If I had a hammer

Originally Appeared in : 9822-10/25/18

The first piece of advice Noah gave a pair of buddies before they joined him in machine tool class was to wear a hat, “because, if you don’t, the metal shavings will get all in your hair.” 


Noah had learned the hard way. Following a day in front of the lathe shaving down a press fit, when hand and Suave 2-in-1 went to the head he discovered a scalp full of stainless steel in his goldilocks. Ouch.


Most Tuesdays and Thursdays, Noah’s tales from machine tool class involve his teachers debating leftovers vs. eat out options for lunch, teenage hijinks or a combination of the two.
“Mr. Hall will always say, ‘What’d you bring?’ and Mr. Tony or Mr. Harold will say, ‘Nothing. What’d you bring?” Noah said. “They keep asking until they realize nobody brought anything. I think it’s just their excuse so they can eat out.”


Occasionally, though, the shop provides for more serious talking points. Last year, Noah made known his aversion to cursing, which had yielded a more polite vocabulary choice among his classmates (albeit, temporarily). 


The wise Sammy Kershaw once said there were three things you shouldn’t discuss in polite company: Politics, religion and her (Still needing clarity on that third one, but I’m afraid asking would violate his charge).


Apparently, some of Noah’s classmates aren’t fans of 90s country music, because that first one led to my oldest coming home pretty upset a few weeks ago.


An older boy, who took on the nickname of a popular cinnamon-flavored chewing gum and is an affirmed agnostic, decided to toss out a “Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit?” question to everyone through a Southern Baptist classmate.


Noah, and his two buddies, took the bait and began to engage in the conversation. It wasn’t long before the “non-denominational with Baptist roots” buddies, the Southern Baptist classmate and the chewing-gum boy had doubled down on Noah about prayers of intercession to saints, or to Mary. (It’s always about Mary. Some folks are bound and determined to make Catholics out to be Harry Potter worshipers.)


“Why do you ‘Hail’ her, it’s not like she’s a queen,” they said.


“Hail is a common greeting for the period, and she is the mother of God after all,” Noah replied confidently but to no avail.


He came home visibly perturbed.


“Noah, I’m sending you to college to learn machine tool and to get your degree, not to spend three hours arguing theology with people who won’t listen,” Magan said upset. “If they start trying to drag you into another one of those conversations, you’re just going to have to tell them that ‘we’re going to have to agree to disagree’ and leave it at that.”


Just like Kershaw’s second chorus, the topic came up again two weeks later, but this time Noah was prepared.


“I called for order in the court,” said Noah, brandishing his aluminum gavel he had created as a final project two semesters ago.


“What do you mean by that?” I said.


“When they started in, I took out my gavel and banged it on my book and said, ‘Order in the court. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree. I’m not here to debate theology.”


Since then, Noah and his buddies have resumed their friendship despite their differences, accepted each other as brothers in Christ, and the cinnamon-flavored student has backed away from trying to back Noah into a theological corner.


Noah had heeded not only his mother’s advice but also God’s.


The Bible calls for us to “Continue to live such upright lives among the gentiles that, when they slander you as practicers of evil, they may see your good actions and glorify God when he visits them” (1 Peter 2:12).


Noah has learned that some people are unwilling to listen to rational explanations or advice, especially when discussing religion. It doesn’t mean we should ever stop ministering to the world, but it does mean we should learn to accept when someone is unwilling or unprepared to receive Christ, and allow for God’s hand to intercede instead.


As the spouse of a former Southern Baptist-turned-hardcore Catholic, I can attest that God has the power to open hearts and change minds. (We currently have small, medium, large, and XL Marian statues spread across the house: That last one thanks to our recent silent auction.)


Lord willing, these boys appreciated and respected Noah’s faithfulness to his Catholic faith and, if they’re smart, they’ll be sure to wear a hat to class or else they’ll have exceptionally dirty hair should they choose to join him at Mass one day.


Jason Halcombe has five sons and two daughters. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.

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