“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” — W.E.B. DuBois, 1868-1963 American sociologist, socialist, historian, and civil rights activist.
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I took up my front-row pew at church last Sunday, pausing for reflection before services. Outside, March winds in April were blowing through everything in sight while a myriad of memories was blowing through my mind about where I sat inside.
Sitting at the front these days is a matter of convenience. It’s easier for me to carry out my chosen duties as the congregational song leader. The first time I occupied that prominent seating position for church services decades ago, it was punishment. Apparently, my high school buddies and I distracted the preacher with our whispering conversation while sitting on the back pew at the Southside Church of Christ in Mount Pleasant. Enough so that he stopped mid-sermon and told us to come sit on the front seat directly in front of him.
My mom was born and raised in Kentucky by devout church of Christ parents. I’m somewhat sure that Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” was in the back of her mind. She worked hard to “train up” my sisters and me.
Therefore, I don’t have to explain the words she had for me when the last amen was pronounced that morning. For weeks afterward, I was required to sit within arm’s reach of her, just as I did as a young child. That was so she could remind me of how painful her pinch on my ear used to feel when my conduct did not meet with her approval.
Mom also worked hard to “train up” my father to attend church with her. However, it just never took with Dad. Oh, he tried at times, but I guess he never felt sufficiently moved by the spirit. Dad’s spirit was moved more by staying home or going fishing.
Along with his love for fishing, Dad was prone to “seasoning” his language a bit with his finely tuned skills in the art of cussing.
According to my college linguistics course eons ago, religious views aside, profanity is often “a verbal expression usually said more out of memorized responses the mind uses as filler when it can’t formulate a more appropriate response.”
Whether it was a memorized response I heard my father use or something else, I quickly learned one Sunday afternoon after church that such responses, particularly while still in grade school, were not only inappropriate, but they also came with consequences.
The family joined Dad for some creek bank fishing that summer afternoon. Mom found a shade tree to enjoy her favorite pastime: reading. And once I tired of trying to outsmart the fish, I went to the back seat of the family Studebaker to pass the time with crayons and coloring books. Upon discovering that the East Texas heat had reduced my crayons to puddled pallets of color, my first verbal expression was one of my father’s favored inappropriate responses.
“What did you say,” Mom exclaimed, looking over the top of her book.
“Nothing,” I stuttered. “It was an accident.”
“Did you hear what he said,” she directed toward my father? I’m confident that was Dad’s cue that he was about to be called on to fulfill his duty as the parent who administered the punishment. But Dad was nowhere to be found in this situation. His fishing gear was right where he had been seconds earlier, but he was gone. Despite his shortcomings in some areas, my father was an intelligent man.
Offering the excuse that I was just trying to “talk like Dad” earned me no grace. It didn’t help Dad very much either, once he came back. It did not go unnoticed that his reprimand for me was not as firm as it had been for other offenses. Nor was it considered coincidence that one of his periodic attempts at going to church with Mom followed that fishing episode. Like I said, Dad was a smart man.
Something my mother did somewhere along the way worked. Maybe it was the ear pinching. Perhaps it was the unspoken understanding that I would attend services with her Sunday mornings as long as I lived in her house. Regardless of whether I wanted to, or no matter how late I stayed out on Saturday night.
Just maybe it was watching her genuine desire to study God’s word and serve Him that convinced me. But for whatever reason, I’m past my three score and ten and still sitting on the front pew.
And I have no doubt it’s because of her that these days, it’s because I want to.
(Photo by the author—An interior view of the Center Church of Christ. I get that view only when entering the building. My view during services is from way down front, on that very first pew.)
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