-law are the eternal bane of husbands. That doesn’t make it any less true.

My own personal mother-in-law is a kindly lady in her eighties. Widowed for almost 20 years now, she lives on her own in rural Charleston County, getting by on the kindness of friends and the occasional visit from one of her two daughters. She’s always been very nice to me — when she can track me down — though I can’t say the same about how she treats my wife.

Beth has to endure constant pleas from her mother to give up her sinful ways of living and find Jesus. And not just any Jesus, mind you. This is the Jesus that has revealed himself only to the small storefront church operating next to a Ravenell Domino’s, established after it split with other members over some obscure issue of doctrine, like the inerrancy of the Bible or maybe it was too much meat loaf at the potluck suppers.

In any case, of all the thousands of religions in the world, this small group of evangelical Christians are the only ones who have got it right. Everybody else is going to Hell.

This kind of perfunctory condemnation from one’s own parent can be a bit unnerving. Beth has developed several defenses against these proselytizing  phone calls, the most effective of which is to dangle the phone down her back and call out the occasional “yeah” or “uh-huh” over her shoulder to make it sound like she’s listening.

The other fundamental tenet of my mother-in-law’s belief system is that she needs to unload a lifetime’s worth of possessions on her children. Unfortunately, we’re not talking here about the savings bonds and T-bills and real estate she and her late husband accumulated during 50 years of frugality. (These have gone mostly to the greater glory of God, in the form of rent on the former Blockbuster’s that is home to her church). Instead, we’re talking about old furniture and knick-knacks.

The purpose of Saturday’s visit was to deliver a possibly-antique-but-more-likely-just-decrepit bookcase and a Sleep Number bed.

So when I got a phone call from the office Friday evening recruiting volunteers for an emergency work session the next day, I was more than happy to say “count me in!” No frenetic drafting session could ever be as unpleasant as being told I’m carrying the burden of a lifetime of sins and ultimately burning in Hell, while hauling a 70-pound bookcase through a 110-degree heat index.

My son, like a hostage with a cellphone, kept me posted on how the visit was going with furtive texts sent out during the day.

10:17 a.m. — SHE’S HERE

12:37 p.m. — SHE’S STILL HERE

2:12 p.m. — SHE SAID SHE’S LEAVING THEN SHE SAT BACK DOWN

3:08 p.m. — PICKING UP HER PURSE!

3:17 p.m. — SHE’S GONE!!

With the all-clear given, I was ready to head home and face the mound of discarded possessions that likely accompanied the bookcase and bed. These visits never end with the few items we were promised. There’s always a little something extra thrown in — National Geographics from the Nixon era, photographs of long-dead pets, a monkeywood carving of monkeys that Beth’s late father brought from the Philippines in 1948.

Initial indications were positive as I rolled into the driveway (I was able to roll into the driveway without crashing into a collection of avocado ottomans). I could see through the sunroom window that the hulking bookcase had been delivered. Walkways in the living room were still clear, or at least clear enough to allow the “Hoarders” camera crew enough room to operate, should they want to film a special about us.

Beth and I chatted about how the visit went as I scanned the room, looking for any new junk that appeared since I left that morning. They’d actually had a relatively pleasant time together, going out to brunch before settling in for an afternoon of reminiscence, health updates and bizarre interpretations of the metaphysical world. It looked like we had indeed escaped being used as the Greatest Generation’s dumping ground.

“Let’s go look at the Sleep Number bed,” Beth said.

In my son’s room sat what looked like the kind of bedroll you might see at a camping site. From what I know of the Sleep Number bed, it’s a pretty sophisticated system. Through a collection of electronic controls, you’re supposed to be able to adjust the firmness of the mattress to your desired sleep number. Those who want to doze on a slab of granite select 100; those who prefer a waterbed filled with pudding select zero.

We pulled the bed out of its container and read the label. It was the Coleman 202869 air mattress.

“Oh, no,” said my wife. “We don’t need one of these.”

“Do you think because it had ‘202869’ on it that she thought it was a Sleep Number?” I asked.

