Posts Tagged ‘religion’

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."

Maybe ‘Little Michele’ is our answer

August 16, 2011

There’s no shortage of wacky ideas coming from the pouting lips of GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

She came out in favor of having the U.S. default on its loans. She wants to virtually eliminate Medicare and Social Security. She believes married women should be “submissive” to their husbands, to the extent that she pursued a career as a tax lawyer at her husband’s insistence, even though she admitted “I hate tax law.”

She condemns homosexuality as wicked and believes people can un-gay themselves with a little help from Jesus. She believes so strongly in conversion that she’s working on her own personal project with her husband, who is rapidly becoming known as “Mincing Marcus” among those who believe more in Gaydar than in evangelical Christianity.

There’s also no shortage of shortness in the Bachmann camp. The petite eye-liner model from Minnesota’s Sixth District is showing that you don’t have to be willowy to run for president. She stands on stumps not only to deliver fiery campaign oratory, but also to see something other than the bellies of those who crowd around her.

When the right-wing ideologue first appeared on the scene, her diminutive stature was reported as being about five-foot-two. Later, that was cut back to 5-1, then “5-1 in heels,” then recently four-foot-eleven.

As her prominence in the Republican field grows, her physical size appears to be shrinking. This might be a problem for some — like members of the news media trying to cover her campaign who complain she’s “hard to find” — but not for me.

While normally I might abhor the anti-progressive nature of her politics, I must admit I am drawn to the prospect of a miniature president. The full-size models we’ve elected repeatedly over the years never seem to be quite up to the job. Perhaps if we selected a chief executive you could hold in your hand, she could better navigate the gridlock of Washington and make something happen.

I, for one, would be ready to look the other way on some of her more outrageous positions if she is in fact working her way down toward the molecular level. My outlook is strongly influenced by reading I did in my youth — not the utopian tomes of conservative philosophers like Ayn Rand and Russell Kirk, but rather comic books featuring the exploits of “The Atom.”

The Atom was the super-hero alter-ego of physicist and professor Ray Palmer. He was a full-fledged member of the Justice League of America along with better-known figures like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Green Lantern. This council spent the 1960s in an alliance to battle evil and spread freedom around the world, when they weren’t obsessed with trying to avoid stepping on The Atom.

The Atom’s super-powers were never clearly defined in the reading I did. It was said that he retained the power of a full-sized man despite his wee stature. Critics noted that average strength contained in a vessel the size of a neutron was not that impressive, but The Atom simply dismissed this as “sizeist propaganda,” or would have if his voicebox were large enough to be heard.

The origins of The Atom are also a bit sketchy. Professor Palmer used a “mass of white dwarf star matter to fashion a lens allowing him to shrink down to subatomic size.”

“Originally, his size and molecular density derived from the star material of his costume, controlled by mechanisms on his belt, and later by controls in the palms of his gloves,” sources report. “Much later, he gained the innate equivalent powers within his own body.”

Huh? I wondered as a child.

But now I’m an adult, and I’ve come to understand that what makes sense on a conscious level may be total nonsense on a subliminal level, and vice versa. Perhaps this invisible world and its tiny denizens are just what we need to shake things up in Washington and get this country back on track.

As tiny president, there are admittedly many things that Michele Bachmann might find to be a challenge. Signing documents of state with the typical pen would be next to impossible when the pen towers over you. Meeting with foreign leaders would require not only a translator familiar with both languages, but also someone who is half in the full-size world and half in the microscopic. (I know Gary Coleman is dead but Emmanuel “Webster” Lewis is reportedly available.) Congratulatory visits to the White House by championship basketball teams would be problematic at best.

But in these difficult days, perhaps it’s the right time to abandon these largely ceremonial duties. Pardoning White House turkeys and attending Betty Ford funerals are not what we need to address our current slate of overwhelming problems. Radical solutions, thinking outside the box, and hiding inside the shoes of our enemies could be the actions we need.

In a Bachmann presidency, I envision a world that’s properly been turned upside down. The commander-in-chief becomes less an impotent figurehead and more of an action-oriented (if pint-sized) go-getter.

Imagine these headlines:








If we open our eyes to the possibilities that a Bachmann administration could bring, it’s possible she could get under our eyelids, causing minor irritation or perhaps even a sty.

Or, we may discover an entire new world, previously invisible to the human eye, that could replace our bloated, over-grown society with one that is neat, trim and, most important of all, incredibly small.

Bachmann shows that size -- even when it's small -- matters

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



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.

Revisited: YMCA goes MIA

July 23, 2011

CHICAGO (July 23) — In a rebranding move that stirred up its Christian faithful and simply confused everybody else, the YMCA has rolled out a new logo touting the organization as simply “the Y.”

Gone is the “MCA” that completed the full name of the Young Men’s Christian Association that had existed since its founding in 1844. The original charter of serving to develop a healthy spirit, mind and body remains, but the public relations experts who came up with the change hope to increase membership from a wider, more diverse community.

“We had narrowed ourselves into a pretty slender demographic,” said national spokesperson Tom Scribner. “There may be plenty of young, but only half of them are men, and then less than half of these are Christian. When we further require that they be a member of the 1960s soft-rock group The Association, we’ve just about eliminated everybody.”

“By just calling ourselves ‘the Y,’ we can accept almost anyone into our facilities,” Scribner said. “And if ‘Along Comes Mary,’ we’d be able to welcome her even if she were an old Jewish lady.”

