Being a twin means sharing. We sometimes shared Christmas presents. We shared a room together. We wore the same clothes, but with different colors. Paul always got the crap colors. We shared friends. We shared many childhood memories. And we shared crushes.
I have an important shared memory with Paul. I called him this morning to ask him what he remembered. I was a little stunned and amused to hear his version of the story.
Here’s what he remembered. We both had a crush on the same girl in 4th grade. Let’s call her Tiffany. Tiffany was the sweetest, most beautiful, most kind girl we knew. She was our “Winnie” (see The Wonder Years). Unlike many 4th grade boys, we were into girls already. I was aware that Paul liked her, and he was very aware that I liked her, too.
One day, at recess, we were hanging out with Tiffany and she was giving me more attention than she was giving Paul. He got insanely jealous and did something that he felt guilty about for years. Something that I didn’t even remember. He shoved me hard from behind and I went down hard and ugly. Although I slugged a couple of kids in the elementary school, I was really not a fighter. My best defense was to go down ugly. If you ever push me hard, you will feel bad about it for the rest of your life. I used to create such pathetic scene that anyone who shoved me would feel like a total tool for doing it. I suspect that is still the case.
But one day, in fourth grade, she invited both of us to come to a carnival at the First Baptist church; the largest church in town. He thought that if he went, that he might garner some favor with her. So, we both road our bikes to the church. Our best friend was there as well. We shared a best friend. The carnival was the typical stuff. Bobbing for apples. Fishing for candy. All of the typical games. It was fun. But then the tone shifted, and I learned a lot about the differences between Presbyterians and Baptists.
We were invited into the sanctuary where Brother Eddie, the pastor, began talking to us about Salvation. He gave a very moving alter call sermon, and then came the dramatic moment that anyone who’s attended a Baptist event knows about. He asked us all to close our eyes and think about whether we wanted to give our lives to Christ that day. And if we did, we should meet him up front. Paul was deeply affected by this. The invitation had moved him profoundly. He says that he may have even been crying a little. I had been sitting next to Paul. And after a few moments, he opened his eyes and stood up. I was already two steps ahead of him.
We both said the words that Brother Eddie asked us to say. That we wanted Jesus to come into our hearts and save us from our sins. We were applauded by the congregation. Then we went back outside where we were treated to a hot dog dinner.
I was so touched by Paul’s remembrance of our shared experience, and in most ways our memories were identical. I also felt that if I came to the carnival Tiffany would like me more. I too enjoyed the carnival. I remember coming into the church after the carnival fun, but this is where our stories diverge.
I was starving. Hot dogs were one of my favorite foods. There were adults and kids, and we followed the Baptist kids’ lead in taking seats in the very front pews. Brother Eddie began talking, and my stomach started growling. I began to wonder if he would ever stop preaching. And when he seemed to be wrapping things up, he asked us to close our eyes.
When he made the invitation, it became very clear to me what I must do. I had gotten the idea in my head that in order to get the hot dogs, I was going to have to be saved. I thought it would be really rude for an unrepentant sinner to take the free hot dogs which I could now see were not free at all. So I jumped up to join Brother Eddie. Paul was fast on my heels. I figured he knew what was going on as well. I supposed that the other kids had done it long ago and were covered. They were Baptists after all.
I got my hot dogs that day. They pulled the dogs out of steaming hot water with tongs as a reward for my Salvation. I figured it was a small price to pay. A fourth grader doesn’t really have that much to repent.
All the ministers in town knew each other. My father was the 1st Presbyterian minister, so he probably knew Brother Eddie pretty well. My father even spoke at an evening Christmas service at the Baptist church one year. So it was no surprise to learn that Brother Eddie had called my mother the very night when we had been saved.
I don’t know exactly what was said, but I know it began with, “Mrs. Burns, this is Brother Eddie. I thought you’d like to know that your boys got saved at my church today.” Now, Brother Eddie had a good sense of humor, and we liked him for it. When I imagine the conversation, I hear him appreciating the humor of this tale. It is certainly funny to me looking back at it; the Presbyterian minister’s sons getting saved at the First Baptist church, a major coups for the Baptists.
However, my mom did not find it funny at all. Paul’s recollection is that she was angry about it. She hated that we were led to believe that we needed to be saved at all. Presbyterians believe that we were saved two thousand years ago and that there is nothing we can say or do to earn it. In her mind, we were already saved.
Perhaps if she’d known that for me it was all about the hot dogs, she wouldn’t have been so upset. But no matter how you look at it, this important event made an impression on both of us. My brother eventually became an ordained minister, and I still love hot dogs.