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Robert Kirby: You haven’t a prayer of keeping me totally reverent at church

Turns out, whacking a kid with a hymnal and singing the Woody Woodpecker cartoon song weren’t proper behavior.

Robert Kirby

My earliest memories of attending church are not good ones. Mostly they consist of wearing clunky shoes, cardboard pants, a bow tie, and sitting still for longer than I could tolerate.

My personal stillness record back then was 7.4 seconds. When doctors finally discovered certain medications, I could hold myself together for a full 30 seconds. It wasn’t nearly long enough — a far shorter time than any church service.

As a Latter-day Saint family, we were expected to observe certain rites while worshipping God. Being in the military, the Old Man was a believer in strict decorum. There were few misbehaviors he would tolerate during church.

Whacking the kid in front of me in the back of the head with a hymnal, for instance, was off-limits, as was making faces at someone on the stand, or singing the Woody Woodpecker cartoon song while the bishop was talking.

In a recent Common Consent blog post, writer Jonathan Stapley touches on a form of worship instilled in small children. Such is the indoctrination of this practice in LDS Primary that it’s still observed by elderly members.

When I first started attending Primary and Sunday school, teachers insisted on a form of reverence called “folding your arms.”

Good little girls and boys did this to show Heavenly Father how much we loved him. They also bowed their heads and closed their eyes during prayers.

And then there was me. Loving Heavenly Father made a certain amount of sense. He might kill you if you didn’t. By then I’d heard the Bible stories about what happens to those who didn’t worship properly.

But if I loved Heavenly Father, why didn’t he love me back? Why didn’t he make it possible for me to fold my arms and sit still like other kids? Why did it feel like I was going to explode long before the lesson or service was over?

I eventually realized that folding my arms was a form of restraint. Handcuffing small children in church wouldn’t look right. Insisting that we fold our arms was the next best thing.

Note: I do recall once being tied to my chair by a grumpy old master sergeant trying to teach me a lesson on…something.

Folding our arms made sense. It’s almost impossible to flip another kid’s ear or shoot a rubber band at the blackboard when your arms are folded. I did, however, master the art of being excused to go to the restroom and leaning in close enough to yank some kid’s hair on my way out.

Closing my eyes and bowing my head were practices I never did. No way did I want God sneaking up on me. Also, what if an angel appeared with an important message?

In time, I got to a point that I could sit still through a lesson or a testimony without causing a problem for others. I accomplished this by internalizing my misbehavior.

If church was boring — and, truthfully, how often isn’t it? — I would sit still and calculate how much water it would take to wipe out everything on earth including ducks, or whether the Apostle Paul was able to control his bowels when a resurrected Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus?

Call it a compromise. I can be reverent physically. My mind is a whole other story. I’ve tried folding it, but it won’t go.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.

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