Surprisingly, the St. NFL church that I attend every Sunday in the fall and winter was not invited to participate in this year’s Biblesta parade. The organizers of that event must have lost the phone number and email address.

Parishioners at our church were planning to build a float representing the pivotal scene in the New Testament where Jesus livens up a dull wedding by turning water into wine. We thought this would be the perfect way to illustrate why the Biblesta festival would benefit from the addition of a beer tent.

Maybe event organizers were afraid that any St. NFL congregant who set foot on the Biblesta grounds in Humboldt would immediately turn into a pillar of salt. They must have known that our church caters to the skeptical kind of individuals who don’t believe things that can’t be proven. I remember getting kicked out of Sunday school for asking why the tigers didn’t eat the other animals on the ark and why a God who could see the future would create the Devil. This is the primary reason that Sunday school teachers and youth ministers at that church stopped taking questions after lessons and sermons.

I came by such skepticism honestly. My mother grew up in a Catholic family and my father grew up Southern Baptist. That combination was fertile ground to produce a really confused child who asked a lot of annoying questions. My parents must have gotten tired of trying to answer because they started sending me off with friends to attend various churches around town.  

That is how I once ended up going to a youth rally at a very conservative Southern church when I was an impressionable nine-year-old. Remembering this event had a definite effect on the way I viewed this year’s Biblesta festivities.

The youth rally started off with some light entertainment in the form of a puppet show called “Little Froggy’s Eternal Damnation” that depicted how a talking frog’s poor moral decisions eventually led to an eternity of suffering. Then, increasing the scare-factor of this event, a clown came out onstage and told the room full of children that we could all end up suffering the same fate as Little Froggy.

He did give us a helpful suggestion on how we could avoid that free trip to the lake of fire; we should make Jesus our hero.

At this point, the clown started running around the room sticking his microphone in the face of rally attendees and asking who their hero was. Not wanting to end up like Little Froggy, all of the kids dutifully answered “Jesus.” When the clown got to me (the budding smart-ass newspaper columnist) and stuck his microphone in my face, I answered “Batman.”

That was a perfectly true response. Of all the superheroes, Batman was always my favorite because he didn’t have superpowers. Batman just bought a bunch of cool stuff. The extent of Batman’s heroic abilities is that he was able to purchase things. The moral of every Batman comic book is “rich people win.” To me, that said more about “truth, justice and the American way” than Superman ever did. 

On that day, I discovered conservative Southern churches don’t share the same appreciation for the Caped Crusader as I do. I was told that I was going to spend eternity burning in the fires of Hell … by a clown.

That scared me, so I immediately went home and got rid of all of the Batman merchandise I had collected. I replaced it with Jesus stuff, in an attempt to make Him my new hero of choice.

Upon reading my New Testament comic book, I discovered that Jesus did many very cool and heroic things – He walked on water, He healed the sick, He flew away at the end of the story.

Jesus was a good superhero that saved everybody in the world. The problem I had with this as a nine-year-old comic book fan was that Jesus was a superhero who didn’t believe in fighting. That didn’t make the Jesus action figure very much fun to play with. It didn’t have anything cool like a Kung Fu Grip. Kids could press its arm and the Jesus action figure would turn the other cheek, but that presented limited entertainment. Plus, my mother wouldn’t buy me any of other action figures in this set, like the apostles or the lepers with the detachable parts. I just had one lone Jesus toy. I tried in vain to stand Him up in the pool, but otherwise playing with the Jesus action figure proved to not be very fun. 

I ended up burying the Jesus action figure in my backyard behind this rock. Three days later, I rolled the rock back to try to find the toy, and Jesus wasn’t there.

Maybe it was a miracle. More likely, it was our dog. Either way, it was a reminder that there are beautiful and terrible things that happen in life that can’t always be understood. Just because people have different explanations for and understandings of those events doesn’t mean that any of them are necessarily wrong, or that they can’t get along and be civil with each other. It would have been nice to hear more messages like that broadcast at an event like Biblesta.

Please send all questions, comments, hate mail, marriage proposals, or invitations for me to deliver sermons in clown make-up at upcoming church youth rallies to brian@chanute.com

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