This past week, I came across a funny video about texting and using phones in church, thanks to Life Along the Way. My family does things the old-fashioned way. We scribble notes on the bulletin and pass it back and forth. We are so last century when it comes to communication.
But I digress.
In all my years of Sunday school in my youth, and countless sermons that I have slept through so as to allow the word of God to osmose into my being, I must confess that of all my childhood memories, I recall the annual fiasco of the palms most vividly. I grew up with three younger sisters, and I somehow never got the biggest palm on Palm Sunday (not without a considerable fight, that is.) As a kid, this is vitally important since the palms are traditionally used as “swords” to joust with your siblings during and after (mostly during) the ceremony (since they are usually impounded by parents and not available afterwards.) The size of the palm is vitally important, especially to boys and men.
Now as I sit in church thinking about how childish and silly that was, I come to the gloriously inspired realization that without my sisters around, I could get the biggest palm this year! You can imagine my chagrin when some snot-nosed kid from our congregation, who seems to be innocently passing the palms out randomly as he travels up the aisle, hands the biggest palm I have ever seen to some elderly lady sitting in the pew in front of me. To add insult to injury, he proceeds to hand me what must have been the shortest palm they could find. I think he cut it back himself or gnawed on it prior to the service just so he could snub me and my masculinity. I reach out and try to grab another one, but he slaps my hand and hisses “You only get one, mister!”
Some attitude for a church service. I make a mental note to report him to the pastor, but then my mind is littered with mental post-it notes that have fallen and now clutter my gray matter like a garbage dump. So I take a new, more adult approach (repressing the childhood urge to jump over the pew and yank the palm leaf out of her arthritic old hand.) Instead, I tap the lady on the shoulder and I ask her if I can have her palm.
“Oh no,” she replied. “I’m going to give this to my granddaughter after the service.”
Like a four-year old girl really needs one that big. So when she rises to sing the hymn, I try to reach forward, over the pew and exchange the palms. My wife glares at me and hits me on the back, causing me to drop my stunted palm. It also throws me into an asthma attack, and by the time I can breathe, the hymn is over and the old wench sits on my stubby palm whilst brandishing the gorgeous long one in her wrinkled, liver-spotted hands. (Any other time, the hymn would have six or ten verses and cover two pages of the hymnal, but today it only has three verses on half a page. Curses! Prayers have an annoying habit of coming true at the most inopportune times.)
I lean forward to tell her, “don’t you know she could poke her eye out with that?” I am an eye doctor after all. I know about these things. She glares back at me (just like my loving wife) and shifts down the pew away from me, just as my wife and family have done.
I have to come up with a new plan. Fortunately the pastor is rambling on and on about something up front, so I have time to think and plot. I pretend to drop my Bible on the floor, and get down on my hands and knees to retrieve it. I crawl under the pew, and wiggle my way down to where the old lady is now sitting and protecting her palm. I extend my hand to get some leverage so I can reach up with the other. Unfortunately, the pastor chose this week to be brief, and the congregation started to stand for another hymn. The old hag tramps down on my hand and pins me under the pew.
By the time I wriggle free and start to nurse my hand, they are passing out Communion. I am very hungry and have worked myself into a pretty good snit over this palm thing, so I take a handful of the bread off the plate as it is passed. The usher starts to protest but I explain to him that I have missed several Communions in the past and I am just catching up. It is harder to get enough grape juice since it’s poured in little cups—but I manage to down a few before they wrench the cup holder out of my hands. I would have been able to maintain a better grip except I think that the old lard butt broke a couple of fingers in my right hand. They really need to consider passing a bottle of wine. I think that would be a good idea and attendance would probably increase dramatically.
Fully sated, I have to stand up to sing yet another hymn. It’s like this all morning—up and down. I don’t know why they don’t just get the standing parts all done at one time, so we can sit and sleep peacefully through the rest.
A man behind me taps me on the back. I turn and he says, “You’ve got the wrong hymnal. It’s number 75 in the blue book.”
Well stand me up and paint my hymnal red. I shrug.
He taps again and repeats his observation, trying to clarify himself as if I don’t know and perhaps even care that I have the wrong hymnal. It’s as if he thinks I actually sing the songs.
“You’ve got the red book there, son. The hymn is in the blue book.”
I turn around to face him better. I show him the red book.
“I’m not on Hymn 75 and the book is upside down. I’m lip-synching to the Penn State Alma Mater because I can remember the words to that.”
Now I know how Milli-Vanilli felt.