By Lutheran pastor David G. Johnson, The Road Once Traveled, 1991, pages 6-8
My father, the Rev. Clarence Johnson, served Oldham Lutheran Church for 13 years, and so came to know the people in his congregation well, including Roy Hemmel, fortunately. Roy was a member of dad’s church and farmed a few miles east of Oldham (South Dakota). He was a grand person with a good sense of humor, a quality which endeared him to my father, particularly after he caught dad butchering one of his chickens.
Dusk was settling on the countryside as dad completed an afternoon of calling on members of the church. He was traveling south on the gravel road in front of the Roy Hemmel farm, following a truck. As the truck passed the Hemmel driveway it struck one of Roy’s errant chickens and sent it catapulting into the ditch. The truck drove on. Dad observed what had happened and, not wishing to see a perfectly healthy, now dead, chicken go to waste, he stopped and retrieved the unfortunate fowl. He brought the bird to the Hemmel house, but no one was home. Knowing that farmers often decapitated chickens near the chicken house, he looked for a stump and knife in order to dress the bird. He found both.
Darkness had settled over the Hemmel place by then, and when Roy turned his car into the driveway his lights picked up the unusual sight of a man in a dress shirt and tie, looking somewhat sheepish, butchering a chicken. There is a gap in the story at this point, for I do not know what went through Roy’s mind when he saw it was the local preacher. Did he feel guilty? “Did I forget to get him a Christmas present last year?” Did he feel sad, “Is Clarence that desperate to feed his family?” Was he angry? “Maybe I should give the Methodist Church a try!”
My father explained. Apparently Roy believed the story, even about the truck. It really wouldn’t have made any difference though. Whatever happened, as far as Roy was concerned, it was worth it just to have a story as good as this.
The story outlived both Roy and dad, surviving for 40 years. Two years ago someone who has roots in Oldham told it to me again. After one appreciates and savors the comedy of the situation there may linger yet a deeper meaning.
There is something here about the kind of trust which is a part of a comfortable relationship between two friends. I’m inclined to think that both my father and Roy Hemmel were laughing before Roy got out of the car. That is the way with trust. You know the trusted friend will not try to pull something on you. You know the trusted friend will not come to an angry conclusion, based on a first impression.
I think I would rather be trusted than loved, though I’ll take both if you have them to give. And not only do I like to be trusted; I like to trust people too.
I am sure there have been times when I have been naive, when I took people at their word and should not have done so. I would like to see all business conducted with a handshake, for example. However, those wiser in the ways of the world tell me to get it in writing. I grudgingly concede they are right. But in all personal, nonlegal matters I’ll start with trust until it becomes clear that won’t work. Sometimes I think you lift people up to a higher level of performance by trusting them.
Twenty four years ago I came to a Sioux Falls church as the youth pastor. Someone warned me about one of the high school boys who had elevated mischief making to a craft. The word was out that he was the local master of mayhem. His name was Steve and, at the first meeting of the youth, he gave every indication of being able to live up to the expectations people had for him. I can still see him, circling the group like a predator waiting to strike. And, being new, I was definitely the prey.
Shortly thereafter, we had a Junior High retreat and I asked Steve to come along as a counselor. That raised some eyebrows among those who knew of his reputation, and I, too, had some doubts. Junior High students present a stiff enough challenge by themselves without being infiltrated by a Senior High student who could easily become a loose cannon on the deck. But Steve rose to the level of trust I had in him. He was a terrific counselor and he baffled the young pranksters by knowing what they were up to before they even thought of it themselves. He also became a responsible member of the Senior High group and, years later, was elected president of the congregation.
My experience with Steve encouraged me to begin with trust when working with young people and then, if necessary, work down from there. If I have to develop a suspicious approach to someone it will have to be because they have asked for it, not because I have started with a suspicious disposition towards them.
“I trust you,” is a heady phrase, good to hear and equally good to say. These are the foundation words for all meaningful relationships. Without trust, we live on the edge of suspicion, only a few steps away from the chasm of paranoia. To trust another is to pay a high compliment to that person and to experience the relaxation of letting down one’s guard. Trust produces a harmony which our spirits crave.
Proverbs 12:22 — The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.
I Timothy 3:11 — In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
Isaiah 12:2 — Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.
O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence, your love, and your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things.
–St. Ignatius of Loyola, (1491-1556)