Church Service Survival 101

July 29, 2020 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

This will probably get me in trouble, but … I think it’s possible that children shouldn’t be allowed in church, at least not until they’ve been trained. I don’t mean that typical genteel parental kind of training. I’m talking more like truly useful, kid-to-kid warning and wisdom. Call it “How-to-Survive-the-Next-Hour-Without-Getting-Spanked-101.”

For example, I learned at a very young age that, when the elderly Edith Cooper began her weekly snore, looking back at her would invariably produce a tiny ping from my mother’s index finger. Mother was a firm believer in the Head-Always-Forward theology. Once, when the second to the last pew completely collapsed, sending three people through the floor into the basement, emitting a cloud of centuries-old dust, I hesitantly glanced up at my mother only to watch her simply nod to the pastor and quietly say “Amen.” She was a rock.

Young children, coming to church for the first time, need to be warned. Don’t look back! Or if you must, do so with technique. I eventually learned that if I dropped the bulletin at the correct moment, when returning from my retrieval lean, I could swipe a quick backward glance that was, if not elegant, at least permissible. But there is a firm once-per-service allotment of this technique. Use judiciously. You’ve been warned.

Children should also be told about the risks involved when they are all taken up front for a “children’s message.” Who invented this terror-filled activity? This situation is fraught with peril. The most important rule is simple: don’t offer anything unless asked. Sharing that your sister has a bank of boogers on the inside slat of her bunk bed will not endear you to your parents. While there is a risk in saying too much, there can also be a risk in saying too little. A visiting pastor shared with us a time when he called all the children forward and asked a seemingly simple question.

“Hi, kids! Got a question for ya’. What’s little and gray, has a long fluffy tail, skitters around on trees and stores up nuts for the winter?”

Total silence met this man’s eager face.

A little surprised, he nonetheless cheerily continued.

“Oh, come on, guys. Let’s try again. Little and gray, long fluffy tail, skitters around on trees and stores up nuts for the winter.”

Again … not a peep, but this time the children’s eyes were huge and fearful.

This visiting pastor was clearly becoming agitated.

“Kids … this isn’t tough. The story won’t work unless you answer. So help me out.” He shot through the question again. “Little and gray. Long fluffy tail. Skitters around on trees. Stores up nuts for the winter!”

Finally, one kid timidly raised his hand. Clearly fearful at this line of questioning, he nonetheless took a deep breath and said, “Pastor … I know we’re always supposed to say ‘Jesus’ … but that really sounds like a squirrel to me.”

This kid knew one of the most basic forms of church survival. When in doubt, answer “Jesus.” Nine times out of ten, it’ll be the answer they want. But, as it turns out, listening is also a pretty good strategy. Who knew?

I actually love the buried truth in that concept. When in doubt, answer “Jesus.” Not only is it usually the right answer to the teacher’s question, it’s the right answer to most of life’s questions. I love it when we actually learn something from our kids. Maybe that’s why Jesus turned to the pompous adults in his company and said, “Be more like kids.”

Maybe we should let them back in church after all.

What Twisted Mind Thought Up Soap?

May 2, 2020 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is that we have soap?Think about it. That wondrous little bar of cleansing magic that you hold in your hands in the shower means that once upon a time, some bizarre mind had to come up with a truly strange set of steps.

“Hey,” mutters the wild-haired man staring at the fire. “I know what! Let’s try pouring water through all the leftover ashes from our previous fires.” His eyes squint in concentration as he works out the details in his head. “Then, when the water drains out, instead of being frightened by it—since it can literally peel the skin from your hands (no kidding, this is where we get Lye)—we’ll just put on little hazmat mittens and gather it up by the bucketful.”

Others around the fire look suspiciously at the wild man. Is he serious? Is there a village somewhere whose idiot has gone missing? But most importantly, what would he be planning with such a corrosive liquid? With that thought, they all took three steps backward.

“Don’t leave me now!” he bellows. “It gets better! We’ll take all those buckets of nasty caustic lye and we’re gonna mix it up with gallons of fat that rose to the surface of the water we used to boil up the butchered cows. Isn’t this great?”

At this point the crowd began scanning the ground for excessive empty wineskins. Either that or they were looking for something with which to protect themselves.

“But wait!” he blathers. “This is where it verges on miraculous! We’re going to cook the oily fat with the blistering lye, and when it globs up, we’ll cut into chunks, rub it on our bodies, add some fresh water and wa la!  We’ll. . .be. . .CLEAN!”

He grinned in obvious delight. Right up until the point he was thrown into leg irons.