“I bet she did,” said Beth.

“And what’s this?” I asked about a serving tray that lay next to the bed.

“Oh, it’s really nice,” Beth said. “It’s something my father brought back from Rio de Janiero when his Air Force group was stationed there.”

The tray had a colorful inlay featuring a placid beach scene under a set of strangely iridescent clouds.

“I loved this when I was growing up,” Beth said. “Guess what the clouds are made of.”

I guessed seashells but I was wrong.

“No, they’re butterfly wings,” Beth said.

“Butterfly wings?” asked my son. “Isn’t that a little barbaric?”

“At least we didn’t get the lampshade made of human skin,” I cracked.

“Did they kill the butterflies just to get their wings?” asked Daniel.

I imagined they did, but instead concocted a story about how the artist must’ve waited patiently for the beautiful insects to go belly-up, then rapidly harvest their wings in the few moments before they’d turn brown in the hot South American sun. Instead, they now were forever fresh under a layer of protective sealant, eager to edify humanity one last time by letting me put a glass of Pepsi on them.

All in all, I had survived the mother-in-law visit quite well. I didn’t have to see her, talk to her, or acknowledge her presence in any way. I didn’t have to accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, just to get a bookcase. And I didn’t end up with a lifetime full of detritus being passed off as some priceless legacy.

Thank you, Val, for showing us mercy. If only the same could be said of that Vengeful God of yours hanging out next to Domino’s.

Wal-Mart’s new slogan: “Save money (and yourself)”

July 22, 2011

The people of South Carolina seem to have their own special consecrated Trinity. Sure, they like God and the Holy Spirit. But it’s Jesus who retains a special place in the evangelical heart.

Joining Jesus in the Palmetto State’s Transcendent Trio are two even more sacred concepts: shopping at Wal-Mart, and saving the receipt for whatever you bought there, because chances are it’ll eventually reveal itself to be a piece of crap that needs to be returned.

A young couple from the small town of Berea, S.C., must be in Heaven this week. The receipt they received in payment for the 11 photos they had developed at Wal-Mart in June appears to show the face of Jesus.

Sure, it’s a somewhat cubist rendition of the Lord and Savior, like something Picasso might have painted in his Blue Period if he only had small strips of paper to work with rather than full canvasses. Or, perhaps the distortion on the right side of the face was the result of a little-publicized ischemic stroke Christ suffered from eating too many fatty foods.

Whatever it is, the young Christians who now own a hallowed relic are beside themselves with ecstasy.

“There’s tons of people who will say, ‘Oh, they’re in the Bible Belt,’ but here’s my question to the doubters,” said Gentry Sutherland. “Who else has the power to put their face on a check-out receipt but Jesus?”

Sutherland and her boyfriend, Jacob Simmons, didn’t notice the image at first. It sat unworshipped on the kitchen counter for three days before they went to their regular Wednesday night church service at the College Park Worship Center. The theme that night: intimacy with God.

“The question they asked was ‘Would you know Jesus if you saw him?'” said Sutherland.

After the service, they returned home to watch a movie. During a break, Jacob suddenly became transfixed by an object on the counter.

“He said, ‘Look at this receipt.’ I just looked at it and it looked kind of brown. He said, ‘No, look at it,'” Sutherland reported. “So I took a second look and then I saw the face.”

Sutherland, 21, said she was initially scared of the receipt.

“I always wondered why in the Bible when someone saw an angel they were afraid, but now I know,” said the student of North Greenville University, a Southern Baptist college. “We’re human beings and we’re not used to seeing that kind of thing.”

Sutherland said she and Simmons weren’t sure yet what they were going to do with the Divine Proof of Payment.

“We’ll pray about it,” she said. “For now, we’ll just share the love and blessing with family and friends.”

As remarkable as the image is, the two young people may not yet have noticed another area of the slip that seems to contain a message from the Great Beyond. In the small bald spot just above Jesus’ left ear, there’s a distinct but upside-down message that reads simply “THANK YOU.”

