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Monday, January 16, 2006

Heart Colors

heart colors 2

Growing up in a Southern Baptist church, I heard about being "saved" and "born again" from the time I could walk into my own little Sunday School classroom. (In fact, many years ago when the phrase "born-again Christian" entered the American lexicon, I was bewildered, thought it was redundant; I didn't know there was any other kind of Christian.) One of the ways in which we little Baptists were taught about salvation even before we could read, was the use of "The Wordless Bible." This was a little square book, no more than three inches on a side, with, of course, no printed words. Each page was a different color, and the Sunday School teacher explained what the colors meant.

The three most important pages were black, red and white. Black was the color of sin, and the color of our hearts until we invited Jesus to live in them. Because Jesus could not live in a sinful, black heart, when He got the invitation, He would wash our hearts with His blood --- the red page. After this, our hearts would be bright white, Jesus would live there, and we were saved.

While the wordless Bible was introduced before we were of reading age, it was brought out periodically throughout the primary grades. Its goal, or rather, our teachers' goal, was to get us to invite Jesus into our hearts. I extended this invitation many times. (You were only supposed to do it once.)

In 1967, I was in Mrs. Clara Bell's third grade classroom, with Jesus living right there in my white heart. We were learning about the amazing medical endeavor that was to take place that day, in Capetown, South Africa, at the hands of Dr. Christian Bernard -- the world's first human heart transplant. I don't know whether the other third graders were impressed, or bored, or what, but I was terrified. No one was even mentioning the most important aspect of this event. What if the heart Dr. Bernard put in was not the same color as the one he took out?! Oh, if he took out a black heart and put in a white one, that would be OK -- in fact, that would be a new way of saving people, of getting Jesus living inside them. But, if he took out the patient's white heart with Jesus in it, and replaced it with a black heart filled with sin, that man might go through the rest of his life thinking he was saved, but then die and go to hell! The thought of this was unbearable to me. I had to tell Mrs. Bell -- maybe she could call Dr. Bernard and ask him to make sure Jesus was invited into this new heart.

Something told me that no on else in my class shared my concern, so I was already self-conscious about approaching Mrs. Bell, and I was a shy child anyway. But this was important, it had to be done. I raised my hand to join in the heart transplant discussion.

"Do you know whether it's a black heart or a white heart that the man is getting?" Silence and a stern look from Mrs. Bell. I tried again, "I'm worried they'll put in a black heart," I said quietly, eyes cast down.

"Susie, I am ashamed of you! Whether black or white, our hearts are all the same," she said, holding out the red plastic heart model that I thought must have been like one of those "Slightly Irregular" items my Mom sometimes bought at Wilmington Dry Goods, because it wasn't even shaped like a heart. Mrs. Bell's voice sounded like it did when she talked to a white child about calling a black child "nigger." It was 1967, and any mention of black and white necessarily involved race.

I knew I'd done something wrong, but it took me a few minutes to figure out what. I sat at my desk and cried quietly, while other children looked at me, and Mrs. Bell did nothing to comfort me. They didn't understand about the wordless Bible, about Jesus washing black hearts, and all the rest. Someone might go to hell, and I, a seven-year-old, seemed to be the only one who knew enough to be concerned about this. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility that had fallen upon my shoulders. And now Mrs. Bell thought I was one of those children who would say, "nigger," even though I never had, and had been proud of that. (I didn't know the race of either donor or recipient; it had never occurred to me to even wonder about that.)

I had tried. I sat there and silently prayed, asking Jesus to please come into that new heart, whatever color it was now, and whatever color the person was on the outside, too. I knew this wasn't theologically sound -- that each of us had to ask for ourselves -- but I hoped that Jesus would make an exception. This was after all, a historic event, and I was having a very bad day.


***

In writing this, I wondered if the Worldess Bible is still used, and I found this site, among others, where the black page is now called the "dark page," and the white page is now called the "clean page," and I didn't see any mention of hearts changing colors.

30 heads are better than one . . .

Blogger WILLIAM said...

What an awesome story. I feel so bad for that liitle girl. I hope she turned out okay. :)

 
Blogger Jomama said...

Susie, you were/are such a darling. Great story.

 
Blogger MrsDoF said...

I'm very sorry. I had to leave for a little while. As soon as I saw the name Clara Bell belonging to a real person, I started laughing too hard to read the rest of your story.
This is the Clarabelle that I grew up knowing.
When I came back to read through to the end, biting my lip as it were, I must say that I do sympathize with learning the color of the heart to be transplanted.
So many books these days have been re-issued with 'politically correct' texts. Children learn not to deal with the deep issues, to skim the surface. And then we end up idgits holding important, decision-making positions.
You were asking a very important question. Was the patient worthy of such a trend-setting operation?

