Have It Your Way
It was 12:50 and church had gone over again. Michael pulled into Burger King. He was starving. The church service had run late so he had to throw something down the hatch before he changed into his jeans. He was going back to church to help out. A few of the guys were putting together a wooden Noah’s ark for the children’s nursery.
“God ought to do that again with the flooding” Michael said to himself. He pulled into the restaurant’s drive-through lane. Across the street, he saw a lot of people in casual clothing coming out of the Blockbuster Video store.
“It’s clear they never darken a church door” he muttered as he waited in line in the drive-through. “They live like there is no God. They don’t know they’re going to be coming up short on judgment day. If they did, they’d be shaking in their boots. They should be dying to get into the church — but it’ll be too late.”
As Michael was about to place his order, he didn’t know the voice coming from the intercom would be God’s voice. That’s right! The Almighty! God was sitting in Burger King with the earphone, mic and wearing a paper hat taking orders. God had never done that work before but was giving it a try. She was helping out one of the workers who had earlier gone home ill.
“May I take your order” Michael heard through the intercom. The voice wasn’t as artificial as he expected.
Michael said, “Yes, I’d like two double cheeseburgers and an Adventure Cappuccino . . . and make it quick. I’ve got to hurry to get back to church” Michael said, surprised that he told this minimum-wage person why he was in a rush.
“Admirable” said the intercom attendant with some warmth. “Since this is Burger King, we’ll treat you like a king and you’ll have it your way, of course.”
“Yea, that would be the day!” Michael said with scorn, . . . clueless about what was soon to come. “The day I have it my way,” he added, “I’d clean up this whole town. You’d be able to walk the street and never worry about the hoodlums.”
“I bet you’d get lots of votes if you were running in the next election” God responded with encouragement.
“You know what I would do if I got my way?” Michael continued. “I wouldn’t pray for three atheist Supreme Court Justices to die as Pat Robertson suggested. I’d get the whole job done at once. I’d send everyone, who feels they’re too busy to show up at church, right to hell. ‘In a twinkling of an eye’ like the good book says. These godless-liberals want to drive our country to hell in a handbasket. I’d ship ’em right to hell and save them the work of dragging the rest of us there.”
“That’s a pretty tall order” God said through the intercom with seriousness. Is that what you want?”
“Sure,” said Michael. I’d send them all there. ‘Like a thief in the night.’ I’d flame broil them over the open fire my way” Michael concluded. He was proud of his tie into the restaurant’s advertising rhetoric.
“All right, it’s your call” the voice said. “And one thing further, do you want fries with that?”
“No,” Michael responded. “I’m trying to stay healthy” he said with a smile on his face. “Your body is a temple, you know!”
“Yes, … so it’s said” God responded with a touch of sadness. “Please drive around.”
When Michael came up to the window, there was only his bag of food and no cashier. He called into the window and no one was in sight. There wasn’t a soul in the entire restaurant. He waited another couple of moments and called again, even beeping his horn. Finally, in exasperation, he grabbed his food and drove off. Neither was there anyone on the street or across the way in front of the Blockbuster Video store. He was the only one driving on the street.
It was eerie. Sure it was Sunday but there were a lot of people out and about a few minutes ago. Michael turned on his radio but nothing was playing. The only sound was of someone humming a tune.
He pushed the button to switch to this favorite Christian station but it was the same thing, . . . someone humming a tune.
“What the hell is going on around here?” Michael said half to the radio, half to the deserted street in front of him.
“Well that’s the point, Michael” the voice said to him from his car radio speakers. The voice he heard was the same one he had heard from the drive-through intercom. Michael slammed on the brakes and came to an abrupt stop in the middle of an intersection. It didn’t even matter because there were no cars anywhere in sight!
“What’s the point?” Michael said, wondering if he was having a breakdown or a sudden bout of insanity.
“Exactly what you ordered is the point!” God said from Michael’s radio. “You’ve ordered seven billion people to hell. They’re all gone from your life but you’ve got a couple of problems with that order.”
By now, Michael realized to Whom he had been speaking and took courage. “You mean you took care of all those unchurched heathens for me?” he asked with some pride.
“Yes” God answered back through the radio. “But since there isn’t a literal place called ‘Hell,’ I brought them all over into my place to get them out of your way.”
“And by the way, the only people remaining in your life are the two hundred or so who go to your church. There’s nobody left where you work. I’ve got most of your relatives. Haven’t you noticed your wife and kids are near dead with boredom with your church? So enjoy the quiet and the simplicity,” God concluded.
Michael’s radio made a pop and after a sputtering sound, it went silent.
Michael saw a car coming toward him from the opposite direction. It was Hal Linden and his wife Brenda from his church. Hal looked as bewildered as Michael felt. They pulled their cars over on the side of the road so they could talk.
“I can’t believe it” Hal said. “It’s the rapture or something and everyone’s gone. This is it!” he concluded with wide-eyed excitement.
Michael looked at him and responded, “If it is the rapture, how come we are still left here?”
In the prolonged silence that followed, neither of them spoke.
Michael continued home. His neighborhood was as if a bomb had dropped and sucked every living thing away. In his driveway, Michael’s radio snapped on and God asked one more question. “By the way, Michael, what the hell is a handbasket?”
But it seems to me that we’ve been doing a whole lot of “social distancing” as Americans for quite some time now, if of a slightly different form. “Polarization,” breaking into camps and tribes. Projecting all our stuff onto those terrible others. “If only we could get rid of those people, we’d be fine.” Leaders sowing division and discord, pitting people against each other to hold onto power.¹
Tony Robinson, from Be Careful What You Ask For, 4/29/20 United Church of Christ Still Speaking.