The sunday school is behind a glass panel with a clear view of the pulpit... with two big screen T.Vs suspended above which carry a live feed of the stage, delivering a higher definition service to the kiddies. The faint traces of childhood that are scattered around, cut outs of goofy looking African safari type animals, are placed to the rear of the room and the backs of the young audience who it appears sit in compact, tightly ordered rows - and the room itself is at the furthest end of this here house of G. Ohhhh. D! It seems children aren’t even meant to be seen, let alone heard.
My knees had already buckled a while ago, upon first walking in and being hit by the scent of it - the sweaty carpet smell of stale hope and smug desperation - I’d had to sit down for a moment and brace myself. Now however, my legs stronger and my mind grasping the corporate scale of it, disbelieving expletives interspersed by awkward sorries flow in the semi-whisper I still feel obliged to use in “places of worship”. Thank God it was empty. No one to hear it. No one to insult. No one to try convince me that Jesus, this version of him anyway - Jesus of instead-of-going-to-the mall-on-sunday-morning, Life Coach Jesus of the 2 hour guilt workout - is the way, the truth, the light.
Under my breath I laugh for the full 30 minutes we are there and take vicarious joy in the idea that the people who brought me are charging top dollar to do what they have been tasked with by the leader of this charismanic electric meadow. How had this place come to be? And, as overused as the question is, how many of God’s children could all this have fed, taught or healed? What would Jesus do? And is there enough petrol and matches in the world for me try to answer that question regarding this particular building? There is nothing in the whole place that isn’t bigger or more extravagant than it needs to be, and there are even seats with reserved signs on them. The equation seems simple: the more you tithe, the closer you get to pastor; the closer you are to pastor, the closer you are to Gawd! - the foundation of a shame based economy... pay for your sins, then go back to work on monday and find something to absolve yourself of at next week's service. The room looks like it can seat more than 3000 people per service. And they have more than one service on more than one day a week... business is good.
I find myself silently thankful that I missed all this... that I decided that I believed in the truth of Jesus’ words whether he’d risen from the dead or not, or if he’d even really existed at all, and went awol before churches had air conditioners as big as those of shopping centres. The cold sweat I’d felt at the thought of my own religious daze-gone-by fades under the static fluorescence. But I still can’t get over the smell. What I imagine an empty nightclub or casino smells like on a tuesday morning, without the unholy cigarette smoke.
I start itching to leave, and thank God, again, that their measurements are done... Its a large space and it will keep them busy and in the black for a while. And if he likes their work, he may pay them to install the next big plaything him and his flock have been blessed with by the grace of the Most High, and their status as a non-taxable entity.
My skin begins to burn like a dry blush as we leave and the breeze that blows in the parking lot seems that much sweeter, the trees that much greener, and the early dusk, that much more sultry.
And as we drive away toward the cold beer and joint wherever it is we end up, I am convinced I’ve never been so glad, I am a sinner.