Soon, I shall have to watch the movie RETURN TO ME. My very favorite heart transplant story.

 
Blogger Jim said...

Oh, poor Susie. Although you now understand where she was coming from, it doesn't make the memory any less painful does it?

It's a good reminder for we 'adults' to watch what we say to the youngsters, lest we make them afraid to ask for guidance.

 
Blogger Effie said...

Wow--that would have been awful to feel! I totally know where you are coming from and had a similar feeling due to a question I asked about communion...

We had the colours in a bracelet on a leather band with a knot on either end of the beads--I wore mine until it fell off my wrist...

This reminds me of the Colouring Song.
Red is the colour of the blood that flowed
Down the face of someone who loved us so....


There are about 6 verses--each with a different colour...

jrmuy: germany?

 
Blogger Effie said...

and to Mrsdof--I LOVE Return To Me--my hubby can't watch it though--it makes him too teary-eyed! He finds it disturbing...

 
Blogger Susie said...

william, sadly, she grew up to be a freakin' lunatic!

JOMAMA!, thank you, my friend. Kiss Popeye for me :)

mrsDoF, that was her real name, I can still see her plain as day. It is always interesting to me how I can write something here and people come and get something from it that I'd never considered. Worthy or not worthy didn't enter in to my thought process. It was much more simplistic than that. I feared that if Jesus lived in the patient's heart, and they took the heart out, they took Jesus out, too. And I wanted someone to make sure that if he had Jesus in there before, he'd still have Jesus after, or at least that someone would tell him the new heart didn't have Jesus, so he could invite Him in again. As I say that, it occurs to me, was I sweet or what? ;)

jim, experiences like this one, I think helped prepare me for the work that I do. I rarely assume that I know what someone is talking about, particularly if I have an instant, strong, negative reaction to it. Often a simple, "Can you say that in another way? I want to make sure I understand what you mean," reveals to me that in fact, I was wrong in my first interpretation of what someone was saying. Mrs. Bell was coming from a good place; could have taken a different route :)

effie, your comment raises a good point -- we who would teach children "religion" have to be careful to welcome their questions, and not make them ashamed to ask. That's why so many adults have left their faith communities, I think. No one would allow them to ask questions without judging them.

 
Blogger Closet Metro said...

Your compassion for others hasn't changed in the last 39 years.

 
Blogger Nina said...

We as in adults always think it is easy to be a child. Forgetting what it really was like for us, when we were not understood. Many times we were just left in our confusion. I think that is why children are my favorite to work with. I really feel for that little Susie. Yet in her goodness she still prayed.

 
Anonymous sheryl said...

Wonderful story.

It does remind me to ask more questionsof kids when they say things and I jump to conclusions. Though I am not one for shaming - doesn't do anything good for anyone. Sometimes just assuming what someone said can have the same effect (making them feel alone and making them stop sharing)

What you wrote about though is part of the truth of being a kid. Especially in those days, but probably the way it is still in lots of places. I love the fact that even though you may have been confused about your teacher's reaction, or too afraid to say anything after she shamed you (even if you knew what to say), that you still had that internal strength to pray for the heart in question.

The spirit is more important than the letter, in my book.

 
Anonymous lawbrat said...

When assumptions are made, feeling can get hurt so bad, and for no reason- just misunderstanding.

Hugs to you!

 
Blogger Amy said...

Oh! Those hard bits of childhood where we are made to feel so bad for something so innocent! Not fair. I hope Ms Bell grew down a bit over the years, to where she could understand a little one's heart better.

 
Blogger Circus Kelli said...

Susie, that is a good story... I really try not to jump to conclusions when my kids ask questions, although sometimes, I will ask a few questions of my own before giving them an answer. It's good to know where they are coming from first sometimes. :)

Love you, Susie Qusie!

Amy -- Your comment is perfect. Truly.

 
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

This is an absolutely charming story, Susie. You done good.