Scribner described additional confusion that existed before the image update and name change. A competing group called the “SPCA” — believed to stand for the “Small Pets Christian Association” — was drawing off the existing membership of the Y, sometimes permanently.

“We had people who’d go to the SPCA for a workout and a schvitz in the steamroom, and they’d never be heard from again,” Scribner said. “Apparently, the SPCA workout consists of a 30-foot dog run where joggers are chained to a steel line, and their sauna uses fatal doses of carbon monoxide instead of steam. That’s not good.”

Scribner deflected criticism that came mostly from Southern branches of the organization, who complained that the move de-emphasized the Christian element. Also opposed to the change were roller rinks who feared they’d have to scrap one of their skaters’ favorite songs, “YMCA” by the Village People.

“We took the valuable input of these groups and considered it carefully,” Scribner said. “We told the National Roller Skating Association they could keep singing the song as it was written. But we had to be tougher on the Christians and make them promise never to mention or think about Jesus Christ while they’re in our facilities. Even if they drop a medicine ball on their foot, we’ll be requiring them to say something like ‘crap’ or ‘ouch’ instead of anything that invokes the name of the Lord.”

The shortening of corporate names to a catchy single letter has caught on among marketing experts looking to increase sales among young people. The United States of America, or as it was sometimes called “the U.S.A.,” recently requested fellow members of the United Nations to simply refer to it as “the U.” The Professional Society of Urologists, formerly the P.S.U., is now known as “the P.” A consulting firm brought in to update the image of the 101-year-old NAACP with a proposal to rename the civil rights organization “The N Word” had its suggestion rejected by the group’s membership.

Other firms that have tried this tactic have run into legal trouble with copyrights. The international jihadist terror organization known as al-Qaida was looking to transform itself into an edgy group that could draw young adventure-seekers into its ranks. The terrorists had already printed signage, T-shirts and promotional pens bearing the new name of “The Big Q,” when it was discovered that a radio station in Canton, Ohio, was already calling itself “The Big Q-96.” The station had won some preliminary legal battles but then was threatened with holy war, and decided to compromise by offering al-Qaida tickets in preferred seating for the upcoming Avenged Sevenfold concert featuring Five Finger Death Punch.

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

An editorial: Change can represent opportunity

May 12, 2011

Yesterday’s news that giant mutant space zombies are invading Earth and preparing to kill or enslave all 7 billion of its inhabitants can be viewed from two perspectives.

The natural reaction of course is intense, widespread panic. People perceive that their way of life is being threatened, that immense creatures not of this world with unfathomable powers of destruction will automatically mean a reduced standard of living.

Change is always difficult for the human species to adapt to. Most of us can’t help but feel unnerved when our desks at work are rearranged, or when our usual barista at Starbucks has been replaced by a new hire.

Imagine, then, the challenge we’ll all be facing in the coming days of apocalyptic calamity. Our everyday routine is bound to be seriously disrupted as these giant mutant space zombies (or GMSZ) prowl our planet’s landscape, raining death and dismemberment down on innocent populations. Simple chores like grocery shopping, taking the kids to soccer practice and continuing to exhibit normal bodily functions will no longer be the breezy exercises they were in the past. Everything is destined to be more difficult.

But change can also represent the prospect for improvement. In China (before it was obliterated by Wednesday’s death ray that took out huge swathes of east Asia), the word for “crisis” is the same as that for “opportunity.” True, it can be hard to find a silver lining in a cloud as threatening as the one comprised of poisonous gases unleashed by the GMSZ that is now approaching the Western Hemisphere. But, frankly, we have little choice in the matter.

When President Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, Queen Elizabeth, Vladimir Putin and Regis Philbin made their joint appearance on television last night to deliver the news that we’re all doomed, the world offered a collective gasp of horror. Never before had Earth faced the challenge of being overrun by superior creatures from another galaxy.

“The days ahead will be difficult. The trials will be many,” Obama said. “But in the end, I am confident that the American people will respond with the calm and patience and resolve that has made our nation great. We survived a Civil War, we survived the Great Depression, we survived the widespread social disruptions of the sixties. I know we won’t survive an alien invasion but — hey — a guy can dream, can’t he?”

“In this, humankind’s greatest hour of distress, we must turn to God for comfort and solace,” the Pope said. “I, for one, will be deep in prayer, asking Him how in the hell did He neglect to reveal to his loving children that we’re all going to die at the hands of giant mutant space zombies?”

Perhaps, though, it was left to a talk show host to offer the most realistic take on how the coming days and weeks will reveal themselves.

“I’m almost 80 years old, and I’ve had a good run,” said Philbin, host of the popular “Live With Regis and Kelly” show. “Humanity, too, has had a good run. But now it’s time for us to step aside and allow the new kids on the block their time in the sunshine.”

There is a good side to all this gloom and doom. No longer will we have to worry about a sluggish economic recovery that has failed to produce enough jobs to get the unemployment rate to an acceptable level. Concerns about the environment, about international tensions, about the menace of Islamic fundamentalism will now seem trivial. Having to watch the oversized dwarf known as Cee Lo Green on “The Voice” and other TV shows will only be an issue for a few more days.

We’ve got much bigger problems now. Big, mutant, extraterrestrial problems. It’s time we put everything into proper perspective.