Seriously. Those are the steps in making soap. Who would possibly have put this together? I submit to you that no one could have made such strange leaps of logic. It requires too many leaps of logic and several
counterintuitive actions. So then, I pondered. Where did the idea come from? Where in nature would one find a natural mix of water, ash, animal fat and finally, at the end of the whole process, fresh water. And that’s when it hit me. The Old Testament. Or more specifically, the ash mounds from the period of animal sacrifices. Think about it. The rains washed down over the ash mounds, naturally mixing the resulting lye with the cooked fat from the burned animals.  Don’t you imagine that it didn’t take long for the local washer women to figure out that the clothes were cleaned more easily downstream rather than up?

I think this is genius. In fact, I think this is God’s God-ness at its best. A little science, a little spiritual lesson and a great big dollop of humor. You may think that God came up with the sacrificial system to get us ready to understand the eventual coming of Christ. And that’s true. But I also suspect He got tired of us being so filthy, smiled that God-smile and decided to help us along. The metaphor works. Filthy bodies cleaned by the sacrifice of so many animals. Filthy hearts made clean by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. And God, as always, our provider.

When God is LOL

January 10, 2018 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

The three-letter expression, LOL, has been rolling around in text-speak land for quite a while. When it first emerged, I wasn’t clear on its meaning. Lard On Lollipops was unlikely. Licensing of Obese Libertarians seemed even less promising, although in an election year such things are possible. Turns out, it was much simpler: laughing out loud. The problem was, this little three-letter mark of jocularity was often appearing in places where I found it difficult to determine what the text-speaker found to be so funny. . .funny enough that it would cause an actual audible guffaw. Most of the time, a simple snort was more in order. Or even just a hmphh. There have been very few times when I’ve actually laughed out loud at something I’ve read or heard.

One was when reading an interview with a somewhat younger Miley Cyrus who was explaining that she and her new boyfriend were special, more complex, capable of greater thought than one would have expected.

“We’re just deeper than normal people.”

I didn’t mean to laugh out loud right there in the airport boarding area. But I don’t know, it just escaped from me—with a great deal of volume, I might add. I don’t know if it was because of the pretentiousness of the word “normal” to describe all the rest of us mere mortals, or if it was her total lack of awareness that anyone who would actually utter such a phrase has, ipso facto, indicated a decided lack of depth by virtue of her claim to the contrary. But this was most clearly an LOL moment.

People taking themselves too seriously often brings out a chuckle in me. There are many things that do this.

Poetry being one of them. Sometimes it’s a beautiful combination of words that share something fresh and deep. But just as often, it’s the 43-thousandth time that I’ve heard “Life’s a bummer.”

Indie bands. They’re not making music . . . they’re making art, which according to my daughter means they still practice in their parents’ garage and aren’t famous yet.

But, oh how I LOVE those who are unpretentious. . .who even perhaps SHOULD be taken more seriously than they let on, but you’ll never hear it from them.

That’s my Dad. He is brilliant, and yet most of the folks who meet and talk with him would never know it. His goal in talking with folks was always to connect, to encourage and lift them up, and oh yeah. . .to make them laugh. That’s why as a pastor he was so effective. Everything he shared was carried on the wings of an obvious love and concern for others.

I’ve recently heard more than my share of folks who are sharing some concern they have for the theology of others. And while they may or may not have some truth in their concerns, what ruins it for me is the fact that they take themselves sooooo seriously, such that they look down on those they examine—even ridiculing them, and that there is a decided lack of love for those they chastise. I think the apostle Paul said they are like a “clanging cymbal.” Noisy, irritating. Frankly, they remind me of crows. Peck, peck, peck. And such self-important pecking at that.

I can’t be sure, but I suspect that when the God of heavens looks down at any of our self-important pronouncements, we provide Him with an LOL moment.

Jesus on Your Grilled Cheese

December 29, 2017 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

Warning: Serious Cynicism Alert

Few of you will ever know the thrill of seeing the face of our Lord Jesus on your drywall. I can tell you first hand, there’s nothing like it. The problem is, in my case, the face that emerged looked more like the Sith Lord from Star Wars rather than Jesus. And that’s not the first time I’ve seen a clearly-not-Jesus face appear. Karl Marx appeared in my wooden door grain, Mark Twain on my marble floor, and I’d swear I saw John Goodman in a cow pie (my apologies John, but it is what it is).