 
Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

Susie, there you go again - worrying about other people's well being.
Don't you know that kinda thinking will get you knuckle smacked with a ruler? ;)

 
Blogger Susie said...

closetmetro, aw, that's mighty sweet of you. I'm glad I came over and bossed you over here ;)

nina, thank you for that. The way you said that reminds me to listen better to LG. She has always appeared wise beyond her years, an "old soul" type; it is easy to forget that she's still so little in so many ways.

sheryl, the spirit is more important. Your comment sort of zeroes in on why my faith has always been so important to me. Even when I am powerless, I have access to Power. I have always believed that; apparently even in 3rd grade :)

lawbrat, hugs back :) Yes, it only takes a moment to ask for more info, to check out our perception.

amy, that is a beautiful comment. Growing down. Mrs. Bell was, I would guess now, well into her 60s, if not her 70s. She probably taught through the process of integration, and there were riots at our school in those early years -- the high school was connected to the elementary school. I guess her focus was so on integration that that's where her mind went first. I had never known other than an integrated school, so the biggest deal that I knew anything about was Jesus in your heart, heaven and hell, etc.
Religion is like sex in that we need to talk about it in terms that our kids can use anywhere and have someone know what they're talking about. Euphemisms can be crippling. I know this is beyond your lovely comment, but you got me thinking some more :)

ck, love you too, CK the school girl :)

hoss, thanks, buddy. I'm always so happy to see you here.

bucky, so I hear. That reminds me, I should let Jif post some of his Catholic school stories. He used to get his ear twisted, and his brother was once sent home for sneering, like Elvis.

 
Blogger mrtl said...

Poor little Susie. Was the misunderstanding ever cleared up?

 
Blogger Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

A very old problem: using “religious” language in a secular setting. Of course, a little kid doesn’t understand that problem—at least, not until she has been misunderstood.

 
Blogger Susie said...

mrtl, in a word, NO. It would be another 20 years or so before I would be assertive enough to set someone straight in a situation like that.

ssnick, I'm sure it was still quite some time before I understood why I'd been so misunderstood.

 
Blogger Squirl said...

I would probably not have had the nerve, at that age, to say anything in front of the class. I might have worked up the courage to ask the teacher after class. Not sure how I would've reacted to that kind of humiliation.

Your reaction was a very mature one and shows the strength of your spirit.

 
Blogger Random and Odd said...

i love you susie. i love the seven year old little girl with a pure white heart that became the beautiful woman you are now, with that same beautiful heart.

 
Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

Its truly a wonderful story, and reading it I totally felt for that little girl that you were, and are still in some ways, but I dont know if I can get behind this whole wordless bible, after all, they dont have a purple page, and my heart is totally purple. A perfect shade of lilac I think.

 
Blogger Susie said...

squirl, I'll bet you would have. Few people are more introverted than I was then. I just thought someone's life was at stake, and tried to rise to the occasion. I'm sure you would have, too.

princesskristine, that's very sweet of you; I love you right back.

jess, thanks. I'm sure God's OK with a lilac heart. I just can't think of what it would represent, though...hmmmm....

 
Blogger dashababy said...

I would not be 7 years old for all the money in the world. But then again if I had all the money in the world I could share it with everybody and we would all have an equal amount. Now how would that work? Equality? No way. Nice concept tho.
Excuse me, going thru my headache faze again.
Nice post Susie.
I love you too!

 
Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

What a story. I am sending that little 7 year old Susie a big hug.

 
Blogger Susie said...

dashababymama, I hope your head is good, now. Love you right back.

kranki, thanks; 7 y.o. me hugs you, too :)

 
Blogger Nic said...

Oh sweet Susie sunshine, my heart goes out to that little girl you were. I would have taken that teacher to task for you had I been around at that time. WHat an awful thing to not ask for clarification and make an assumption about the words of a young child!

I have the wordless BIble that I made for my Emily except I do have words on mine. I have the colors but with each color I have a picture that the color symbolizes, a description of what each color means and a Bible verse or two to go with each page. She loves it!

 
Blogger judypatooote said...

I love that story Susie...I never heard of the wordless Bible.... but it sure is an interesting thought....You do sound very caring....and I'm sure you have a white heart....

 
Blogger Susie said...

nic, thank you, sweetie. And I love the pic of you and Emily. Just gorgeous.

judyp, thanks. Jif says I have a white heart, with just enough freckles to make it cute ;) (But then, he HAS to say things like that.)

 
Blogger Ern said...

How sweet! And how terrible of Mrs. Bell not to comfort you. Sweet little shy child crying. She should have known better!

I haven't read all the comments, but I remember seeing something similar at Easter time when I was a kid. It involved a bag of jellybeans-one each of the traditional colors--and a poem I can't remember, but it included the black, red, and white that you mentioned. There was also gold (I think for the streets of heaven) and some other colors I can't remember the meaning of (green, blue...)

 


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