Silent House - Dixie Chicks (mp3)
Hey Kind Friend - Indigo Girls (mp3)
I'm fairly certain most of us are born with a Spider Sense, an ability to instinctively feel when someone is a threat to us or if they are a good person, a person we should heed and observe intensely. It might not be 100% accurate -- in all honesty, which of our senses are? -- but it works more often than not, and when my classmates and I first encountered Mr. Samuel, we knew immediately he was a man worthy of our hard-to-focus attention. He wasn't entertaining, necessarily. He didn't put on costumes or sing or flail his arms around when he talked like I'd do if I had to teach young elementary students about the Bible. He just oozed Wisdom. It emanated out of his pores like garlic. His calm and soft-spoken manner simply helped affirm this sense.
I can't exactly claim I remember any of his specific lessons. I can't even say I remember many of the oodles of Bible verses he asked our class to memorize. I was so good at it that he started giving me extra ones to memorize, but I've long forgotten the word-for-word versions and have to rely on my ad-libbed versions and hope I can find a Bible around to verify the general gist of it for me.
While I don't remember the lessons, I remember Mr. Samuel. Even then I knew he was a good man, and maybe even a great man, at least in the limited scope of my interactions with him, which was limited to church.
Once I'd left his class I moved on to other teachers, younger teachers and youth leaders more inclined to entertain, or sing, or flail their arms about when talking. But Mr. Samuel was not done with us. He continued to keep track of us. Like an owl, he would watch me proudly -- and maybe with just a hint of concern -- as I evolved and aged in the halls and sanctuary of our church.
Years later I had finished college, eventually returned to Chattanooga, and found myself back at First Cumberland, where I began to learn more about Mr. Samuel. (When you're a second-grader, you don't realize that people have lives outside your presence. You kinda figure they pop out of thin air to teach your Sunday School class and then, once you leave, they go back in their box until next Sunday. All kids think they live in something akin to The Truman Show.)
I learned he served in World War II. I learned he was a husband and a father. I learned he was respected and endeared as much by the adults at our church as he was by me and all those kids he taught. He was, as best I could tell, that rarest of men whose missteps were few and whose enemies existed only on other dimensions. Not only did everyone in our church admire and respect him, but he also played down his successes and achievements with tremendous humility. It would have been easier to remove molars from his mouth with a spoon than to have him discuss his life's accomplishments.
The first day I dared step into a Sunday School classroom as a teacher myself -- some 17 years after I first encountered him -- Mr. Samuel solidified his place as one of my few true heroes. I knew at that moment I could only hope to be a shadow of the teacher, the man, the imparter of Wisdom he was, a man whose successes were measured in people, not things or awards, whose power was measured in quiet confidence and tenderness, not prominence or news stories.
Still, whenever his body and health could manage it, he was in church. He, too, might have forgotten many of the Bible verses he used to have memorized, but I don't think he could ever forget God and his relationship with Jesus Christ.
Charlie Samuel might very well deserve to be considered a hero by anyone who knew him, but he might not. From my perspective, it really doesn't matter whether he earned that specific title. What Charlie Samuel was -- for his church and beyond -- was a living, breathing example of someone whose actions, words, and deeds proclaimed the glory of Jesus Christ. He was a man who embodied that so-true quote from St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."
Lifelong role model. Priceless teacher. Honorable and humble man. Thank you thank you thank you God for your servant, Charlie.
Charlie Samuel died Wednesday, July 15. He was 82.