By Judy Brandon
It has been many years, but that Sunday night long ago is still clear in my mind. God knew all about me and my attitude and still it hurts a little even today when I think about my attitude that night.
It was about 1963. The teenagers at church customarily all sat on the three back pews on the right side of the sanctuary. That was our usual seat. Of course as teenagers we did things during the church service that we should not have done. We passed notes, whispered and planned what we would do when Sunday night church was over.
But that night a stranger walked in and I couldn’t help but notice him. It was after the ushers had taken the offering. Then when the “special” music as over, my father, who was the minister, rose to take his place at the pulpit. That is when I noticed the newcomer step into the back of the auditorium where we were singing. He just stood a moment and glanced over the back of the congregation. I thumped my girlfriend’s arm and nodded in the stranger’s direction as if to say, “Well look there … who is that?”
I had never seen this man before. I wondered what he was doing getting to church 30 minutes after it had started. “Doesn’t he know what time church starts?” I thought to myself as I looked at my watch.
I expected this stranger to just slip in on a back pew and make the least disturbance possible since church was already in progress. But he didn’t. The way he just stood with his chin high in the air, the way he moved his head from side to side looking at the crowd, really bothered me.
“He really thinks he is cool! Who is this guy? He sure looks down on everyone,” I thought. Again I looked at my watch. Yes, he was 35 minutes late!
The man was dressed in a stylish suit with expensive shoes. I had another thought: “He must really be rich. That is a very expensive suit and he probably just wants to show it off!”
At that point the man began to walk down the aisle even though church was well under way.
I thought: “Surely he will sit down soon and not disturb everyone. We are trying to worship here!” (I am sure the Lord was not pleased with me. I had been thinking of everything but the Lord by socializing on the back row with my friends when I should have been worshiping. Yet, suddenly I was concerned that this strange man was interrupting our service!)
But he didn’t sit down. He just slowly strolled down the aisle, all the way to the front, all the while keeping his chin high in the air as if he were looking above the crowd.
“Well so you want to be noticed,” I thought to myself. If he didn’t want to be noticed, he would have gone ahead and sat on the back seat where he would have been the least conspicuous.
“Will he ever sit down?” I asked myself. Finally he sat on the second row from the front pew. Not only that, he sat slowly and deliberately. I watched as the heads of everyone in the congregation turned to watch him take his seat.
My mind was still going. I didn’t think he would ever sit down. “Doesn’t he know what time church starts? He has no right to interrupt like that. After all he ought to be on time.”
I was really put out with the man and didn’t even know him.
I didn’t hear any part of the service from then on. I usually was easily distracted anyway, wanting so badly to talk to my friends during church. All the time I wondered whom that man was, why he was late, why he was so arrogant and why he had to make such a grand entrance!
After church the teenagers all went out together. I didn’t think much about the man again until I got home.
“Did you see that guy?” I asked my father. “Why did he go all the way to the front? I guess he was just so proud that he was there, he wanted all of us to make sure that we noticed him, too.”
I shook my head like I couldn’t believe it.
Then my Daddy said, “Well, Judy, let me tell you about him. I visited with him after church. It is not what you think.
“He is from Albuquerque and was traveling though. He just got word this morning that his brother had suddenly died in Dallas and it was too late for him to get a flight out so he decided to drive through. He just felt the need to stop at church for a break because he thought it might make him feel a little better. He apologized for going all the way to the front and walking so slowly but he told me something else about himself.
“Do you want to know?” my Daddy asked me.
I was already feeling badly at how I had reacted.
My father continued. “The man said that when he was a little boy he had been burned in a house fire and it was before the days of skin grafts, and the burns were so severe it still was very painful to move quickly or turn quickly. That’s why he walked so slowly.
“When he was burned in this fire, because of some explosions, he lost nearly all of his hearing. He apologized but he said that he knew if he didn’t go to the front, he wouldn’t hear anything. We had a good visit. I was glad he stopped.”
With each sentence my father spoke, my head dropped a little lower and soon I was looking at the floor. I had jumped to conclusions about this stranger and didn’t even know his circumstances. He was late because he had no idea when church started. I thought he was arrogant and prideful because he walked slowly and held his head high. He was slow and held his head high because of his burn injuries. I thought he just wanted everyone to notice him.
A psychologist once remarked that the average person makes 12 snap judgments about someone in the first 60 seconds they meet someone new. It seems that our ideas about people are based on appearance and body language.
Paul warned: “You then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written, ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘Every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ ” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:10-13)
Judy Brandon is an instructor at Clovis Community College. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org