“There’s not a lot in the Judeo-Christian tradition where we hear God or His Son showing appreciation for all the worship They receive and all the good things Their believers have to say about Them,” said religion professor Alan Linderman of Winthrop University. “If this Wal-Mart receipt is truly divine, it may represent the first time we’re seeing a blush of humility from Those Guys.”

Sutherland and Simmons have dismissed suggestions that they put the piece up for sale on eBay.

“A couple of the photos we had developed that day came out kind of grainy,” said Simmons. “Maybe we better hold onto the receipt for a while. We might be able to get a couple of dollars back.”

Revisited: Oops. Quotes may have been taken out of context

July 16, 2011

A careful examination of a book produced by the God of Abraham appears to reveal rampant racism, sexism, anti-Semitism and a tone of general intolerance among top officials in His Administration.

Only days after a right-wing blogger meticulously dissected a speech by a Department of Agriculture official to show that a few sentences taken out of context appeared racist,  a similar examination of a book called “The Bible” shows a surprising contempt by the Creator for most of humanity.

The analysis of the book  looks not at the entire arc of the holy publication’s message.

“That would be way too hard and way too boring,” said Bart Andrewbreit, whose anti-religion blog first broke the story yesterday. “I thought people would get a truer sense of what’s being said here if I just used a few snapshots.”

What was released on the website was a painstaking edit of the book that forms the foundation for the Judeo-Christian faith. The snippets show not just hostility for the human race, but a sense of confusion and even occasional lunacy by the authors. The audience of the blessed narrative can be seen at several points to be cheering on the antagonism, resentment and outright aggression being spewed by the presenter.

Some of the highlights, recorded during perhaps a thousand years of ancient history by a variety of apostles, saints and men of God, can be read in the following outtakes.

“Your lamb shall be…goats.” Exodus

“Fat…fat…fat…fat…fatty….Moses.” Leviticus

“For all the firstborn among the children of Israel are…beasts.” Numbers

“Take careful heed to…act corruptly and…die.” Deuteronomy

“Jesus said…do not…be…a…flute player.” Matthew

“Jesus sat…on…Peter, James, John, and Andrew.” Mark

“Jesus…said to him…God…is…lame.” Luke

“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water…I…thirst.’ Jesus said to her…’No.’” John

“Now, Lord, look on the…feet. Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have…lied to me…They…are…unclean…and…a…shame…” Acts

“Are we … both Jews and Greeks?…Yes…certainly.” Romans

“God gave…neither…plants…nor…water…but…fire.” Corinthians

“If we live in…corruption…we…do…good.” Galatians

“For it is shameful to even speak of…your…wives.” Ephesians

“For we do not wrestle…God…but…I have sent…you for this very purpose.” Ephesians

“Jesus Christ… did not…do… things without complaining and disputing…Beware of dogs.” Colossians

“I saw … Man, clothed with a …  golden girdle. His hair was white as snow …  and His feet like fine brass, and … out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” Revelations

“Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight … with the sword of My mouth. …To him that overcometh will I give … a white stone. I know thy works, … Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because … that woman Jezebel. Behold, I will cast her into a bed… And I will kill her children with death.” Revelations

“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of My mouth.” Revelations

“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the book and to loose the seals?’” Revelations

“And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe.’” Revelations

“And thus I saw the horses … and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. …For their power is in their mouth. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it up … and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.” Revelations

“Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: Also our couch is green.” Solomon

“My beloved … standeth behind our wall; He looketh in … the windows … Thy hair is as a flock of goats … Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes.” Solomon

When these clips were picked up the media, virtually all of humankind joined in a chorus of condemnation for the Almighty. He was asked to resign by His manager, who said the Office of the All-Powerful (OAP) had a zero tolerance policy toward hateful speech. God reluctantly complied with the request.

Later, after it was revealed that the quotes were taken out of context, and that the Bible actually represented a just and merciful guide to life and man’s relationship with his maker, God received an apology and was offered a new position in the department.

