Whatever It Is Called
I am not proud of it, but I made my blessed elderly pastor sigh. If there was a saint walking
among us, it was my pastor, Pastor Sanderson, when I was a teenager going through
confirmation. I am pretty sure he lost a handful of hair and a few days were shaved off his
life because of me.
It was the final meeting between us before confirmation Sunday. I sat across his desk
from him knowing that I owed about half a year’s worth of sermon notes, more than a
dozen lesson answers, and I am pretty sure I had not done any of the memory work over
the last couple of years.
Plus, I had asked several questions that most kids had the common sense not to ask. Who
was Cain afraid of after he killed his brother? After all, there was only the two boys and
their father. Where did they find their wives? Were they their sisters? Because that is kind
There are three separate accounts of Goliath being killed, and one of them does not
contain the name David. Explain, please. There is an account of one of the prophets
stopping the sun in the sky. We know the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way.
If the Bible is the inerrant word of God, you would think God knows that as well. He seemed
to be a pretty poor proof editor.
Yet, as I sat across from Pastor Sanderson, it appeared to be what might be called begging
time. My parents had bought the cake, gallons of punch made, and the invitations had been
mailed. There were going to be a lot of unhappy people if I did not start tap dancing in front
of him. And, surprisingly, I did not.
“Why should I confirm you?” He asked as he leaned back in his chair.
“I really don’t think you should,” I replied. “I know my parents will be upset with me, but
they will get over it some year. I don’t even know if I am a Christian or not.”
“Why do you say that?” he said, leaning forward.
Several of the kids that call themselves Christians in my class I cannot stand. If I had to
spend an eternity in heaven with them, it might be an eternity too long.”
“What makes you say that?” he asked.
I replied, “Several of them are fakes and phonies. Always holier than thou. Mean to the
poor girl in our class. Making fun of the weak, small kid because he struggles a bit more to
get through the school day. I did not even like them before the last confirmation trip to
Minneapolis. If they are Christians, I don’t want to be that. I don’t hate them. I know what I
want to be like and it certainly is not them.”
“What happened on the last confirmation trip to Minneapolis?” He asked.
The year previous one of the girls in my class had stolen a bottle of communion wine and
smuggled it up to Minnesota. When the janitor of the church we were staying at found the
empty bottle in a trashcan after our group left, it was round up the usual suspects.
While my best friend Matt and I had nothing to do with it, it might have been the longest
thirty minutes of our lives as we sat outside his office as he grilled two of our classmates
inside. After the girls came out, he walked out, looked at us, and said, “They confessed. For
once in your lives, you two dodged a bullet. Go home.”
Although he had been on neither trip, the thought of children from his church misbehaving
on the annual trip to Minnesota two years in a row might have been a bit much for him. A
man can be a saint and you can be terrified of him.
“What happened this year?” Pastor Sanderson asked, his voice lowering.
Now I should explain before SUVs, families drove mini-vans, and before mini-vans, they
drove around in big, hulking vans, and before that, it was the station wagon era. This was at
the end of the big, ugly, ten to twelve miles to the gallon, van era. My family, like many, had
already made the transition to the mini-van.
The reason, my parents had teenage sons. One of the things you could do with these
vehicles is the back end could be turned into one giant bed by turning around the two
captain’s chairs behind the driver’s seats and flattening out the benches. With tinted
windows, the turned around captain’s chairs made it almost impossible to see what was
happening in the back. Not a good thing to have around if you had teenage boys.
One of the girls in my class still had one of these vehicles, and because two of my
classmates were barred from ever going on a church trip again, this van, that is probably
being driven by a serial killer today, was our mode of transportation to the Twin Cities.
It was a trip I was not looking forward to going on. I know I begged my parents to let me
stay home. The lost time in front of the television and horsing around was incalculable. The
only saving grace was my best friend Matt was going. We had been friends since
kindergarten. With an alcoholic father and hand-me-down clothes that had been handed
down once or twice too often, he had a rough childhood.
Tall and lean, he had begun to purchase his own clothes, took grooming to another level,
and looked like a long lost Kennedy brother. Add an air of danger because of his older
siblings and circumstances he suffered through, he was like catnip to girls. Not so much
I, on the other hand, was still in my awkward phase. I was a big kid, with greasy,
unmanageable hair, awful acne, and thick glasses that were not even the right prescription.
I not only could not see very well, but I had a bad mumble that I was embarrassed by. I was
not going to appear on a beefcake of the month calendar anytime soon. Probably never
Still, I decided to make the best of it. As my parents drove away from the church, I noticed
the van’s side sliding door was open and the back had been made into a big bed. I knew the
other eight kids, mostly girls, were inside the church and my friend was going to be a little
late because he his family did almost half the paper routes in town just to get by.
So, I decided to snag a great spot on the big bed so I could talk and have fun with my fellow
classmates. You did not want to be too close to the two adults in the driver and front
passenger seat, in case they might overhear something you say. You also wanted to be in
the best spot possible so you could carry on witty banter with one of the prettiest girls no
matter where she sat. Every kid, no matter what he looks like, wants the girl next door to
want to live next door to him.
Objective achieved. I found the perfect spot.
Out marched the girls. I hope most of you don’t know the look that a girl can give a boy that
can shatter his self-esteem into a thousand pieces. I got that look from several faces. The
mouthiest one was quick to let me know that she was not pleased with me sitting where I
“We decided,” she said. “We want to be comfortable on the way up to Minneapolis and
there is one too many of us going for all of us to be comfortable sitting where you are.” “You
are going to have to sit on the floor,” she said pointing at the dark hole between the turned
captain’s chairs and the driver and passenger seats.
No one could see you there. You had to sit on this hard rubber material that allowed every
bump in the road to be felt. I tried to explain to her that I was pretty sure that we could all
sit in a circle on the bed. It might be a little tight, but we could all fit just fine.
I was informed by several glances that I was wrong. It was humiliating crawling out of the
van and then crawling back in to sit on that hard rubber mat. My fellow classmates climbed
in. I heard a couple of the girls talk about how they could not wait for Matt to get there to sit
next to them.
I heard the two adults climb into their two spots in the front and their doors slammed. I
started to cry, which is not something a teenage boy likes to do. Even though no one could
see me, I covered my face while the tears flowed.
I heard the sliding door slide shut. The engine started. We were heading north.
It took me awhile, but finally I regained my composure. After drying the last tear, looking
up, sitting on the hard floor across from me was my friend. He chose to sit with me rather
than sit next to the prettiest girls in my class.
I told Pastor Sanderson the story. I did not know what to call what my friend did, but I
wanted to be like that. That is the kind of person I wanted to be. I will probably never be
like that, whatever that is, but that is the kind of person I wanted to shoot for.
Closing my folder, Pastor Sanderson told me I was going to be confirmed and to get out of
his office. He then for some unknown reason got a slight smile on his face as I walked out.
Postscript: A few years back I told Matt what he did really meant a lot to me. He told me he
did not remember it. He remembered the trip, but where else was he going to sit. It was no
big deal to him. Whatever what he did is called, it really was a big deal.