By Curtis K. Shelburne
Bruce Larson tells of a conference at a Presbyterian church in Omaha. As the story goes, people were given helium-filled balloons and told to hold them until a time came in the service when they experienced joy in their hearts. At that point, they could just let go of their balloons as a visible sign of that joy.
That’s kind of a neat idea, but I thought of some problems.
The first is that Mondays tend to follow Sundays, and, unless you hold the service outdoors, somebody’s gonna walk through the church sanctuary on Monday morning and realize, “Wow! We’ve gotta find a way to get these balloons down.” The most enjoyable way is a BB gun. But I think I’d just leave them awhile as a tribute to the joy experienced right there!
The second problem is that people are not like birds. When some species of birds go to sleep and their little bird talon/feet relax, they relax closed. That’s good if you need to sleep holding onto something like a branch. But when people sleep and their hands relax, they relax open. That means that, although this is hard to believe, a few folks might actually release their balloons due to sleepiness and not joy, and that could produce confusion.
Not even close to everybody who nods off in church is grinchy, but I can imagine a situation where ol’ Brother Grinch or Sister Sneeralot who everybody knows didn’t smile at their own weddings are sitting there holding their balloons when they are overtaken by sleep. (Grinchiness is not only tiresome, it’s tiring.) Suddenly their balloons are rising toward the ceiling and the congregation gasps in surprise and confusion!
The other problem I see is the one Larson says they really faced. These folks are Presbyterians, not “charismatics.” As my own tradition has Presbyterian roots, I understand them. We can, for example, raise our hands in worship, but it’s kinda hard for us, and you folks from Methodist and Baptist backgrounds understand the problem and share it. We could, I suppose, be so moved that we holler out in worship, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” but we’re probably more likely to suffer some sort of coronary thrombosis from a deep vein clot caused by inactivity in the pew.
Letting a balloon go to express joy is a bit of a public act of emotion. Even if we resolved to cast caution to the wind and actually release our balloon when we felt joy, we’d probably analyze it to death. We’d wonder if we’d really experienced enough joy to actually let the balloon go, or if it was just gas from last night’s barbecue, or . . . and then, suddenly the service is over and we’ve still got our balloon, and then what?
Well, that’s the problem the Presbyterians ran into. Throughout the service balloons were rising just as they’d hoped, but then it was over, and more than a third of the balloons were still in the hands of worshipers who’d not gotten over the bar joy-wise. And that’s kinda sad, when you think about it.
Ah, there is a time to quit analyzing and just let your balloon go! Our God is the Source of Joy!
Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org