“Gee, I don’t know,” the Lord told Meredith Vierra on NBC’s Today Show. “They treated Me pretty shabby. It was shameful how fast everybody came down on Me so quickly before they could read the entire manuscript. I think I’m going to bask in the media spotlight for a few more days before I make My decision. Right now, I’m inclined to take early retirement.”

I was picked for The Rapture!

May 23, 2011

I could’ve used the extra rest this weekend but instead decided to tackle a bunch of long-neglected chores. I cleared out some old magazines from our overloaded coffee table. I made a trip to the dump. I replaced the filter on our air-conditioner and got caught up on my laundry.

Also, I was raptured.

I know — I couldn’t believe it either. I hardly seem like the type. You’d think I’d be one of the ones left behind. They say the Lord acts in mysterious ways and I guess this — and the continued existence of the Bravo network — proves it.

Like most of the educated world, I had pooh-poohed the predictions of the elderly zealot from California who proclaimed the world would end at 6 p.m. Saturday. Global earthquakes followed by the ascension of a few million true believers followed by five months of tribulation seemed pretty unlikely. (I dread a summer full of humidity and bad TV as much as the next person, but it hardly qualifies as a “tribulation”.)

I had almost put the whole thing out of my mind by Saturday afternoon when I’d finally taken a few minutes to lie on the couch and watch the Preakness. As the ponies pounded down the backstretch, I felt that primal power of their hooves thundering against the turf. Then I realized the thundering seemed louder than usual, and might instead be a looming storm outside. I stepped out onto the porch to see if we were having an earthquake.

What I saw next amazed me. At first, I thought it was some of the vultures that’d been circling over our neighborhood since that possum had been hit by a car Friday. Then I looked closer and saw what appeared to be Mr. Marshall, from the house two doors down, rising slowly skyward, still clutching his cane and the two dogs he routinely walks around dinner time each night. They were being summoned to heaven! (Even the cockapoos!)

I started back into the house to warn my family about what was happening when I too felt an upward pull. Suddenly, I was off the ground and rising up past the treetops. It was the strangest sensation I ever felt — like I had been fitted into an invisible harness for my journey skyward. It even gave me a wedgie, although since it was of the celestial variety, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

Normally, I’m afraid of heights but this experience filled me with peace. It did get a little chilly as I approached the lower reaches of the ionosphere. The guilt I’d felt earlier in the day about lazing around in sweatclothes quickly evaporated as the fleece served to protect me from the elements. I started to worry about getting enough oxygen this high up, yet as soon as I did, the clouds parted and I saw the magnificent gates of heaven.

Considering how many people were being raptured at the same time, the line wasn’t that bad. Vendors had set up some kiosks where the line snaked around the Heavenly Palace so you could buy hotdogs, cool drinks, even souvenir t-shirts (my favorite: “I’ve Been Raptured And All I Got Left Is This Crummy Soul”) while you waited. I could just barely see the turnstiles in the entranceway and God seemed well-staffed to handle the surge in business.

When I got to the front of the line, I expected to encounter the legendary St. Peter who would review my accounts and make a final determination that truly I was invited. Instead, a man whose nametag identified him as “Saint-in-Training Jerrod” was on duty. He asked my name and made a brief notation on the scroll he held, then gestured behind him saying “right this way.” His manner was efficient but he seemed bored. I’m guessing he was a temp.

As soon as I got my hand stamped, I was through the gates and there it was — the Face of God. All the people who had gone in before me were nowhere to be seen. Either they had hustled off to some especially popular corner of Paradise (like the folks at Disney World make a beeline for Space Mountain) or else they had already been immediately transformed into a spectral realm, shedding their corporal being for one instead made of pure energy.

The Lord motioned for me to take a seat next to him. It was at the right hand of God, which seemed like a good sign. We sat there speechless for several long minutes. He was hogging the armrest that our two seats shared, but I figured I better not make an issue out of it. Soon, He turned to me and spoke.

“You’re probably wondering how you qualified to be here,” He said in what I’d describe as an Australian accent.

“Frankly, I am a little surprised,” I said. “I’m not a criminal or a Republican or anything like that, but I didn’t think I’d be good enough to rank among the chosen to be saved.”

