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Pastors: Don’t ask kids for opinions of church services

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Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 12:00 am

When I was a kid, I went to church a lot. In our church, the people who decided such things had an odd affinity for preachers who were old enough to have outlived their enthusiasm but not their pension.

One day I had a preacher patient in my office who should have known better, but he asked a sixth-grader what he thought of that Sunday morning's service. The kid thinks a minute and says: "Well, the sermon lasted too long, the soloist sounded like she musta practiced another song, the choir got a little too loud at the end, but all in all it wasn't a bad show for 25 cents."

When we came to Lodi in 1936, the story was that there was a church on every corner and a bar in the middle of the block. Neither was true.

For one thing, our church didn't recognize the Pope as the head of the Christian church. Jews didn't recognize Jesus as the true Messiah. The Methodists don't recognize Scientology as an actual religion, and Baptists don't recognize one another in a liquor store.

I still subscribe to the truth in Edison's comment that we humans don't know one-one-billionth about anything, and Einstein's feeling that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is insane.

But I do know why it's not smart to discuss religion and/or politics in a crowded room.

I am getting old enough to remember my good friend Mark Twain's comment about how making laws and sausage: They're both messy work.

One of our older preachers had a contracture of his hand muscles, and when he shook hands after the benediction, it felt like you were shaking hands with a chicken holding a golf ball. The bad part about that, there was no way to break out of the line and get out of the experience. The good part was everyone in our church eventually found out he had what's called a Duypuytren's contracture and it's a perfectly natural affliction. Even Ronald Reagan had that in his left hand but cleverly kept it hidden.

Thinking back, I am 80 and I have never had a sick day in my life, but when it came to church, there were quite a few days when I acted like my life was hanging by a thread as I was faking a gut ache just to get out of going. (Sunday school teachers weren't always spellbinding in their presentations. Sometimes it was actually essential to engage in chicanery to avoid being bored to death.)

Our church didn't think of getting a youth pastor until I was 50. By then, I didn't have parents telling me to hit the deck and get to a fun church service.

My voice started to change when I was still pretty young, so I did get relegated to the choir loft before I should have been. I used to watch the older folks in the first few rows and tried to imagine what they were thinking.

I asked my dad if he thought those people believed in heaven. He thought they did. I said they all looked so grumpy, I didn't see how they could possibly see the joy in passing through the pearly gates ... which, for some, it was eminent to say the least. (Come to think of it, why would they have gates in heaven anyway? Are they trying to keep people in or out?)

One Sunday, a drunken guy wandered into our church. He was a bit noisy and stewed to the gills. A couple of our ushers went over and conducted him out the door. I asked my dad about that, too. In the Bible it said the good shepherd was not happy until he had all of his sheep in the fold, not just the 90 and nine. I made a quick mental survey and concluded the drunk musta been the only lost sheep in church that morning and they booted him out.

Shows you how a kid who paid occasional attention to the lesson of the week thinks.

You can reach Bob Bader at But be nice.

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