God’s Sense of Humor 2 – In the Presence of Craziness
I was probably only nine or ten when the church parade came down the street and disrupted our game of football. Lance, Larry, Tavo, and I, moved grudgingly to the side of the street to avoid being run over by the church bus, which was decorated like a Mexican piñata and being driven by a clown. We impatiently tolerated the parade, while other children around the neighborhood burst from their homes, jumping, pointing, and spazzing about.
One of the clowns, or it may have been the guy on stilts, handed us each an invitation to their church on the upcoming Sunday. It was decorated with drawings of balloons and streamers and promised us a grand time if we would be standing out on the curb on Sunday morning to be picked up by the church bus.
I recall my parents thinking it was a great idea for me to be out of their hair for a few hours. Mom made me put on clean jeans and a button-up shirt, and there I stood, waiting for the piñata bus on Sunday morning when the grass was still wet with dew, and you could hear the birds mocking you from the power lines.
The bus had been raped of its charm. It looked like the after picture at the Rose Parade. Someone had hurriedly stripped it of decorations and tried to restore its former ugliness for Sunday morning rounds. The contrast was not lost on the three fourth-graders who cautiously boarded with hopes of a good time. We convinced ourselves that they must have erected an actual Big Top on the church grounds and were all there, even now, planning the Show of Shows, probably feeding the wild animals, and putting on stilts.
It turned out to be a very entertaining morning, not in the way I imagined, or would have preferred, but memorable, like watching the Crocodile Hunter pick up a venomous snake by the tail, like you’re in the presence of craziness. Memorable like that.
We were shown seats somewhere in the middle of the auditorium, a big, cool place that smelled of old wood, and Welch’s grape juice. I don’t remember much about the actual church service; there are just surreal snapshots in my mind that replay as if recorded on a disk. The guys and I were sitting there with our senses on high alert. There were no clowns, no circus, and no animals. There were other kids, but it didn’t look like they were dressed for fun.
In the row in front of us was a woman with orange hair. It was twisted and wadded in a vertical column that caused it to look a little like that building over in Italy that isn’t quite straight. When everyone stood to sing, she and the other women in her row began to shake and sway as if they were having a private earthquake. It made you kind of dizzy to look at them. At some point during the music, some of the brightly dressed women started wailing and making strange “Oh-Jesus” noises. One by one they would push out of their rows and scurry to the front of the sanctuary, falling ungracefully on the altar steps. The preacher would just smile and walk by them, putting a hand on their shoulders as they lay there. I think he was checking for a pulse.
All the sudden the woman with orange hair started convulsing, and then, without giving her stack of hair fair warning, she spilled onto the aisle between the wooden pews like a plate of Jello. She laid there right next to where we were standing. I didn’t know whether to help her or climb on the pew so whatever got her wouldn’t be able to get me. She lay slumped in a heap invisible to all but the three of us boys, who, wide-eyed, tried to maintain bladder control. Then, like a fighter trying to get to his feet before the ten-count, she stood, gathering herself. She raised her arms high overhead and above the singing and shouts of “Glory Be,” started speaking gibberish that sounded like the natives on the documentaries we’d watched in Social Studies. She jabbered about as if in a trance. I thought she lost her marbles right in front of God and everyone. Then, suddenly, she fell silent and calmly returned to her seat, shining with sweat, her leaning tower of hair more askew than before. We stared up at her wondering if she knew our language or if she was even from our planet.
My mom explained to me later that the woman with the orange hair was probably speaking with tongues, a visual which made perfect sense to my young mind. I wondered how many tongues she had. Mom said that this is what people sometimes do in holiness churches, which is the kind of church she went to when she was a girl. She said that, usually, someone in the room knows what the person is saying and translates afterward so everyone else can understand. I don’t know if that happened or not, by then the other boys and I were in shock and could hear ourselves breathe.
I read, years later, a letter written by the Apostle Paul who said that when people in churches do that sort of thing in front of people like my friends and me, we’d probably think they’re crazy. Paul was right as rain. I didn’t go to church for a few years after that.
“Even so, if unbelievers or people who don’t understand these things come into your church meeting and hear everyone speaking in an unknown language, they will think you are crazy.” 1 Corinthians 14:23 NLT
Part of the humor of God is how He tolerates, even encourages, little ones, to observe and report things from their perspective. He watches them grow and gently leads them passed all the religious distractions and to His heart. Leads them to the simplicity of Christ, to His deep and unwavering love for them, just as they are.
Pictured here, l-r – Lance, Me, Larry. James is at the bottom of the image. Tavo isn't pictured.