“Well, you’re not,” He said crisply. “But our human resources guy is making us do this whole ‘diversity’ thing, so I’ve tried to mix in some non-believers with the rest.”

“So, you’re saying You really don’t want me?” I asked.

“Not really,” He answered.

“Tell me,” I said, leaning in closely in an attempt to gain a frank assessment of the situation. “Is everlasting life and eternal bliss really all it’s cracked up to be?”

“Depends on your tastes,” He offered. “Some find all the purity a tad boring. It’s a contented life, that’s for sure, but some might say it’s lacking in excitement.”

“So what do I face back on Earth if I decide this isn’t a good fit for me?” I asked.

“Well, there will be five months of what we call the tribulation. Normally, that means the Earth becomes a veritable hellscape of war and want. Under current conditions, however, it won’t be that much different from what you already have down there,” He said.

“Then what happens after five months?”

“That would put us around Halloween,” He said.

“Yeah,” I pressed, “but what about the billions of damned souls left behind?”

“Right after Halloween would come the end of the world,” He said. “About the time they start putting up Christmas decorations in the stores.”

“What will that look like?”

“You’ll see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, representing Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death,” He said. “They’ll ride throughout the land, signaling that the end of times has arrived.”

“That’s a lot of area to cover for four horsemen,” I countered.

“They’re really fast,” He said.

“You know, I think I’d just as soon take my chances back down below,” I said. “I know it’s only five months, but there’s this project at work I wanted to finish up, and we already have a deposit on a cabin in the mountains for June. Would that be okay with You?”

“Suit yourself,” He said. “Jerrod, this one’s going back. Get the skydiving equipment ready.”

I thanked the Lord God Almighty for His time and made my way back through the turnstiles. I was directed to the loading area labeled “RETURNS,” fitted into my gear and stepped off the platform. Within just a few hair-raising moments, I floated softly back to the surface, within a block of my house.

By the time I made it back to the couch in front of my TV set, the Preakness was over. Shackleford had held on for a narrow victory over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Once again, there’d be no Triple Crown winner.

By the way, Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death all finished out of the money.

Return from The Rapture

Mr. Pope answers all your questions

April 25, 2011

In a remarkable acknowledgment that the world has emerged from the Middle Ages, the Vatican staged an unprecedented question-and-answer session with Pope Benedict XVI Friday, including inquiries submitted via Facebook and Twitter.

The Catholic Church was once content to address only queries that people pondered internally via an old-media method called “prayer.” Now, the Church is initiating a push to engage the online world.

Though it’s doubtful that the Holy Father will be issuing encyclicals via text message any time soon, observers said it was refreshing to see the Pope so responsive. Especially since he’s 84 years old and has been known to slip into the occasional papal nap.

The as-yet-untitled talk show, broadcast on Italian state TV under the working title “It’s Pope Time,” was a no-frills production. Benedict sat stiffly in a big white chair behind his desk inside the Apostolic Palace while an unseen interviewer (who sounded a lot like American talk show hostess Wendy Williams) read the letters to him.

The questions were screened from thousands received, to make sure they touched on themes of the Easter season and to avoid embarrassing the pontiff with any that involved algebra. The answers were, by and large, predictable.

“Why do children have to be so sad?’ asked a young girl from earthquake-ravaged Japan.

“Kids today,” Benedict responded in Latin. “What are you gonna do?”

“Has the soul of my (vegetative-state) son left his body since he’s no longer conscious?” asked an anguished mother.

The pope said her son was like a guitar with the strings broken. The son’s soul “is still present in his body,” but “don’t expect extended renditions of ‘Layla’ any time soon.”

“As an ambassador of Jesus, what do you advise for our country?” asked a Muslim from Ivory Coast, where a political standoff has been marked by deadly fighting.

“Discover huge reserves of oil, and wait for the Americans to intervene,” Benedict said.

“We Christians in Baghdad are persecuted like Jesus,” offered an Iraqi concerned with oppression from the Muslim majority.

