The second time I ever spoke “professionally” was at a college retreat put on by a church I’m friends with. It was at a hotel near the beach, and I was nervous. At 32, I felt a lot older than the 18-year-olds in the crowd, and I didn’t know if I could make them laugh. I was there for humor, despite aggressively resisting any application of the label “Christian comedian” to my name.
I was assured by my friend, the founder of this church, that despite the Saturday night time slot they had given me, it would not be a typical sloppy agape cry fest. That’s some sort of church law. On Saturday night you have to make people weep and that I was given permission to avoid that was huge.
The night started off with the Senior Pastor doing some funny Q&A with the college students. “Boxers or briefs? Who’s the first girl you kissed?” Lots of silly stuff that had the students laughing and energized. “Yay,” I thought inside. “This is a perfect setup for me.” But before I could get up and tell jokes about prayer shot blocking and why we’re afraid to witness to people, a husband and wife acoustic guitar team was scheduled to play for about an hour.
I confess, I instantly got a little nervous because I wasn’t sure if they got the “Don’t be all serious on Saturday night” memo, and sometimes acoustic guitar players lean toward the melodramatic side of things automatically. I don’t blame them–it’s next to impossible to write a cool, happy song. Think about it. Can you name three really happy, positive, sunshiny songs you respect musically right now? No, you can’t. But you can probably name a million mopey songs. And sometimes husband/wife teams multiply each other’s melancholy as they stare longingly across the mic at each other.
And my fears were confirmed. For an hour they played some of the saddest, most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. I actually wrote down some of their lyrics, they were so great. If I was at a concert, I would have loved the music. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. I was, as the lead singer said at one point, “the funny guy coming up next.” Someone leaned over to me during one particularly painful song about a father dying and said, “They are killing this room.” I could only nod and think to myself, “Do I have any jokes about death? Is there a good death joke transition that I’m unaware of?”
There’s not. (Believe me, I looked.) Fortunately the Senior Pastor, tapped me on the shoulder before I went on and said, “I’m going to do some sort of transition.” I wanted to side hug him, I was so excited. After the singers were done, he made the crowd stretch and did a mini meet-and-greet thing. Lots of pastors don’t have such good crowd sense, but I think he instinctively knew the sushi rule of church services.
As I’ve written about before, in between bites at a sushi restaurant, they give you ginger so that you can clear your palate. They don’t want the squid to run into the snapper and the snapper to run into the sea urchin as you have piece after piece. The ginger gives you pause between bites, so that you can appreciate what’s unique about each individual piece. They help you transition from what may be wildly different taste experiences.
Church is the same way. Sometimes you need a bit of ginger between experiences to clear the palate. If you’re planning on starting with a really funny skit and then following that with a devastatingly sad video, and then a sermon about tithing and then a really happy worship song, help us out a little. Give us some transitions on that emotional rollercoaster. Create some ginger moments so we can appreciate the unique experiences you’re weaving together.
Or figure out a really good joke about death that I can use when my next gig follows a sad acoustic singer songwriter. Because that would be really helpful to me.
Have you ever experienced an emotionally confused church service?