When I was a kid, the Public Schools in my town had “Opening Exercises,” which (usually) consisted of a Salute to the American Flag, a brief (safe) Scripture reading and a simple, generic prayer (often the Lord’s Prayer; sometimes silent prayer). In the lower grades, this may have been further simplified.
Ms. Perry was my Kindergarten teacher, and she introduced our class to “Opening Exercises.” This seemed strange, even alien, to me, because I believed only people in my church actually prayed. People out there in “the world” had no connection to God. Public Schools were definitely part of “the world,” so this didn’t seem like real prayer.
One day Ms. Perry prayed her usual simple prayer, while we all obediently bowed our heads. All except Roger, who kept looking up and peeking around the room. As soon as Ms. Perry said “Amen,” my hand shot in the air. I blurted out, “Ms. Perry, Ms. Perry, Roger had his eyes open while you were praying!”
I don’t remember her response: whether she said, “George, how do you know that?” or whether she simply stared at me until I realized how stupid my statement was. And I don’t know whether the other kids noticed at all — even Roger. But for me this was a life lesson I’ll never forget. It was as if Jesus was speaking through Ms. Perry: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) My behavior was the very definition of five-year-old hypocrisy!
As I think back on this, I see that I was reflecting the attitude of the church community my family was part of. Even at such a young age I made assumptions about Roger that caused me to be suspicious of his behavior during a group prayer moment. I was already becoming a “morality cop,” monitoring and judging the way others lived. Meanwhile, I was not facing up to my personal hypocrisy: I was judging Roger for something I myself was doing.
We don’t have a lot of younger families in the 2024 version of ABC. However, on a recent Sunday morning we had three pre-school-age children show up at the same time. What a blessing that was!
Or was it? The kids were basically quiet and well-behaved, but at one point in the service one of them spoke out loud to a family member. I noticed several heads turn around. It probably was an involuntary response to a sound we regular attenders weren’t used to hearing. But the people I noticed didn’t turn around with smiles; they had the hint of disapproving frowns, like morality cops. To be fair, some of the same people went out of their way to welcome the young families in an attempt to make them feel comfortable at ABC. But that first impulsive response can leave an indelible message in a family’s earliest memory of bringing their children to a worship service.
So, now I’ve made some of you involuntary head-turners feel bad. That was five-year-old George at it again! Still being the morality cop. Sorry. Let’s all try to be more conscious of our tendency to judge others and excuse ourselves. It’s a constant battle.
And Roger, wherever you are, hope you’re OK!
– – Pastor George Van Alstine