The church changed the rules of the game on me

October 13, 2021

As a young man growing up in West Texas, there were several things that were very apparent to me as I advanced from elementary, junior high and high school. First, religious experiences started on Thursdays at junior high and junior varsity football games. Secondly, running barefoot in the summer and fall was something to avoid because of the heat of the sand/streets and stickers and, thirdly, you better not be caught sleeping in church.

I readily admit that I mastered two of the three. As a lifelong sports fan, I went to every game imaginable as a kid/teen/young man. Honestly, sports has been a way of life for me. I even met She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Made-Mad at a football game. I would say I have been to more games over the past 30 years than a hand-me-down glove in an orphanage. To this day, SWMNBMM rolls her eyes when we pass by a park/stadium that has lights on. She knows we are about to stop and check things out.

As for the second rule, I’d like to tell you that my parents were so poor we could afford shoes when I was growing up, but that wouldn’t be the truth. My father was a native of sticker country so he always made sure we had shoes. I was just a slow learner.

As for the third, I can honestly say I never fell asleep in church … until last week. However, you should know it wasn’t my fault. It was the pastor’s fault. Honestly.

Here’s the thing, as a youngster growing up my mother would dress us up on Sundays and take us to church with a strict warning that if we misbehaved or fell asleep during the sermon we’d meet Jesus way before anyone else. I don’t know about you, but my mother is an old Irish woman who learned to swing a mean switch long before John and I arrived. Bing that we were the youngest of seven children (five of which were boys), she’d had plenty of practice.

John and I never fell asleep in church, at least not completely. We might have closed one eye, but we made sure to keep the eye closest to mom open. Besides, who can get comfortable enough on those wooden pews to fall asleep?

Last week, I headed off to the church to pay my respects. As SWMNBMM and I walked in, I shook hands with the folks we knew, nodded to the ones that haven’t had the honor of meeting me and then found my way to a seat. Ummm … I kid you not, the church had replaced the trusty old pews with plush, padded seats that wrapped around me and held me like a warm blanket.

“Hello everyone,” Brother Gunstanson said in his friendly voice. “I ….”

I’m pretty sure he was going to tell us to enjoy the padded chairs, except that I never made it that far. The next thing I remember is SWMNBMM shaking me with a frown as I was picking myself up off the floor. She said I fell over a sheep as I wandered through the Land of Sleep, but I’m not so sure she didn’t push me out of the chair to interrupt my snores of joy and bliss.

I’m not sure that I was actually snoring … although it was said that many of the Vietnam veterans in the church had dove under their chairs when they heard the sounds of a helicopter zooming low from the back. I was told by some of my friends that hadn’t seen those guys move so fast in several years.

“Tommy Joe,” SWMNBMM said in a voice that she must have learned from my mother after she saved me from the Sleep Dragon. “I can’t believe you fell asleep. I have half a mind to tell your mother.”

Suddenly, I was wide awake.

“You can’t tell her,” I said. “It wasn’t my fault. I’ve never been able to get comfortable like that on a pew. How was I supposed to know what to do if they changed the rules without telling me?”

She gave me the evil eye.

“Even more importantly, I’m way too young to meet Jesus,” I blurted.

SWMNBMM raised her eyebrows in amazement. “What are you talking about?”

“Trust me, if you don’t want to be a widow, you had better not tell my mother.”

And for crying out loud, can we get one of those hard metal chairs in the back next week?

Tommy Wells is the editor of the Carnegie Herald. Everything in this column is true, except for the parts that are made up, exaggerated or just plain lies.