7 things cats do to sabotage church

February 23rd, 2016

I'm not really a cat person, but I can be forgiven for that. Ministry experience, combined with the opportunity to observe cats in various contexts, has given me the insight and the resources to compose this list, which is partially a report of things I have seen happen in churches in various parts of America, and is partially a general report on things cats do to sabotage church.

1. Kill the bats in the belfry

There were occasionally concerns about the fact, well known among both the membership and the neighbors of your little United Methodist parish, that a sizable coven of bats has staked for its abode the church belfry. Will a member of the youth group, while covertly and precariously ascending the interior of the old belfry during Sunday morning worship service, startle the bats into a violent flurry of activity, who in turn startle him, so that he plummets to his death? Are the bats rabid, and so a danger to the humans in the neighborhood, or (worse?) the small pets? Yet, on the whole, the bats are considered a rather benign pest. Certainly, guano coats the floor of the belfry, and the walls, but as this is not seen regularly, neither is it a cause for undue worry or sanitation. They are, after all, tiny mammals, not-too-distant relations of ours.

Since your pastor and lay leaders humor the presence of a “church cat,” however, this situation of relative peace will not long endure. The cat will kill those bats with a bloodthirsty relish that would make a 14-year-old boy queasy. The cat will lay into those bats at noon while they're sleeping with all the pitiless decision of an electric lawnmower encountering a garden snake. Then you'll have something to clean up. Five or six will be stuck to the walls of the belfry by their own gore. Five or six will be entirely consumed by the cat, five or ten more only partially. The cat will bring one into the seniors citizens' Sunday school class. And one will inevitably wind up in the offering plate during liturgy.

It's a shame, really. The observable presence of the bats — their ominous if lovely peregrinations at sunset — used to let the neighborhood kids, who don't go to your church, keep up a healthy speculation that the church is haunted. Blood-drinkers, ghosts, etc. But now your church will have to prove its relevance in other ways. Solar panels maybe. At any rate, my point is that cats will kill those bats in the belfry and sabotage your church.

2. Play "Memory" from Cats on the projector screens during Holy Communion

There are so few musical performances that can match the high emotive pining and sheer lovelorn theatricality of Elaine Paige's version of "Memory" in Andrew Lloyd Webber's T.S. Eliot-inspired Broadway musical Cats. Everyone agrees on that. You can sing that song in your head for days and never have a real thought.

What nobody can agree on is how much that audiovisual performance adds to the Communion liturgy as folks file forward to receive the body and blood of Christ and Elaine belts it out onscreen in her catsuit.

Fortunately, I've been to seminary and can answer that question. It is practically irreligious to incorporate "Memory" into Holy Communion that way. (Preachers should cap themselves at quoting T.S. Eliot's poetry in every other sermon.) Which is why the church adopting a cat is such a bad idea. Cats sabotage church, as the "Memory" incident attests.

3. Bite visitors' legs then run off

As if your little church doesn't already have enough trouble scaring visitors into coming a second time.

It's not that the church cat will only bite visitors' legs. It's that the cat will sneak up, bite the leg and run off. Nothing makes a person angrier than a varmint that bites and then escapes with elegant ease and an aristocratic impunity which brings the sheer cruelty of its beauty into (if it were possible) still higher relief. And few people are likely to return to your church after they loudly drop an F-bomb on their first visit.

And it's also not that the church cat will bite only visitors' legs. It's not out of character for the cat to attack anyone, really. It's just that all the regular members have settled into the feline's patterns of abuse.

Numerous exorcism attempts have failed to bring about apparent change, in spite of the energetic and elaborate ceremonials. Cats bite visitors' legs then run off; cats sabotage church.

4. "Join in" too intensely when others are praying in tongues

Your church is Spirit-filled but not weird. People don't peel out into their glossoalia during the pastor's sermon in front of God and everybody. Dipping one's tongue into the Spirit's menu of more ecstatic self-offerings is reserved, at your church, to a few enthusiasts who pray along quietly in their prayer language while others pray aloud in normal American English, and to the people on the Prayer Team who pray in the back of the sanctuary for the people who go to them because they really need prayer.

This latter space is where trouble turns up. It is hard to take your praying seriously when the melodic ark of your bubbly cadence is accompanied by a contrapuntally ascending "meeeeeeow" at your feet. Or how are you supposed to feel what to pray next when your bold denunciation of the Devil echoes back in a defiant "mrrrow!" from below? Just imagine how bad it is if you're the one who's gone to the back and made yourself vulnerable in order to receive prayer. Can you focus on opening your soul to intimate divine healing when the cat is treating your shoes in ways the high school youth are regularly reprimanded for treating each other?

What kind of God would allow such creatures?

To sabotage prayer is to sabotage church. Cats sabotage church.

5. "Confuse" the Folgers grounds and the litter box

Coffee, as everyone knows, is the church drug of choice. But for the cat, coffee grounds meet an entirely different need.

In truth, though, this one never plays out the way the cat expects. Let's listen in at 8:15 on a Sunday morning.

"This coffee tastes great!"

"Yeah, tastes all expensive like Starbucks."

"Nope, its just Folgers!"

6. Put the X-Files theme on the church's voicemail

When someone calls your church, and no one answers (which is usually), they are treated to the authoritative voice of your church secretary enumerating the weekly schedule in just over 90 seconds before they are allowed to leave a message (which they usually don't, unless their car is broken down in the parking lot).

Cats will quickly be bored by this arrangement. Now imagine the difference for the kingdom it will make when someone calls your church voicemail and hears Fox Mulder's voice confess to them through their earpiece, "I want to believe." Then the X-Files theme music plays. And after about 7 refreshing seconds (or 10 refreshing hours, whichever), they get the chance to leave a message. Except, probably, their problems are solved by that point. I know mine are.

Seriously, though, if you're a Christian or (worse) a Pastor / Priest / Youth Director / Theologian / American Ninja Warrior and you're having one of those days where you're just not sure all this Christian stuff can bear the combined weight of your fatigue, sloth and epistemological bafflement about the Holy Trinity, faith, life, death, relationships, Donald Trump, the historical Jesus, kids or all of the above, watch The X-Files, season 10, episode 3, called "Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster." Mulder feels your pain, your epistemological confusion and bafflement about your beliefs and existence generally. He's right there with you. And then he delightfully discovers just how surprising and wonderful the truth can be. And terrifying. And still wonderful. The truth is out there, friends.

7. Compose lists like this

True to their inveterate tradition of pampered misanthropy, cats might even compose a list like this, ostensibly about things cats do to sabotage church. Maybe "Greg Gregory" is just a pen name selected by one or more rather totally depraved and Calvinistic cats (good thing Andrew Lloyd Webber's cats didn't meet any of those!) for the minor vantage it offers for sniping at Wesleyan ways.

Or maybe, just maybe, the cats didn't write this column as a list of ways they sabotage church, but rather as a list of suggestions for how fresh new youth ministers can learn the ropes and succeed in their chosen vocation.

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