“Please put your response in the form of a question,” the pope advised.

Though the event was generally well-received by an Italian TV audience used to enduring endless episodes of inane game shows and boring soccer matches, sources in the Church said preparations already under way for the next show would be “tweaked after we focus-group the first show and look at how to appeal to that much-desired 18-to-24-year-old demographic.”

In the interim, the Vatican’s human resources department is working on a set of questions that could better showcase the pope’s firm grasp on both spiritual and interpersonal matters. Hiring manager Cardinal Giuseppe Salameda said his inquiries were designed to bring out the “authentic side” of job candidates seeking positions in the church, and might also allow the world to see “the real pope — the ‘Man behind the Miter,’ as it were,” adding that producers were free to use that as a title for the show, provided an appr0priate licensing fee was tendered.

DavisW’s Blog has obtained a copy of those questions, along with some possible answers, and releases those here:

Q: What do you find most challenging in your current/last role?

Possible answer: Being both Christ’s representative on Earth and the go-to guy for every half-baked plea from the powerless that comes down the pike. I’m definitely a skilled multi-tasker but frequently struggle with prioritization.

Q: Tell me about a time you communicated a new direction during a reorganization or start-up.

Possible answer: When I was still a Cardinal, I had to handle a revamp of the German branch when we had a lot of sexual abuse allegations against some of our priests. I swept everything under the rug with a lot of transfers, and was recognized by my then-supervisor on my performance review for having done “above average” work on the issue.

Q: How do you anticipate the changing needs of your internal customers?

Possible answer: They come to me in vivid visions that feature lots of horsemen and fire and clouds and stuff. I try to write all of them down afterwards, so I don’t forget, but my penmanship is not the best. I’m thinking of taking a typing course so I can use some of that new technology out there, such as the typewriter.

Q: What factors are important to you when hiring into your team?

Possible answer: Of course, they’d have to be Catholic and male and heterosexual and single and at least semi-holy. Also, a strong familiarity with Excel would be a plus, in case we ever figure out how to get all billion believers entered onto a spreadsheet so we can track their sins.

Q: Tell me about a time when you became too hands-on and had to let go and let the team do more.

Possible answer: When I was a member of the Hitler Youth, growing up in Germany, some of the guys wanted to burn down the house of a Jewish shopkeeper. I was the only one with any experience in firebombing, but I figured it might get held against me some day if I ever wanted to be the infallible representative of Christ on Earth. So I showed Heinrick how to do it.

Q: Tell me about a time when you handled an arrogant person or one who made you angry.

Possible answer: Well, I don’t know if He counts technically as a “person,” but there is Someone whose Name I won’t mention here that comes off as a little — shall we say — self-important. I find it best just to give these kind of folks a wide berth and deal with them as little as possible.

Q: Describe a time when you had to give honest negative feedback to a colleague or team member.

Possible answer: When the Cardinals opened their season playing sub-.500 ball, and Albert Pujols was in that terrible slump, I called him up and suggested a slight adjustment in his swing and maybe an extra “Hail Mary” or two while he warmed up in the on-deck circle. Now, he’s slamming it out of the park, just like the old Albert.

Q: Tell me about a time when you had to determine a situation warranted an exception to policy. Describe the situation and your thought process.

Possible answer: There are no exceptions allowed in the Catholic Church. You sin, you burn in hell — that’s just the way it is. The only exception is if you ask for forgiveness of an entire life’s worth of horrible sins on your death bed. Only then can I say, “Don’t worry about it. No prob.”

Q: What did you enjoy most about the culture and environment in your last role?

Possible answer: Between the time I was just a cardinal and the time I became Holy Father in 2005, there was a brief break in service where I worked at a convenience store. There was a guy who came in every morning to buy lottery tickets who always told me a funny joke. I got to know a whole group of regulars and used every opportunity I could to impart the Word of God to them. Also, I got all the free Slushees I could drink.

Q: What did you enjoy least about the culture and environment in your last role?

Possible answer: People pumping gas and then driving off without paying. They took that out of my paycheck, for which I firmly believe the local franchise operator will suffer for an eternity. At least if I have any say in the matter.

