Ole Thornerson was wheezing and snorting as he stumbled up the last golden step to Pearly Gate 333.

He expected a huge crowd of friends and relatives cheering him for making it but he was faced with only an 8-foot table from Walmart at which were seated a trio of saints – St. Peter, presiding, flanked by Saints James and John.

James and John were not Peter’s first choices for deputies of registration but their mother had put up such a stink about good appointments for her two boys that Peter figured it would be easier tolerating them than the mother.

“Lead me to a room that has been reserved for good Lutherans,” Ole ordered. “Not too close to God; never been close to God.”

St. Peter shifted his green eyeshade to soften the heavenly light that was streaming from the Great White Throne. “How can you call yourself a good Lutheran if you haven’t been near to God?”

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“I understand I’m OK – sin and all. Lutheran grace canceled all of my sins.”

“What Chinese cookie did you get that from?” queried St. James. “We can’t let dirty sinners walk into heaven with all their evil thoughts, greed, hate and meanness. You’ve got to go through the Clean Machine.”

“The Clean Machine? What’s the Clean Machine?” asked Ole.

St. John thought Ole was ready for a history lesson. “We’ve already had one revolt up here and we aren’t going to see another so we have to run everyone through the Clean Machine to get all of the rebellious humanness out.”

“But I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade,” Ole argued. “That should count for something.”

“Well, not everybody who went forward took up their crosses,” St. John countered. “So we have to check sin levels so we know how much wash it’s going to take to make you clean.”

“Well, that’s not the deal they promised me when I joined the church,” Ole protested.

“We hear that every day,” St. Peter noted with disgust.

“OK, if you say I have to be washed in the Clean Machine, let’s get to it,” Ole capitulated, recognizing who held the high cards in this game.

“We need to set the Clean Machine according to your sinfulness. We have 400 settings to deal with every kind of dirty sinner so let’s count your sins. I’ll go through a list of sins and you respond. Here we go. First, fornication.”

“What would fornication include? A little love on the side?” Ole probed. His wry smile irritated St. Peter.

“That would be adultery which is even worse,” St. James explained.

“OK, I confess. Yes, a little fornication and some adultery,” Ole hung his head in shame (not for sinning but for getting caught).

“Next, murder,” announced St. Peter. “Did you kill anybody?”

“Not intentionally but I did think about it a lot. Would denying earth warming be killing somebody?”

“Could be, Ole. That’s complicated because the people you are killing will be in the next generations. If that happens, the next generations may call you back to earth to answer charges,” guessed St. John.

“With your track record we’ll have to set the Clean Machine pretty high so you’ll be in for at least 300 years to become a heaven-quality Lutheran,” predicted St. James.

“Offtaa! Three hundred years! That’s awful! This doesn’t sound like heaven to me,” Ole grumbled as he went in a green door to meet the Clean Machine.”

“You can always go to the Other Place. They take everybody as is,” St. John suggested.

Lloyd Omdahl writes weekly for the Herald.