Did an Angel Speak? An Existential Treatise on Farting in Church (by Walter Thomason)
Admit it. You’ve done it. I’ve done it many times. We all have. I probably don’t know you, but I know you have done it. You farted in church.
Now if you are still reading, that means you are either so thoroughly offended that you can’t stop yourself, or you realize that this is part of the human condition. There is no need to feel ashamed. We are literally fearfully and wonderfully made to break wind. God designed us like this. Just think of the wide and varied ways we are capable of the expulsion of methane. Just this morning, I let one escape that sounded exactly like a baby yak in distress. It was cute, high-pitched and helpless. Yet days ago I had one that was so fierce, loud, and long that I thought I was changing into a werewolf. Although I am no doctor, I am pretty sure that if we didn’t poot, we would eventually die. So why is farting in church sometimes treated as the unforgivable sin?
Yes, I know that it is offensive to the nostrils.
But you have to admit that it sounds funny. Yes, it is distracting, and in more ways than one. But don’t you feel better afterward? Please understand – I am not asking that we add it to the liturgy. Let’s just give a healthy dose of preeminent grace to the one who lets it slip during the pastoral prayer.
If you are like me and grew up in church, then you have heard it happen before and seen the backlash. In a quiet moment during worship, someone lets one go. Not everyone is stealthy enough to wait until the hymn to let it fly. Others literally have no control. Sometimes the spirit just suddenly moves. Then the drama that follows is pretty predictable. Kids giggle uncontrollably. Old unhappy people get unhappier and grumble about the old days when people never farted. Heads whip around to find the demon to cast it out with judgmental glares, as if they never broke wind before. And the poor preacher then has to soldier on and pretend nothing has happened. That’s a tough task.
This is the real reason that modern church pews and chairs have cushions.
The old wooden pews that existed in every church back when everyone walked to school barefoot were perfect for two things: 1) making sinners uncomfortable and 2) making every expulsion of gas not only one hundred times louder but allowing others on the pew to feel the tremor. It’s like those pews were designed like that in order to catch the perpetrator so they could be branded with a scarlet F. Is there anything more hypocritical than staring down a church kid who just “sat on a goose”? Let he who has not beefed cast the first glare.
Let me get to the bottom line. I don’t want to hear someone fart in church.
I don’t (because it was probably one of my sons – or me.) It’s distracting. But when I do hear someone let one go in church I can’t help but be thankful for it. Here’s why: Nothing rips away our façade of sanitized humanity more than someone farting in church. Let me write that again. Nothing rips (or should I say rrrrrrips) away our façade of sanitized humanity more than someone farting in church. In God’s presence we play this little game. We sit there in church supposedly asking forgiveness of sin, and yet we are really there pretending to exist in a world where we don’t fart, or lie, or cheat each other, or steal, or make crooked deals on the side, or gleefully sit in judgment of each other, or happily hold on to our own prejudices, etc. ad infinitum. One good pew rocket blows all that fake stuff away.
Often we are guilty of believing – consciously or not – that there is something better about us because we go to church. We unconsciously accept this distinction between ourselves and the rest of the world. We are better because we are here on a Sunday morning and NOT at the sports bar with all those people in the NFL jerseys who are having fun with large screen televisions and we would really rather be there and for God’s sake don’t preach too long or I’ll miss kickoff. Call it false piety or self-righteousness or old fashioned snobbery, but we seem to unintentionally teach ourselves this stuff in church. The truth is that we are human. We need to accept that. We need to understand our place. Being in church does not make us more like God. The Bible tells us that compared to God we are these itty bitty grease balls that are destined for hell except for the fact that God loves us enough to forgive us and forget the fact that we stink. A fart goes away with the wind, but it takes the blood of Jesus to wash the stink self-righteousness off.
Frankly if we church folks look down our noses at folks who fart and keep our snobbish noses held so high in the air, we deserve to have our nostrils filled with the sulfurous stench that comes only from church coffee and donuts. Now if you have been offended by this, I am sorry. Well, not really. I am just sorry you don’t have a sense of humor. Perhaps you think all this levity about breaking wind is beneath me as a minister. I assure you, it is. Frequently.
Editor’s Note: You may also like Walter’s wildly popular post on TheOOZE – 7 Things Your Pastor Wants to Tell You…but Doesn’t Have the Guts.
Rev. W. Allen Thomason lives in North Dakota with his wife and three sons. He was a pastor/minister for 24 years and now is a writer/homemaker/job seeker who plays way too many video games with his kids. Follow him on Twitter - @revwat.