Revisited: Holy Saturday — how Jesus spent his day off

April 23, 2011

During Holy Week, much is made of the days leading up to Easter. First was Maundy Thursday, the day when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, then was ratted out by Judas at the after-party. Yesterday was Good Friday, though Christ Himself would probably choose a different adjective than “good,” since it marks the day He was crucified (for example, “Bad Friday” or “Painful Friday” both seem more accurate). Sunday is Easter itself, the day Jesus rose from the dead and was presented with a beautiful ham.  

But today, sometimes referred to as “Holy Saturday” or “Silent Saturday” on the liturgical calendar, plays a much smaller role in Resurrection Weekend. There are no special church services, no ceremonial waving of palms or schlepping of crosses. It’s just a plain old Saturday, plenty good enough for the rest of us to spend in relaxation, and not that big a deal to those who celebrate the life, death and rebirth of our Lord and Savior.  

Little is known of how Jesus Himself spent that solemn day almost two millennia ago. It’s generally thought that He mostly just lay around, recovering from one of the worst weeks anyone ever suffered, including that one you had in February where not one, not two, but three PowerPoint presentations were due on the boss’s desk by close of business Friday. Traditionally, it’s believed that Christ’s actual reanimation took place Sunday morning shortly before the angels rolled the stone away from the grave. It’s entirely possible, however, that it occurred much earlier, and that Jesus had a whole day to kill on Saturday while waiting for the dramatic Easter morning reveal.  

Think about it: if you just moved into a new place, you’d be using your first day off to spruce it up bit, do some cleaning and some chores, and find a little time to absorb the ambience of what has become your home. Maybe the tomb had a little-used back door that allowed Jesus to freely come and go for a day before inviting his friends over to the house-warming bash on Sunday.  

Some historians are now ready to speculate how the founder of the world’s one true religion spent his Holy Saturday:  

9 a.m. — Wakes up late, hoping that a good night’s sleep will ease the pain of one of the worst methods of execution known to mankind.  

9:15 a.m. — Slips out to nearby Panera for coffee and a cinnamon crunch bagel. Hasn’t unpacked His laptop yet so He has to get His news the old-fashioned way, by picking up a newspaper (lead story: “Son of God Executed”; second lead: “Idol Castoff is Gay”). Spends a leisurely hour sipping free refills of the dark roast blend, and wondering why they gave Him a fork with His bagel.  

10:15 a.m. — Swings by Home Depot to pick up some grass seed and fertilizer for a little lawn work He wants to do later in the afternoon.  

10:30 a.m. — After returning to the crypt, Christ starts tackling the “honey-do” list of chores around the house. Since He’s not married, the existence of the list is itself something of a miracle, and the scrap of paper is now enshrined at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It’s believed the hand of the Lord Himself crossed off “fix hinge on sunroom door,” “replace porch light” and “heal dishwasher.” One chore is sadly left unmarked: “Make sure followers don’t kill others in My name.”  

12:15 p.m. — Grabs a quick lunch at Arby’s drive-thru and says “hi” to Dad who’s working there at His part-time retirement job. Orders the junior roast beef sandwich from dollar-menu but has to get the barbecue sauce because He gets embarrassed asking for His real favorite, the “horsey sauce.”  

1 p.m. — Back at home, which He now thinks of by the nickname “The Sepulcher” or maybe “The Sep,” it’s time to pay a few bills. Jesus has refrained from using online banking and still writes checks and drops them in the mail. Just as He wanted to mingle with the lepers and the prostitutes, He also likes to keep a personal touch in dealing with the bankers and the utility company.  

1:30 p.m. — Lies down for a quick nap but wakes up after only half an hour when His cat tries to sleep on His chest.  

2 p.m. — Walks over to the Golgotha Driving Range to hit a bucket of balls. Considers trying to get in a quick nine but remembers He’s got to get that grass seed down before it germinates in His shed.  

