My first conscious encounter with God happened at a carnival.
It was late afternoon in 1967 when our car entered the parking area. I could see the towers of the midway rising above the fencing. I envisioned myself riding the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Scrambler. I already smelled the popcorn and could taste the cotton candy. I was ready for a great evening under the lights.
A variety of “side shows” stood next to the midway. Garish posters invited me to spend money to see “The Bearded Lady,” the “Siamese Twins,” or “The Man of 1000 Piercings.” I was curious, but not so much that I would risk encountering what lay behind the curtain. What if I paid my quarter and it was a joke? Or what if it was frighteningly real? I opted for another turn on the Dodge’em Cars.
I was working through my second corndog when my mother and sister met me next to the "Ring Toss" game. They led me to a tent at the end of the row of sideshows. A Christian group was holding services there. It was free and the next service was in five minutes. They were going and wanted to know if I wanted to.
Our family had never gone to church and I could not figure out why Mom wanted to do this. I began to feel something and it was not the excitement of the roller coaster or the pleasure of a funnel cake as I stared at the entrance to the “Jesus tent” -- a flap of canvas that was pulled aside exposing a black hole leading to something strange and unknown within. It seemed as threatening as an alien world to my nine-year-old way of life.
I knew that if I acted scared, they would ask me what was the matter. “Nah,” I said nonchalantly, “I don’t want to go.” They accepted my refusal and did not pressure me. When I met them thirty minutes later they were smiling. They told me there had been some music and someone had told a story from the Bible. My sister showed me a write/erase board they gave her at the end. The church’s name was embossed across the top.
My nine-year-old response to the presence of God was appropriate, given what I did not know then. Now it is forty years later and the main thing I have learned is that I have nothing to fear in the “Jesus tent.” To this day, God has not pulled a “bait and switch” on me. Nor has God’s holiness been too much to bear. At this point in life all I want to do is to take God more and more honestly.
In a culture where 2/3rds of us do not attend church but nine out of ten of us still believe in God there are a lot of mistaken assumptions about spiritual/religious matters. These assumptions can separate people from the life God intends. One of the people who knew Jesus personally was a man named John the son of Zebedee. His counsel stands true over 20 centuries: “Perfect love drives out all fear.” Fear is what keeps so many of us ignorant of the roller coaster and the Ferris Wheel. It kept me out of the “Jesus tent” for too long. But God believed enough in what He had to offer me that He arranged another time and place.
Maybe today is the day when God’s carnival will set up again in your town.
Do you smell popcorn?