When I was a kid we went to Sunday school. I don’t recall my parents going to church and I think Sunday school was simply an opportunity for my parents to get some breathing space from their brood of six. I can vividly remember the the weekly fingernail clipping, face scrubbing, and wearing the Sunday Best which consisted of a white shirt and tie, blue shorts and shiny black shoes. I really hated that tie.
Once in a while my three brothers and I were subjected to the shears. A kitchen chair was placed in the yard – we didn’t have a garden, it was most definitely a yard – and we got that all over cut. This was years before it was fashionable. I remember my folks practically had to strap me to that chair.
I am sure that my Sunday school gave me some sort of Christian foundation, or else why would Jesus be the one I turned to whenever I was in trouble in the years after Sunday school when there was no religious activity in my life. But I honestly don’t recall a single lesson.
But I do remember the Easter Play.
I was about 5 years old at the time. I played a Roman soldier. It should have been a fun night.
Someone decided that my skin was too pale for a Roman soldier. In the interests of authenticity I was given a coat of chicory essence. I gather that this five year old was an authentic Roman soldier in every other detail. Now I looked a nice shade of coffee.
Lipstick and mascara was the final humiliation.
Enter the Roman soldier: Now, just prior to my cue my mascara had started to sting my eyes. I started to cry, and the chicory started to run. So it was decided to quickly remove the chicory with a damp cloth. And, you guessed it, the chicory which readily ran in streams down my cheeks would not be removed with water and a washcloth. At this point I was entrusted to the care of a nine year old girl with the charge of cheering the lad up, while the adults busied themselves with finding an alternative solution.
Now it happens that we were in a kitchen to one side of the stage, and the young girl, still in possession of the damp washcloth, stepped up to the mark; in kitchens everywhere, whether at home, the restaurant, or a country church hall, there is one common element. Dish soap. No-one had tried the Sunlight Soap!
Ah! Now my eyes were streaming. My face, which had been streaked, was now a messy palette of black mascara and smudged chicory. (from this point on I will refer to the unholy combination as Chicara). Underlining this mess was a bright red slash that had been lipstick. And of course, like for all children, mess is not territorial; it was now over my uniform shirt.
The narrator announced the arrest of Jesus. This was my cue and it was at this time that I realised the Chicara had progressed south to my shorts, in which direction I happened to be looking.
In all fairness I think the Roman soldier faced with the prospect of placing God Almighty under arrest may well have vacated his bladder also. It’s a natural reaction to terror. But alas, I wasn’t thinking this. Nor did I hear hushed whispers in the wings.
“Wasn’t that boy wonderful!”
“Yes! Wetting himself in fear.”
“Just like a real soldier.”
What I was thinking is that I had just wet myself in front of the entire church which included all my friends, as well as those who would love a reason to tease the daylights out of me. I’m sure there was enough space cleared on my face for a bright red hue to break through.
The picture so far: child coated in tears, urine, and Chicara bravely living the show business code; The Show Must Go On.
Then I slipped in the puddle at my feet.
So did Mrs Marsh, the fat lady who owned the pig farm. There were some cruel jokes afloat about this irony, but enough on that. She fell on me.
So now I am sliding around the urine puddle, soaking it up with my back. If any part of me may have escaped it was thwarted by the Mighty Mrs Marsh who had pressed my body into service as a sponge.
Mercifully I don’t remember much else from that night. I believe I was taken home and given a good bath. That’s what I’d like to think happened anyway.
My parents were sensitive folk and would not have laughed at me until I was out of the room.
It’s unlikely that anyone remains alive that remembers what happened on that Friday night at the Eight Mile Plains, Church of England, Easter play. This happened some 45 years ago. Certainly, Mrs Marsh who was about 45 at the time is an unlikely candidate for longevity given her obesity.
Gripped in a bout of nostalgia on a recent trip to Brisbane I drove by where I remembered the little country church to be. In its place stood a spectacular, 2 story glass cathedral. I was a little dismayed as I slowed down to inspect the place.
Would this modern development hold the smiles, the tears, the laughs for the present generation in 50 years? Somehow I don’t think it would. I shook my head slightly and took one last look. I was about to accelerate away when I noticed something in the plot behind the new church.
The old church! I drove into the car park and pulled up in front of the sign. The old church had been preserved on this site. A memorial.
What struck me most was just how small it was. At the time I would have though it was gigantic, an auditorium. But it was really quite tiny. Not much bigger than a high school classroom.
This got my lateral thinking gears engaged and as I drove away I couldn’t help but think of the other gigantic problems that had had me vexed over the year. The only thing that had changed in the Sunday School play was my perception of it. I had changed.
Now not all of life’s problems can be brought into perspective as dramatically as the country church incident demonstrated but to all things not rigidly black and white there are degrees.
If I am constantly changing, growing, can’t I take comfort in the knowledge that tomorrow I may see today’s problem a little differently?
The irony of this little spark of truth is that today I don’t have any real problems. To the best of my ability I have given them to Jesus. (I say to the best of my ability because I know that at sometime I am bound to try to take them back). Usually I can give Jesus my cares most successfully when they are small. What I would really like to have is the faith to leave my problems with Him when they are big, overwhelming. Sadly it’s at this time when I can least manage them, that I snatch them back!
I smiled to myself as I thought about this. The little boy with the Chicara streaking over his cheeks hasn’t gone away. He can still bring a twinkle to my eye.
Pulling into the traffic someone shot me the finger. I just pictured Mrs Marsh a nano-second before she hit the pool and everything was okay.