Boy, did Easter come early this year, or what? I think this one marks the 20th anniversary of my very memorable Religious Experience. Seems like a pretty good reason to share it with the world! But this story only makes sense if I start with a bit of history.
When I was 25, my grandmother kept nudging me to go to her baptist church. This isn’t an ordinary church, mind you, it’s one of the earliest mega-congregations that have now proliferated all around Houston. My cousin playfully dubbed it The Baptidome, perfect since its new Worship Center featured a golden dome instead of the corny old steeple and cross of the original chapel. Grandma insisted I show up not just for the new bowling alley and cafe they added, but because “there are more than FIVE THOUSAND singles there!”
I’m not a big church-goer, as my mom can verify. Over the years I have gone with her occasionally to the modest presbyterian church in our neighborhood. And I visited a few others with friends. Maybe it’s my inner sinner, but I’ve just never felt at ease in any church.
One day I asked my mom how you know you’ve found the right church to commit to and join. She thought for a long time and finally said, “It’s just a special feeling you get. God seems to let you know you’re in the right place.” Okay, whatever.
Now, back to the Baptidome. To give it some credit, they made some attempts to draw in a younger, more casual crowd with a few clever initiatives. For instance, they started a new bible study class for scripture-challenged people like me. The first session seemed a little surreal, though, as we took turns introducing ourselves. One young woman said, “Hi, my name is Joleen… (which sounded more like “Hah, mah nime is Jo-leeeen?”) …and I’ve been a Christian for six years!”
Was this Sunday school, or did I accidentally step into a Baptists Anonymous meeting?
They also started doing come-as-you-are Saturday services at 6pm. (This appealed to me because Sunday mornings there felt a little like a high-fashion competition and I never had appropriate shoes.) So one fine spring Saturday, I put on my best jeans and went.
I arrived a little early, which meant I had my pick among hundreds of empty pews. Usually I like to sit in the back so I can hit the exit quickly, but I noticed that they were setting up a full orchestra for some kind of musical extravaganza. I was curious about the enormous harp. I planted myself about three rows from the front to get a good view of someone playing it. More people gradually arrived and also gravitated toward the front of the church.
Little did I know, the orchestra was there to accompany a full production of the Passion Play. They had actors who had rehearsed for months, kids waving palm branches, livestock meandering (and pooping) down the center aisle, and a convincing-looking Jesus riding in on a donkey. I kept wondering what the guy’s employer must have thought about him growing his hair and beard like that…
Then they got to the crucifixion. Is there some kind of Academy Award for Best Special Effects in a Church Production? There should be. I swear to you, it really looked like they were nailing this guy to a huge cross laid flat on the floor. And then they slowly, slowly LIFTED IT UP with him hanging there, bloody, just a few feet right in front of me.
Just then, something happened.
It was like a bolt of electricity shot through my chest and made my heart pound. In that split second, I immediatly recalled my mom’s advice about God letting me know when I was in the right place. Was this a sign?
Then another split second later, I realized what had happened. As Christ Our Lord was being lifted up on that cross, I had drawn in a huge breath of air and was holding it, holding it… until my overstretched bra strap snapped violently and flung off its hooks — POW!
So there was my savior, hanging bloody and helpless in front of me, and I had to cover my face because I was laughing so hard. Honest, I tried to hide it, but I was shaking with laughter at myself and couldn’t stop. Lucky for me I must have looked like I was sobbing. An elderly woman behind me reached forward and tenderly patted my back to console me.
I was so relieved there was no long sermon after that. I held my arms down strategically to keep my bra from dangling as I made a hasty retreat, still red in the face and grinning like a lunatic.
Isn’t it wonderful that God has such a profound sense of humor? Amen.