Surprisingly, this Easter, even my dad went. My dad has been adamantly atheist since the IRS audited him 25 years ago and forced him into bankruptcy. He seemed unaccountably good-spirited about the prospect of attending church this year, although I did have to persuade him to change his clothes: he originally came downstairs dressed in charcoal gray and black. During the service, I kept looking to see if he was asleep or verging on a fit of some kind, but my mom's head was in the way.
Let me say, things have changed since I was a wee thing dolled up in Easter finery those bright Sunday mornings in spring. For one, few people in attendance were dolled up in anything approaching finery. Also, the Easter service, at least this year, at least in this church, was not held on Easter Sunday but on Saturday afternoon. There was no liturgy to speak of, and we met not in the church, in the nave, but in another room altogether, a carpeted gymnasium with a big stage and a screen. There was a band with a full brass section. People were dancing and clapping. I even saw some hand-raising. There was a video running above the stage. We saw a short film, a passion play produced like an MTV video. The service ended with a short clip from Desperate Housewives and a "tune in next time" joke.
I guess all of that was okay. People appeared to be engaged, energized, full of zip. I guess they thought about rebirth and redemption. The sermon was certainly forgettable--something very short and vague about the variations among the Gospels. I missed singing the Gloria-in-excelsius-deo song. I wondered, too, about communion. Truth be told, I like my church services one of two ways: either teach me something--give me a spiritual or ethical problem to chew on--or shut up and let me meditate (or sulk). In terms of organized Protestantism, that leaves me with the Unitarians or Quakers, I guess. I don't even mind hearing some politics, lamentation, or jeremiad--convict me, give me some thing to stew over. But this . . . variety show . . . too much song and dance. I was ready to go after 8.5 minutes. It didn't help that my niece and nephews, whom I love dearly, sat quietly for 8.5 minutes and then turned into tiny, well-dressed infidels intent on stressing me out. They discovered that they could stick their magic markers together into long, shaky poles which they then waved about dangerously near the heads of the two elder ladies in front of us, or they whacked the poles against the chairs so that the pens rolled into the aisle or under the seats. If you tried to dismantle the markers during construction, the child--whichever one was at hand--would utter a high-pitched sound of displeasure that seemed more disruptive than the potential disaster of poking the old ladies in the hair.
By the end, everyone else looked relaxed and happy, indeed, rejuvenated. My dad seemed in good spirits (which makes some sense: he dislikes the kind of church I prefer). The elderly ladies left without injury. The children recovered from whatever small traumas they sustained in having me growl and glare at them. In contrast, I had a raging headache which did not go away, even during Easter beer and pizza. Tune in next time when I will offer another long-winded, unenlightened and unenlightening account of my religous experiences: Easter service at the Syrian Eastern Orthodox church in Sioux City, Iowa, 2006.