Transcribed By Elsie Sampson
July 27, 1950
* CAL’S COLUMN *
For the past two times we have come to you in some measure of gloom, but this article will not be of that class. In fact some may think we are too frivolous. To tell the truth it is entirely impossible to strike a medium between two extremes that will fit everybody. We have thought of this quite often as a minister. If the preacher dresses in a real nice way, he is a dude and wears better clothes than his brethren, some of whom may say, “Well he is better off than I am or he could not have such nice clothes. So I won’t pay him a cent.” On the other hand, if the preacher does not dress nicely, he is a slouch and is not wanted by many of the members. We once knew a pastor who wore red yarn, home-knit socks to church and one of the lady members made up money to buy the pastor some “store” socks and a pair of slippers. This was because she was ashamed of her pastor’s manner of dress and sought to improve it.
If the pastor is friendly with his members, brethren and sisters too, he is sometimes counted a “ladies’ man,” and is looked upon by some as a sort of rake. And then the extremely pious have no use for him and talk about him behind his back. On the other hand if he has a greeting only for the brethren and ignores the sisters, he is selfish and snobbish and thinks he is too good to associate with a lot of his members. O what a hard time the poor preacher does have in trying to find the middle of the road between extremes.
If the pastor preaches the doctine of his church, he is too narrow and sectarian to suit many of his members. If he tries to court favor with all church groups, he is a “pussy-footer,” and does not have the backbone of a redworm. Poor fellow, they catch him coming or going and he generally finds himself somewhat between the devil and the deep, blue sea.
If he is educated and now and then gets off something that indicates his scholarship, he is only trying to “show off his learning.” If he butchers the king’s English and uses language that offends the delicate ears of high school and college hearers, he is fit only to preach in the backwoods and soon finds himself in the discard. Poor man, just what is he to do anyway?
Such a situation could be narrated for many, many other incidents of the desperate plight of those who try to please everybody. We long ago decided that we would strive to please God and let the public say what it pleases.
We sometimes think about a lot of funny things in the lives of our preacher friends and of some of our church members. We find many things that make us laugh, some of them being things that the writer once did, and part of them were not all funny when they happened.
We recall one time in 1922 when our good friend, J. B. Mathis, of the Beech Bottom section, asked us to go with him on a trip to his old home community on Clear Fork Creek, a few miles south of Liberty, Tennessee in Dekalb County. On the second Monday in May of that year we left for that section in our old touring car, a model T. All went well so far as traveling was concerned. When we reached Alexandria, a few miles west of his old home community, we began to meet old friends and acquaintances of his. He gave the writer introductions to many of these. He also began to “brag” on the preacher, saying a lot of very fine things about Gregory. At the first we were inclined to doubt them; but finally, he convinced Cal that he was truly a preacher of preachers. Further boosting of the Gregory stock did not help our ego; and by the time we reached Cave Spring church, we had decided that we were really a big preacher and that we would that night preach the biggest sermon of our entire ministerial life. Two reasons for this stood uppermost in our little mind. One of these was that we must not let Brother Mathis down. The second was that we were fully equal to the task and that we could do the job with credit to Cal.
So without scarcely a thought of the terrible setback we were about to have, we chose a good, sweet, juicy text that we felt sure we could handle. We strove with might and main to start, but somehow it seemed that the “starter” was hung or something worse had happened. We labored, we puffed, we blew, we ran up and then backed back, we fought the air and pounded the book board, we reared and pitched, but to no avail. That fine sermon just did not show up. It was the poorest effort we believe we ever heard and did our poor face burn? We had fallen down from a great height and we struck the ground with a resounding whack that lives till this time, 28 years later. After striving in vain to get up “some steam,” and finding the going getting worse all the time, we decided to end the miserable failure. We sought to have a handshake. We have found by experience that a good effort on the part of the preacher will bring a spontaneous response on the part of his hearers, with many of them rushing forward to grasp his hand and to express their enjoyment of his preaching effort. But our handshake that night was another miserable failure. After having almost to beg the people to shake hands with us, they came somewhat one at a time and shook hands as they gazed up and down at the new preacher Brother Mathis had recommended too highly. We supposed they were looking for indications of the greatness that Mathis had caused them to expect. It had not been shown in the preaching effort and they were perhaps curious to know just wherein he could be great. We knew we had made a terrible blunder in thinking too highly of self. To strive to redeem himself from this complete failure, Cal gave out another appointment for the coming Thursday night, some 72 hours later. In this he was again doomed to disappointment, for late Thursday there came a small May cloud that did a lot of thundering and brought some rain, and we had no hearers that night. Honestly, we did not blame them in the least. In fact we thought they were doing the wise thing in staying away from hearing such a goof trying to preach.
We spent that Monday night in the home of a friend, Brother Tom Adamson, who resided near the thick, heavy bluff that lies along the east side of the valley of Clear Fork Creek for miles. We felt so badly over that preaching effort that we were heartily ashamed to admit that pride and a sense of being what we were not had led to a serious attack of “deflation.” That night, before we went to our room to retire, Cal slipped away in the darkness until he came to that high bluff. Under this he knelt down and prayed almost as earnestly as he had ever prayed in all his Christian life for God’s forgiveness for striving to preach the big sermon which had “blown up” right in our face. Out there alone with no human ear to hear and no eye of man to gaze upon a poor, downcast piece of frail humanity, we begged forgiveness and promised our Maker that we would leave off the “big sermons” in the future if He would help us to preach the little ones. We finally got a little relief and went to bed. But we still look back on that preaching effort with shame. Too much commendation and too much self-conceit had let us down until we were as low as “a worm’s belt buckle.”
Two good things resulted from that “flash in the pan.” One of these was that we “cured” J. B. Mathis of boosting Gregory to the skies, and the other was that we learned that our “help cometh from Him who made heaven and earth.” We have long since learned that there is no cause for elation or for letting one’s hat get too little for him, merely because somebody gives him a boost. We have had many commendations since that time, but none of them went to our little head as those did that May day nearly 30 years ago. We appreciate all the good things that friends may say, but we have nothing in which to glory in a personal way. Rather we would prefer, if we can, “to glory only in the cross of Christ.”
Criticism used to hurt us a lot, but that day has gone by and we have shed off a lot of hard things almost as a duck sheds water from it’s back. And we learned a long, long time ago that praise and high commendations ought to be “taken with a grain of salt.” In fact self exaltation is about the surest way in the world for one to have a rude “comedown.”