Church, and not church

It is ten o'clock on a Sunday morning, and Andrew is surprised at how easy it is to find a parking spot. Church doesn't start for half an hour, but he was expecting to see a few more people arrive early.

He walks to the door and is greeted by a middle-aged woman with permed and highlit hair, whose handshake is limp like a dead fish. She's nice, though. She smells like church--that is, she smells faintly of the perfume counter at a big department store, and of hairspray, and that smell mingles with the scent of carpet shampoo and implants itself firmly in the olfactory nerves as "church smell" for the next two hours. Andrew returns a brief greeting, but doesn't make any effort to engage in conversation, because there's not much to talk about--he knows who this woman is related to, and has shaken her hand on many similar Sunday mornings, but there's not much to the relationship beyond that. A momentary spark of memory, and he remembers that she's been mentioned during the call to prayer... what was it? Was it cancer? A fall? A son in Afghanistan? The specifics escape him, but he smiles at her in what he hopes will look a compassionate and friendly way, and turns to hurry inside without saying anything.

The rest of the church is quiet. The worship team is still practicing, but the music that leaks through the auditorium doors is little more than background noise; elevator music that he begins to hum along with. Andrew wanders over to the bookstore and picks up one of the new releases on the display rack--the cover exclaims in bold print something about a guaranteed way to improve his life, to strengthen his marriage, to re-connect with his children. Andrew isn't married, but he flips through the book absent-mindedly with the idea that something in it might be worth seeing anyway. The print inside the book is almost as large as on the cover, most of the page filled by bullet points. He puts down this book and looks at the next on the rack, this one far more abstract and reserved in appearance. He recognizes the author's name, but there's no way to tell from the title what the book will be about; he flips through and finds long paragraphs recounting personal anecdotes about problems in modern society. There's a story about a young girl from South Africa... Andrew cannot bring himself to read it. He flips forward to a page with quotes from popular songs about hope and peace and the "death of religion." Andrew puts the book back down and leaves the bookstore--the teenaged boy at the cash register is busy chatting with other fifteen-year-olds.

There is now fifteen minutes before church begins, and Andrew is bored. He wanders over to the cafe, feeling something like a cow out to pasture. He spots someone he knows: an older gentleman he went on a short-term mission trip with back in the late 1990s, when Andrew was barely a teenager. The man gives him a firm, energetic handshake and asks how things are with the new job, inquires after the family, mentions that he saw Andrew's dad's company on the evening news. The two of them chat for eight or nine minutes, Andrew smiling and nodding most of the time. They discuss the coming end of golf season, and Andrew asks if his friend is interested in playing one last round the following Saturday. He'd love to, but "this is a busy time of year" the man says, "which isn't a bad thing, of course..."; though Andrew detects a hint of reservation in the old man's smile. "Well, we should probably go sit down before all the good seats are taken, eh?" says Andrew, and the older man smiles warmly and shakes his hand again.

There is a video playing on the overhead projection screen, and the auditorium is now beginning to fill, but Andrew can't help feeling a moron for coming in so early. He goes to his usual place and waits for his friends to arrive and sit with him, though he knows that they won't arrive for at least another ten minutes, maybe fifteen. So he sits alone, and watches the "inspirational" music video on the screen, and prays for the next hour to pass quickly so he can go for lunch with his friends... and then go home and have a nap.

The next hour does pass quickly, but Andrew can't help being inspired by the sermon, an incitement to take up the cross and follow the example of selflessness portrayed by the Christ of the Gospels. Andrew and his friends leave the church quickly, to beat the 12:30 rush at their usual Sunday hang-out, but the whole time he is driving he can't help wondering where he can make changes in his life, pondering ways he can take the pastor's challenge to heart. After he walks into the restaurant, though, the sermon is quickly pushed to the back of his mind, among the many dozens of other inspirational sermons he has contemplated and forgotten.

This is church.
This is most definitely not church.


techne said...


Naomi said...

Wow... I'm glad I don't "go to church" any more... although I don't usually put it that way. This year the church is turning into something we ARE (as opposed to something we DO), and it is so neat to see the shift happenning. Not that we have achieved it, but the vision is turning into reality! And it can for you guys too as things begin to shift right accross Canada!