Words and Little Ears
"Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no op-opor-op..."
"and give no opportunity to the devil... Let no evil talk come out of your mouths. But only such as is good for ed..ed..di..."
"for eddy-fying, as fits the oc-ca-seyon..."
"as fits the occasion, that it may im-part grace to those who hear."
"Very good, Larry, you read that very well." Larry sat there glowing in Mrs. Cardinal's praise. She was his Sunday School teacher. He liked her a lot.
When he was finished glowing he began to listen again. Mrs. Cardinal was talking about how important it was to watch what we say, to think a minute before we open our mouths, especially if our words talk about somebody else.
"I remember once," she said, "when I spent much time and effort making a banner to hang in the sanctuary. I was so proud when I saw it up front. Then I overheard by accident someone tell somebody else how awful it looked up there. I was crushed. It made me feel real bad. Then I got angry. I wanted to tear down the banner and run away, it hurt so much, but I didn't. Kids, it's important to be careful of what you say about someone else. It's also just as important to be careful with your anger. Anger can tear you up inside, and sometimes make you say things you don't mean."
Larry drifted off into his thoughts after she said that. He remembered one night last week when he overheard his parents arguing in their bedroom.
"I don't know, Monica, I've about had it up to here with George. That man makes me so irate. It's like he purposely says "no" every time I say "yes."
"Now Fred, you know George doesn't do it on purpose. He is just by nature conservative, and you, my dear, want the world to change over night."
"I do not, and I wouldn't be so sure about George. Sometimes I wonder if he isn't a brother to the devil."
"I mean it! How long have we been arguing over that crummy sound system at the church? I'm not asking for Radio City Music Hall, just a new sound system so Mom can hear what the preacher has to say. Every time I bring it up George changes the subject or somehow makes it look like a ridiculous idea. He belittles me, makes me look like a fool."
"Now Fred, you say that about me sometimes..."
"Are you sure, Monica, that you are not somehow related to George?"
"Go and play with Larry, Fred, it'll do you good..."
"Larry ... Larry, are you there?"
"Yes, Mrs. Cardinal"
"We're reciting our memory verse together, want to join us?"
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in thy sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."
Larry wondered off through the church looking for his parents. He liked walking through the halls, especially when everyone was there. He knew most of the people. He felt in place. This was his church, his people, his family. He was about to round a corner when he overheard someone talking about his dad.
"Fred is such an impatient man. He wants what he wants when he wants it. He isn't half the man his father was. When Fred Sr. spoke you knew there was intelligence behind those words."
"You know, Harvey, he's been pushing that P.A. system issue past the point of reason. We just can't afford a new one. Offerings have been down as it is. Besides, that's an "A-number-one" sound system. I should know, I paid for it. It was a gift in memory of my mother. You just don't go around yanking out gifts."
Larry decided to go down a different hallway. As he was walking he overheard someone else discussing the newest banners up in the sanctuary, how they looked just awful. He had to think of Mrs. Cardinal.
When he found his parents they went into the sanctuary and sat together for worship. He liked church. O, it had its boring moments, but he liked it, especially when he could do more than just sit. He liked to sing. One of the hymns they sang that morning was a favorite of his. Perhaps because it was a favorite of his Grammaw.
"Look for the beautiful, look for the true"... The third verse caught him this day. "Talk of the beautiful, talk of the true; tongues full of poison are whispering to you; answer them not with a tale-bearing word, only in blessing the voice should be heard." He liked that. In fact he liked it so well that while the preacher was preaching he played a game with his bulletin, circling every word that was the same as one of the words in that verse. Of course, that game didn't last very long. When he looked up, the preacher was telling a story.
"There was once there was a monk in a monastery," he said, "who had the bad habit of gossip. One day this brother was confronted about his bad habit by the Father in charge. For penance he was told to place a feather on the doorstep of all the other monks' rooms. Having finished the talk he returned to the Father's office.
"Now," he was instructed, "go and pick up all those feathers."
"But, Father," the monk objected, "that would be impossible, the wind is strong today and surely must feathers are long gone by now."
"Thus it is with the words you speak," said the Father, "Once you speak them they travel in the wind and it is near impossible to take them all back. Watch what you say, for your words can do damage."
That story stuck with Larry. He thought of his father and George. He thought of Mrs. Cardinal and her banner. He thought about some things he had in the past said without thinking. Apparently he was not the only one who was affected by those words. Later that day a visitor came to their home.
"Hello Fred, Monica, Larry. Nice day isn't it? Fred, do you suppose we could have a talk?"
"Yes, George," said Larry's Father. "I've been thinking that that's something that is long overdue. I've been working on Mom's car for her. It may be old, but it's in good shape. I think I've got the carburetor back in order, but it needs a test drive. Are you interested, George?"
Larry didn't think much about this test drive by George and his dad, until a few weeks later at Love Feast. He had been going with Dad now the past couple times. Larry wasn't a member, yet, but his Dad was getting him used to the Love Feast by having him there. It was a special occasion. He just watched. His dad told him that when he felt comfortable with it, Larry could participate in the feetwashing. Communion, though, was something to save for after his baptism.
This time Larry and his Dad sat at the table together, and then George came and sat on the other side of Dad. Usually one of Dad's friends sat there. The time came for the feetwashing and George washed Dad's feet. Then they stood up and kissed each other, as was the Brethren practice. Larry wasn't sure how he felt about that. As he looked at George, he thought he saw a little tear in his eye. Then his father turned to wash the feet of the man on the other side of Larry, and Larry was sure he saw tears there, too. In that moment he decided.
"Dad, could I do it, too," Larry said.
"Sure." Then his Dad bent down, and after Larry took off his shoes, washed his feet. They stood together and kissed. It wasn't so bad after all. He didn't even mind it after he washed Mr. Kimball's feet, though his was scratchy.
Larry thought about George and his Dad throughout the fellowship meal. When the time came for communion he listened, really listened. The preacher spoke about sin and separation: being separated from God, being separated from one another.
The preacher spoke about how Jesus reached out on the cross and cancelled the sin and ended the separation. Larry liked that. As the bread and cup were taken and his Dad shared some with him, Larry thought about how Jesus must have been in Grammaw's old car when George and his Dad took it for a test drive.
While they were singing the final hymn, Larry looked up on the wall and noticed on old banner that he'd seen many times before. It reminded him of Mrs. Cardinal. Maybe that was her banner.
There was a cross, with a man next to it dropping a heavy bag at its base. The banner said: "So that we should no longer be slaves of sin." Larry liked that banner, looking at it now as if for the first time. He had seen with his own eyes that evening the power of the cross. Sin had divided, but Jesus had reunited. Good words became real.
Larry was growing up in the faith. So was his father, and his father's friend, George.
©1996Peter L. Haynes