Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth. – John 3:18
“Is your Dad a minister?” I’ve heard the question a hundred times. It’s the one those who become aware that my brother and I are both clergy always ask me. It’s also the question I always dread because with each asking I’m once again reminded that something I believe in very strongly is not shared by me father. “No,” I explain simply. “Dad’s not big on churches.”
The truth of the matter is, he used to be. Like many others, he too was raised in a Christian home and was brought up in an active church environment. He too used to go to Sunday school, pig out at fellowship dinners, make shoebox houses at Vacation Bible School, and stand around the camp fire and sing with other church youth. But all that was lost, covered over by the harshness of a rash moment.
It happened when he was young, twelve or thirteen as he related to me only once. He’d gotten to church early so as to get a good back row seat in order to celebrate the privilege of distance and to be able to see “all the going-on.” From that prized location he could more freely whisper with a friend and share his social comments about the “old ladies singing” and the “young girls funny hats.” On the back row an occasional snicker would go unnoticed, and a quick thinking youth could sing funny, made-up words to the old familiar hymns. At that time church was pretty fun, and it was comfortable on the back row seat, mostly.
The one day Dad now remembers most from his early church days was during the deep heat of an August summer in southern South Carolina. He remembers that the church was hot and the service was endlessly dragging on. He had been sitting in his regular spot, talking his regular low level talk so as not to compete with the routine sound of the morning sermon.
Then there was silence, silence where silence wasn’t supposed to be. And breaking the silence he heard his name and was shocked to find that, to stop his chatter, he’d been called to the front. Once there he was instructed to stand: just to stand. So there he was, next to the flag, in front of the old upright piano, in front of all the people, standing alone while the minister continued his sermon. That was the last time Dad ever went to church. When the “hymn of invitation” was announced and the piano began to play, he walked down the aisle and out the door, never to return again.
I still grieve for his hurt, and I grieve too because deep down I know there are others, lonely casualties, lost in the battle of the Christian soldiers marching to their war. God forgives us, for sometimes I feel we do more harm than good.
Prayer: Forgive us, Lord, when ever our lives don’t live up to our words. Amen.