The God Thing

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” (Luke 4:8)

A couple of summers ago I went to the North Dakota State Fair, which just happens to be held in North Dakota. There was this guy there wearing a shoddy spandex superhero costume who pointed to this huge cannon as a crackly loudspeaker blasted the news that he was going to get shot out of it. This was one of those free shows so I figured I’d wait around and watch. The guy strutted around for a while in order to gather a crowd, which ended up being about 17 people. The loudspeaker announced that we were about to see an amazing feat of explosive projectile amazement. After putting on a banged up helmet and goggles, the guy did a few stretches and, with a final wave, slid feet first into the giant barrel and disappeared. The loudspeaker warned everybody to stand back and plug their ears as the detonating cannon would be very loud. Like sheep we obeyed. I watched as the barrel slowly rose into the air over our heads. I turned around to see where they were planning on shooting the guy and saw a small net suspended by poles some 200 feet away. There wasn’t much margin for error, I thought, and found myself definitely interested now. (There’s something about potential catastrophe that always gets my attention.)

When the cannon reached its proper angle, the loudspeaker urged us to join the countdown. I felt really stupid but joined in anyway. TEN. NINE. EIGHT. SEVEN. SIX. FIVE. (By now I was yelling my freaking head off.) FOUR. THREE. TWO. ONE! The air resounded with a rather deflating thump and out of the barrel of the giant cannon through a cloud of smoke rocketed the spandex guy who flew high over our craning necks, executed a perfect somersault, and landed smack dab in the middle of the awaiting net. All 17 of us clapped and whooped as he rolled out of the net back to the ground where he smiled broadly, took a couple of bows, and disappeared. It was totally schmaltsy and low-budget and I loved it. What struck me, though, was that of all of us, it was the spandex guy who loved it most. Even though he did seven shows a day, seven days a week, and even though the crowds were small, he really seemed to enjoy getting shot out of a cannon. Too many concussions, I figured.

Later I had a religious concussion myself. I realized that worship is kind of like that guy with the cannon. It’s like aiming yourself and pulling the trigger. FOOOM! And you’re, like, out there. I guess that’s why God is kind of particular about where you’re aiming. Seems if you aim in the wrong place you’re going to end up a smudge on some celestial windshield. And as far as God is concerned, anything other than him is the wrong place. He’s pretty up on himself about this because he’s convinced that he’s the only guy worth shooting at.

Now, I don’t want to argue with him on this since he’s pretty much got a corner on the holiness and fry your face off glory markets. Besides, this time he’s got a good point. If you’re going to worship something, you don’t want it to be the second best something. It’s not like you go, “Well, this god isn’t a five-star rater, but I guess he’ll do.” No, what you want is a reasonable assurance that the worshipee has the highest divinity rating in his class. Otherwise you’re cannonballing without a net.

So really the whole God thing isn’t so much about the spandex guy and the cannon; it’s really about the net. Watching that guy sail over our heads was cool, but if there wasn’t a net he’d have that one shot at it and the fat lady would sing and they’d have to find somebody else to wear spandex in public for free. No easy job, let me tell you.

I had no idea how religious the North Dakota State Fair was. I wish there were cannons in church.

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