I found myself in the pulpit giving a poor man’s sermon.
Each time I’m in that situation, I’m humbled and I recall my first time speaking in the front of a church. At age 14, after 14 years of constant classes and Bible study, it was time for me to be confirmed, even if I wasn’t convinced this was my home planet.
It was the natural progression of things. I had the time as I was too young to do any adulting, but a curse of my years was that I could be sluggish and preoccupied. I was so busy putting ketchup (not catsup) on suspicious foods, that I needed prodding to get my brain on my confirmation studies.
Students selected their own Bible verses to be recited in front of the congregation. This caused some consternation among the troops about to be confirmed.
My mother couldn’t understand why memorizing a long Bible verse would be a concern. My grandmother, Mother’s mother, was a teacher and strict about structured learning. She enjoyed teaching the Palmer Method of writing and thought rote learning was the proverbial bee’s knees. The Palmer Method taught cursive using a whole hand movement to combat the fatigue and hand cramping that came with finger-only writing. Rote learning is memorization by repetition. Because of her upbringing, Mother could recite lengthy poems. I found that ability amazing and equal to any magic act. She could rattle off nursery rhymes on request. She’d soaked them up like a sponge as a child. I could memorize statistics from the backs of baseball cards, but I assumed everyone could do that.
Mother told me to pick the best Bible verse I could find and commit it to memory. I must have made a disagreeable face because she instructed me to do so joyfully.
“You can do it,” she said, offering me an encouraging smile. I admired her optimism.
The pastor was a good guy and wanted me to follow in his footsteps. There was a rumor that he’d smiled once in a confirmation class. It had been before I knew him. Neither he nor my mother were going to throw me over the water tower if I didn’t do as they said, but I didn’t want to disappoint them.
I became the research and development department. I’d have plowed into the project like a runaway locomotive, but I didn’t have the time I’d have liked to memorize Bible verses. I had farm chores, baseball, softball and the study of law. I was studying law in an attempt to have a library book fine overturned.
I opened the Bible randomly and scanned the pages for short and meaningful verses — more short than meaningful. Then one day, I found this in John, “Jesus wept.”
That was perfect.
I shared it with Mom. She told me to find another. That stung me like a nettle. Other boys in my class were using it. “I suppose if Tommy jumped off the windmill, you would too?” was Mom’s response.
I reckoned I’d have done that again.
A family member suggested this from Matthew, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
I settled on Isaiah 40:31. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
It was approved by parent and pastor.
The church filled with older boys who had once convinced me that mud tasted like ice cream. They stared at us confirmands as if we had three heads. They enjoyed making faces and comedic sounds in the belief that seriousness needs to be balanced with humor. They were a plague not mentioned in the Bible.
The remainder of the pews filled with family members, congregants, neighbors and people hoping for a free meal. Some came seeking entertainment as there weren’t 11,412 TV channels then.
Programs were handed out. Our names were in them. You couldn’t tell the players without a scorecard.
Each confirmand was questioned before rattling off a verse. Even in those grim days of yore, it was the right of each parent to be deeply disappointed in their numbskull offspring.
I crossed my fingers mentally in the hopes of not forgetting a single syllable. I said it, much to the crowd’s amazement. I felt as if I’d won the Pulitzer Prize while perched atop Mount Everest.
The classmate following me recited, “Jesus wept.”
I’m thankful for the forced memorization because I still remember, “Jesus wept.”