Anyone who visits a typical American megachurch worship service will get a quick education on the mechanics of contemporary praise music.
First, the band rocks into action, while swaying worshipers raise their hands high, singing lyrics displayed on giant screens. There may be lasers and smoke. A guitarist or keyboard player guides everyone through worship songs -- loud then soft, softer then louder -- linked by dramatic key changes and musical "bridges." Eventually, there's a sermon or worship video.
What if something goes wrong? This Babylon Bee headline was an online classic: "Worship Leader Caught In Infinite Loop Between Bridge And Chorus."
In this fake "news report," a weeping member of the worship band adds: "It's scary, honestly. … This is our third worship leader who's been sucked into a PCBV (Perpetual Chorus-Bridge Vortex) in the past year."
After the 14th chorus-to-bridge transition, deacons called 911 and the victim was rushed to an emergency room. "Physicians are subjecting him," readers learn, "to a barrage of classic hymns in hopes that he will recover."
This is an inside-baseball brand of satire that allows Babylon Bee creator Adam Ford to gently explore the yins and yangs of evangelical Christianity.
"While we satirize our own camp quite a bit, we don't limit ourselves to evangelicalism. We write about culture, politics, other religions, current events, etc., regularly," said Ford, who does email interviews since he struggles with anxiety attacks. He shares more of his personal story in his own Adam4d.com web-comics site.
Most Babylon Bee newcomers, however, are almost certainly be drawn there by social-media references to the site's popular items dissecting modern evangelical life. Take, for example, a "news report" about a new $90 million, 170-acre church complex with a petting zoo, seven bookstores, nine coffee shops, three restaurants, a baseball field and a monorail to the parking lots. But church leaders forgot something. Thus the headline: "Sanctuary Mistakenly Omitted From Megachurch Campus Design."
Ford, who once yearned to be a pastor, stressed that he is trying to be critical and supportive at the same time.
"God can and does use goofy things like lasers and smoke machines to bring people to Christ, sure, but I believe church services that are reminiscent of WWE productions have peaked and will be less and less successful and prevalent moving forward," he said.
The key is that Ford is a modern man who is filling an ancient role, said media scholar Terry Lindvall, of Virginia Wesleyan College.
"The biblical satirist shares in the blame and shame of his defendants. He may be God's prosecutor, but he is also entwined with the people he ridicules," wrote Lindvall, in his book "God Mocks: A History of Religious Satire from the Hebrew Prophets to Stephen Colbert." A skilled satirist, he added, holds up a prophetic mirror that "offers a comic frame in which to look at and to look through the heart; the satirist finds that none are righteous, including himself."
The Bee stings everything from common family life ("Woman Finally Accepts Doctrine Of Total Depravity Now That Daughter Is Two") to lofty academia ("Jesus Was A Socialist Deconstructionist Feminist, Claims Socialist Deconstructionist Feminist Scholar").
However, a headline about President Barack Obama nominating the Canaanite god Moloch to serve on the Supreme Court perfectly illustrates Ford's method, noted Lindvall, reached by telephone. The piece mocks evangelicals who are "totally paranoid" about anything Obama touches, yet also lances the left's ultimate Supreme Court litmus test -- abortion.
Ford, Lindvall added, "is piercing, yet gentle. … It's more of a poke in the ribs, instead of a poke in the eyes."
When seeking biblical inspiration for satire, Lindvall and Ford cited similar examples, such as Jesus asking critics: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?" In the Book of Job, God puts Job in his place by asking: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much."
"I'm no prophet," stressed Ford. Instead, his ultimate goal is simply to "glorify God through our work. Under that, I don't like to spell out exactly how and what and why. 'Dissecting the frog' and all that. I like the content to speak for itself."