Sunday, December 10, 2006

Is Church Only For Old People?

I haven’t attended many church services in the last half a century or so. I’ve been in churches because they were historical, or for the archaeology. But not actually going to church. This morning at 10:00 (its Sunday) I put on my white shirt, coat, and tie and actually attended the service at the 1,200 year old church that Carolus Magnus, King of the Franks, Karl The Great, or as us Anglophiles call him Charlemagne built in about 800 AD in Aachen, Germany.

This church is now an Episcopal Church (and a world heritage site). I was baptised as an Episcopalian, and almost a half a century ago I went to the classes and got confirmed in the church. So I figured it would be OK for me to attend the church service there.

Charlemagne was the first Holy Roman Emperor, and he was the first person to unite all of Europe. They sometimes call him the Father of Europe. Amazingly this wonderful cathedral he built largely survived over the years, including the massive bombing of the allied forces in WWII.

Before this morning, except for weddings and deaths, the last church service I had actually
attended was in Westminster Cathedral in London about 10 years ago. And before that it was 30 years ago in the Church of the Nativity, built by Constantine the Great (330 AD), which stands in the center of Bethlehem.

The service this morning was really great. Although the place feels small and intimate, it actually seats between 300 and 400 people. And it was standing room only this morning. Looking out over the crowd one could mostly see grey with some bald heads poking though here and there. I’ll bet less than 10% of the congregation was under the age of 50. The service consisted of lots of standing up and sitting down. By about 45 minutes into the service maybe a quarter of the people were no longer bothering to stand up in the get-it-up parts. Not out of any sort of rudeness, but just because they were old and their legs were tired of all this standing and getting up and down.

It was a real multi-media show. And a good one too!

The candles and the stained glass windows. The gold tomb housing Charlemagne’s bones, the Blessed Virgin Mary looking over us. I was sitting right under the famous chandelier which Emperor Barbarossa donated to the church in 1020 in honor of his distant relative Charlemagne being made a saint. The official church people were all dressed up in their fancy robes and gowns. Us old men had on conservative ties and dark overcoats, and the little old ladies with the blue hair had on black dresses and hats.

The Padre and his Helper-Boy would swing the incense burner, the church has one of the most magnificent pipe organs anywhere, the Aachen DOM choir is really world renowned (and I can see why), they had a group doing Gregorian Chants, the massive church bells outside would ring, and then at certain places the congregation would also join in where everyone was belting out this really loud and wonderfully uplifting music.

At one point during one of the stand-up parts of the service you turned to the person next to
you, smiled, murmured some vague pleasantries about how sexy she looked in her black dress, and shook hands.

I’m almost 60 years old, and I’ve never drank the blood of Christ or eaten him either. But today I got to. It seemed rather pagan, vampire like, and cannibalistic but as Mike would say, “What the Hey?” You only live once. And life is a terminal adventure after all. Thank heavens you no longer have to share the same cup with 400 other sneezing, sniffling, and coughing, immune system suppressed old folks. It took them almost 2,000 years but they’ve finally figured it out about germs, bacteria, and viruses. So at least in this church, you no longer drink his blood, you only eat him. But the Padre sure does belt down his share of that Holy Wine early on a Sunday morning. He gives a good healthy swig to his Helper-Boy too.

You don’t really get to eat Jesus. Not like one Gay guy would eat another one, or like my lesbian wife used to eat her girl friends (actually 2 of my 3 wives liked to have an occasional girl mixed in just to keep it interesting). No, this is more symbolic and ritualistic. And it has something to do with the concept of Faith’s Triumph Over Reason.

Supposedly a couple of days after the carpenter from Nazareth was executed for opposing the rich folks and the power structure, he came back to life for a brief period. And he shot the breeze with his girl friend. But she wasn’t allowed to touch him. Not even a little hug or a peck on the cheek. And certainly not a good old vigorous, sweaty, heavy breathing, nasty sex act. Nope, nothing at all.

And now one celebrates this wonderful event by drinking His blood and eating His flesh. Honest! This is not some kind of a joke. And in many churches there is even a large statue of him looking down at you, nailed to the cross, bleeding profusely, and a wearing a cactus on his head. He’s thirsty and he’s dying. But this is not sadistic. No. It is religion. And family values, and it is all a good thing.

To participate in the cannibalistic ritual you gradually work your way forward in a long line that sort of reminds me of the way that a Conga line snakes side to side. The old folks are none too steady on their feet. When you finally get to the front of the line the Father murmurs some stuff
over the cracker, makes the sign of the bloody crucifix that Jesus was executed on, then he gives the little round unleavened bread to you. You sort of bow and scrape a little, and you say some sort of ritualistic crap. Then you put the little thin cookie in your mouth and let it slowly dissolve.

About 60 minutes into the event some guys in suits passed around wicker baskets that were full of money! This seemed really nice of them to me, but since I’m doing OK financially at the moment I didn’t take any. Instead I put in $20 and passed the buck on down the line.

The service was performed in German, but honestly I got about as much out of it as any service I’ve ever heard in Latin, Spanish, or English. At one point I was staring straight up overhead
wondering how the chandelier was suspended from the dome maybe 150 or 200 feet directly above my head. I noticed that there was a mural of the Prince of Peace on the ceiling.

I got to thinking. Religion can be a good thing when it (somewhat rarely) focuses on Peace, and helping the poor, and concepts like The Meek Shall Inherit The Earth.

In my view religion is mostly negative. And harmful.

In so many cases religion allows me to think I’m better than you are, simply because I go to a different church. Taken to its logical extreme it allows me to kill you, once again simply because you believe in a different set of “mystical faith crap” than I do. Just ask the Catholics and the Protestants of Northern Ireland, or the Jew and the Moslems in the middle east. It has gotten so normal for some poorly educated Muslim cleric to issue a religious death sentence on someone, just because of what they said or what they believe, that it is no longer even news.
But just let a white person mention the word Crusades and bloody, fucking hell breaks loose.

But I gotta tell you. Once you get so damn old that you can’t drink or stay up late partying anymore, a good church service like the one this morning in Aachen is a very entertaining multimedia experience. Something to do, some place to go. And its cheap too.