2:45 p.m. — Begins yard work but finds it tough going in the sandy soil of the Negev Desert. Manages to scrape clear a small patch and get it sufficiently watered to possibly grow a little fescue, though He’s concerned the spot He’s picked won’t get enough sun in the shade of an olive tree. After sweating away for almost two hours, finally gives in and waves His mighty hand across the land, miraculously creating a lush garden complete with perennials, which shouldn’t take as much work as those damn annuals He had back in Nazareth.  

5 p.m. — Time to fire up the grill for some hamburgers and corn on the cob. He’s dying for a Yeungling but knows, according to the laws of the scripture, that He must drink wine instead, though even the prophets would have to admit that it’s not as refreshing as a cold beer.  

6:30 p.m. — Resists the “great temptation of Christ” — to turn in early — and decides instead to catch a movie over in the Gethsemane Mall. Though He’s already seen it four times, Jesus again chooses to watch “Avatar,” because James Cameron reminds Him so much of Himself, and because He thinks He looks cool in 3-D glasses.  

9:15 p.m. — Makes a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some Peeps for the nephews He suspects will be dropping by tomorrow. Ends up filling a whole shopping cart full of chocolate rabbits, robin’s eggs, jelly beans and other junk, most of which He proceeds to eat while watching Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS.  

10:45 p.m. — Falls asleep on couch even though sugar rush haunts His dreams all night, and gives him the wacky idea of ascending into Heaven before a gathering of believers. Thinks He might just be able to pull it off if He can spend the next 40 days being nice to that friend who owns a jet-pack.  

I pray it doesn’t rain before I can get that grass seed down

Fundamentalist pastor is at it again

April 21, 2011

 

Rev. Terry Jones, the Florida fundamentalist preacher who declared “Islam is of the Devil” and recently burned its Holy Koran in protest, is ready to take on a faith even larger and more threatening to Christian values.

WrestleMania.

Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center have scheduled the burning of a boxed set of all WrestleMania DVD’s produced since the professional wrestling event was first staged in 1985.

“World Wrestling Entertainment bills these annual events as ‘The Showcase of Immortals,’ implying the participants are gods,” Jones told a press conference in Gainesville yesterday. “Christianity does not regard the likes of The Undertaker, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock to be part of the Holy Trinity. Though I have to admit that I enjoyed The Rock’s performance in his current film, Fast Five, and thought the nuance he brought to the title role of The Scorpion King was woefully underappreciated by critics.”

Jones said features of the event serve to mock ideals and traditions long held sacred in the Christian Church. He cited the “Money in the Bank Ladder Match,” in which six to ten participants try to retrieve a briefcase of cash suspended above the ring, as implying that the most effective smackdown will gain the winning fighter access to eternal life.

“There is only one truth path to Heaven and that is through me,” Jones said. “And I challenge any and all comers who say otherwise to face my wrath. I will smite them with the Folding Chair of Righteousness so hard that they won’t know what hit them.”

Jones cited the 2011 WrestleMania, which included a tag team battle featuring Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi taking on LayCool and Dolph Ziggler, as particularly offensive to the Almighty.

“They may claim that, in the context of Bret Hart’s return to WWE over 12 years since the Montreal Screwjob incident, that having a diminutive ‘Guidette’ romping around the ring in a tight miniskirt was appropriate,” Jones said. “But I know that the God of Abraham would disapprove. And I have to say that, despite record television ratings for the pay-per-view finale, I would agree with that God.”

Jones denied contentions that the staged wrestling matches were simply innocent fun, saying that participants “failed to drop to their knees in prayer frequently enough” and that the piledriver move which left victims prone and unconscious “didn’t count.”

Jones said he would proceed with the DVD burning, even though many WrestleMania followers promised retribution that would make the Apocalypse look like a picnic.

Jones also denied he was simply unhappy because he hasn’t talked with his long-lost-son, professional wrestling icon Hulk Hogan, in over two decades.

“That boy is dead to me. I’m over him,” Jones said. “This protest is all about glorifying Jesus and has next to nothing to do with how his mother and I threw him out of the house at age 16.”