Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Pink Shirts, Black Hearts, White Souls
When I was growing up we had two sets of clothes; school and church and never the twain met. That is until the fateful night we attended the Jay Strack Youth Revival in Paris, Texas. We were going to listen to Brother Strack talk about Jesus on a personal level specifically for the teens. It was to be at the football field of Paris Junior College where we would, just a year later, watch Kerry Von Erich wrestle. It was also where, two years later, I would take Driver’s Ed with a teacher who taught me very important and specific skills like how to maneuver the Braum’s drive-thru and how to independently practice parallel parking at the post office while he was inside mailing things for his wife.
I was unsure what led me to do it but I was feeling a bit rakish when I decided to pair my only-for-Sunday-school pink oxford button down with my Wrangler jeans. I also used the only-for-Sunday-school belt that had come with my only-for-Sunday-school light gray dress pants; a striped number with shades of gray, blue, pink and white. I still wore my grey fake ostrich boots as these were the only other shoes I had save for those shoes that, while called tennis, were never used for such an activity.
To say this caused quite a scandal is to overstate it in respect to the adults. I don’t remember anyone noticing much of anything, but the siblings and cousins who were near my age were shocked and thought I was straight running crazy. Especially since I had taken the belt and for some reason turned it around to where the buckle was in the back; thinking, I suppose, it looked cooler. I have since seen that in a number of magazines and fashion shows, but I can assure you I invented that look in 19 and 83, people. Seeing as how the only magazine I was privy to at that time was the Bogata Baptist Church Sunday Bulletin, I feel sure I didn’t copy that look. It must have been divinely inspired.
I can tell you I received quite a number of looks when we presented to the stands to take our seats. I feel pretty sure it was my outfit and not the fact that there were so many people disembarking from one vehicle. My mother, brother, sister, two aunts, five cousins, a grandmother and I all fit in the Chevy Suburban back in the days when seat belts were unused and as many children as could fit would be stacked in the “back end”.
During the sermon, I felt a tug at my heart. Jesus was calling, y’all, and I was determined to answer. During the call to prayer, I began to stand to move down the bleachers toward the prayer leaders when my sister grabbed me by my fashion-forward belt buckle (you remember it was in the back just above the Wrangler patch) and wouldn’t let go. I quietly asked her to stop pulling on me as I was simply heeding the call of Jesus, as sinners should. She told me to sit down as I was not leaving her sitting by herself on the row; we were behind the adults as this was not our first rodeo, both literally and metaphorically. One cannot be thumped in the back of the head for whispering or giggling or doodling (not that we did those things) if the thumpers were in front of the intended thumpees. No flies on us.
Using all the strength I could muster while trying to walk sideways, I wrenched myself from the black-hearted grasp of my sister and fled down to where the prayer warriors were waiting to talk to those who felt Jesus calling. Well, not so much fled as walked as quickly as you can in cowboy boots on metal bleachers without disturbing anyone in communication with the Lord. Baptists have been led to believe that while Jesus is both omnipotent and omnipresent, He is apparently hard of hearing as we don’t make a peep in church, y’all. Not a peep. We leave all that hollerin’ and whatnot to the others, which is everybody else from Methodists on down. To clarify, hollerin’ means any noise outside of the one Deacon who is allowed to say “Amen!” but only at the appropriate time in the sermon, which I assume had been agreed upon prior to Sunday morning. I always imagined that Deacon and the Preacher practiced on Saturday nights. And I only refer to color of my sister’s heart as I had been taught in Sunday School that your heart is “black with sin” prior to giving your life to Christ; after that you heart and soul are as white as snow. I had to assume my sister was in the throes of the devil himself to try to stop me from meeting Jesus down front, which is what we call the altar.
Once I made it down front, I remembered that I had already been saved in the 4th grade after watching the movie “Like a Thief in the Night” at Parkview Baptist Church in Tallulah, Louisiana. With that revelation, I simply re-dedicated my life to Him and after a number of teary-eyed hugs, much like a sorority girl on bid day, I made my way back to my family. They were gathered around my little brother who was upset. Apparently he had also felt led, at whatever tender age you are in third grade, to follow me down front. However, he had been unable to break my sister’s grasp and was therefore resigned to an eternity in hell so my sister wouldn’t have to sit alone on a row that contained at least a dozen other souls, but none she "knew".
My mother assured my brother he would not perish eternally and scolded my sister who did not feel led to apologize. While that was happening, my grandmother, Mama Dot, noticed my outfit and said, “Look here, son, you’ve prayed so hard you turned your belt around!” and proceeded to move it to where the buckle was in the front. Then she gave me little side hug and we piled back into the Suburban. What could I do? Back then angst cost money and I was broke, plus I loved my Mama Dot to Reese’s Pieces, so I left the buckle where it was and decided to focus on more pressing matters. I had to figure out how to save my sister's soul. I looked over at her, sitting in the middle seat sulking and eyeing me condescendingly, her black heart beating away as if it was as pure and white as mine.