There have been Jesus sightings by people all over the world in the most unlikely of places—places like Cheetos, clouds, banana peels, baby scans, end of a log, grain of a rocking chair, stained tea towel, rusty side of a refrigerator, bacon drippings, freeway underpass, tortilla, granite countertop, bottom of a turtle shell, and my personal favorite—stains on the coffee mug of an atheist. These people are serious. They take photos, slap them onto Facebook, and start a viral ooh-and-ah fest round the world with amazed and reverent supplicants. This behavior actually has an academic latiny-shmatiny name: pareidolia, which loosely translates to I think I’m in love with my toast. So powerful is this longing to see the face of Jesus in an unusual place, this year’s Christian Retailer’s extravaganza provided the opportunity to purchase a George Forman-like grill that imprints the face of Jesus on your grilled cheese sandwich—(No. I’m not making this up. Google Grilled Cheesus if you don’t believe me . . .which begs the question, just how do we know what Jesus looked like, and moreover, does He prefer Gouda, Brie, or Cheddar?

I don’t want to rule out the possibility that there may indeed be some authentic appearances, but you’ve got to know how to evaluate these things. The Catholic Church, being fully aware of just how often this can become silly, has taken this evaluation process very seriously, even producing a checklist of Rules Regarding Apparitions explaining how to judge the validity of a sighting. Among other things, it includes looking at the individual who found the sighting with a very cautious, even cynical eye. Is she a true adherent? Or did she jump on this bandwagon recently, bringing with her other questionable practices like swinging dead chickens over her head before prayer? Is this an unusual thing in her life? Or did she also see David Bowie in her freezer’s frost last week?

My sightings of the Sith Lord, Mark Twain and John Goodman have taught me something; if you look around long enough, you’ll see faces in everything.

But I think I’ve also learned something else. Rather than looking for the face of Jesus in our coffee stains and our mulch piles, I think our time is better spent trying to BE the face of Jesus. Doing an act of kindness when others turn away. True—it’s not Facebook worthy. No one’s going to line up and pay money for a trinket representing your act of kindness. Little bobble-head dolls aren’t going to appear with your giant grin nodding reverently toward an adoring fan club from the back of someone’s Kia.

No. There is a hurting world out there. They need to feel a loving embrace, a drink when they’re thirsty, a hand when they’ve fallen. They need to know hope. They need to know that the God of the Universe knows their face. And I suspect, that no matter how beautifully rendered, they’ll never find such truth in a cow pie.

Back by Closing Hymn

December 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

I love going to church. My favorite time is not the singing. Nor is it the time of greeting when we wander about the congregation seeking people with hands to be shaken and peace to be shared, and then once safely back in the pews, quietly put on disinfectant to avoid one of the Holy Plagues.

Nope, my favorite part is . . .

The sermon.

Not just the sermon, which is always good, but my mental meanderings away from the sermon, which delight me just as much.

Here’s how it works.

Pastor: Paul was lowered over the side of the city wall in a basket.

Me: Wow. That must have been some basket. I don’t have a basket anywhere NEAR strong enough for that. Grant you I have one that holds about 50 pounds of onions…which, come to think of it is almost empty…I wonder if Paul ate onions?… I’d better get to the store this week…but I really hate shopping…although they’ve installed that little café mocha dispenser now… I just wish it wasn’t in the refrigerated foods section—waaay too cold…I suppose I could wear my winter coat…I wonder if Paul ever wore a winter coat? What’s winter even like in Jerusalem? I wonder if…wait…what is that sound…I hear music…why is everybody standing…oh…it’s the closing hymn. Time to rise Carol.

I’ve heard there are people who have linear thoughts. Supposedly, these folks start a thought, think about it, and then complete it. They can focus intently on a 90-minute lecture regarding the historical derivatives of the word hermeneutics while never losing their train of thought. They actually have a train. I have more of a hot air balloon. I’m just as interested as getting to my location as the folks on the train, but I’m blown about a wee bit by the wind, meandering here and there, seeing things that weren’t on the agenda, but nonetheless are still quite lovely.

On any given Sunday, my mind will wander off the sermon, just the tiniest bit, and is now thinking about the back of that woman’s head, and why she let her roots grow so long and if the root plants in my garden are ready to be pulled since it looks like snow and I really should stop and pick up a new shovel and … “Carol,”…the pastor says cheerily, “Could you tell us why you believe the Apostle Paul was so quick to judge the church in Ephesus?”

Blink.

Blink Blink.

I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with roots. And my other usually safe fallback of always answering “Jesus” wasn’t going to work here either. Man! Where do I get one of those linear thought patterns?

So far I’ve been lucky. My pastor has continued with the traditional model of preaching as a single participant event, not a team sport. That’s good because. . .I’ve never been good at sports. . .although I once thought I’d like gymnastics. . .till I saw that Olympic girl bend herself in half backwards. . .which I’m thinking causes spinal cord damage. She looked like a pretzel. . .we haven’t had pretzels in a long time. . .maybe I should get some next time I’m in. . .  <watch the balloon drift away>

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