I woke up Sunday morning in Reno, Nevada (pronounced Nevada, not Nevada) in search of a church service. Not finding one anywhere near my hotel, I grabbed my Bible and made my way over to the most popular place of prayer in town, Harrah's Hotel and Casino. I wasn't there for the ceremony, just the sacraments; Harrah's housed the only Starbucks I knew of within walking distance. (En route, I saw a bumper sticker that read "My Boss Is Bruce Springsteen." Good stuff. I wouldn't try it on Judgment Day, but for now you get a tip of my cap. Clever.)
As I filed in with the other congregants a little past 8 a.m., I was struck by the similarities between the house of cards and many of the houses of God I've attended.
Both feature otherwise disparate people communing around a table.
Both rather shamelessly ask for your money, usually for the next building program.
In neither place do the people look remotely as attractive or interested as they do in the promotional material. (I've missed the church and casino billboards featuring people in wheelchairs, on oxygen tanks, and missing random limbs.)
Both are always looking for the latest technological or cultural innovation to draw people in.
You can usually get breakfast comped in the bigger, more upscale versions of each.
Both strongly encourage evangelism.
Both have promised fulfillment, failed to deliver, and driven people away in despair.
I could only discern three major differences, call it separation of church and casino:
1) at church, you have to go outside to smoke;
2) at the casino, people surrender their money sacrificially; and
3) most people at casinos are both happy to be there and hooked for life.
Perhaps the greatest irony is that casinos pretend they don't want to addict you but do, while churches promote a lifelong commitment but rarely get it.
As for my pilgrimage, I placed a single $2 bet that I'd get a cup of Gold Coast in return for my ante. And - cha-ching! - I won a 16 ounce share of the pot. Amen.