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Sunday School lessons delivered loud and clear

One of the benefits of getting old is that we can think back on our mistakes and our successes and choose which ones to remember and how to remember them.

My friends and I learned a few lessons from the older boys in the back row of Sunday School. We watched how someone we trusted did it. I can't remember a lesson that was very valuable that came by lecture, by criticism or by the threat of a whip.

Oh, we learned to adapt our behavior to the threat of force or by offering inducements to alter our behavior, getting rid of outer attitudes and tones of voice and keeping in step. It didn't take us long to recognize the benefits of things like going tinkle in the potty, not going past a designated spot in the driveway, not tracking mud in the house and not throwing food.

It also didn't take us long to recognize there was certain behavior that was not tolerated when certain people were around. When guests came to dinner, it was a good idea to be willing and ready to demonstrate the latest musical talent we had acquired. We were to share our toys, eat with our elbows off the table and not sass, cry or pout.

Except when a grandma was there. She thought parents were far too strict, shouldn't make kids eat their vegetables and shouldn't expect behavior from their kids they didn't demonstrate when they were that age.

Grandmas have a tendency to look the other way, especially my dad's mother. But mom's mother often understood the principle of letting kids know who is the "boss." There was the day when grandma said we didn't have to eat our vegetables. Mom said we were to "eat them or else." Grandma shrugged and backed off.

Church was a unique experience. Behavior was instilled at home but carried out at church through subtle elbow jabs or a hand laid on our shoulder or leg. It seemed to be a gesture of love, but was in reality a threat of bodily harm if we didn't snap to and stop whatever we were doing.

And looks! Moms were out of reach when they were sitting in the choir, so we'd joke around with the other boys or tease the girls. A slight scowl from mom meant that she'd noticed and wasn't pleased. Then there was the look we knew meant "stop it!" When it developed to the "wait until you get home" look, we had a big choice to make -- stop or continue what we were doing with the sure prospect of getting what her look threatened when we got home.

I remember when I was 12, one of my friend's dads came down front during a service, took his son by the shoulder and walked him right up the aisle and out the door. We heard three sharp swats and heard the hoarse whisper, "Don't you cry." We watched our friend being escorted back up the aisle to the same pew and being set in place with tears flowing but no sound.

That was a message we all received, and it affected our level of behavior for weeks afterward. I heard that the kid was supposed to have entreated, "pray for me," as they went out the door, but I think that was a little parental poetic license by those near the door.

We hear a lot about technology and see everyone with a cell phone to his ear. But there was nothing like the communication that could flash across a crowded church sanctuary that let us know what we were doing was wrong, and whatever it was, we would hear about it when we got home. Count on it.

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