January is slow at Ms. Anne Thrope’s. People don’t like coming out in cold weather. As I was beginning to envy my grandfather’s annual trips to Miami every January, the bell on the door sounded and the Rev. Farley O’Stoutville entered.
“I need a doubleshot of Armenian coffee this morning to relax.”
“Sure. Grab a table and I’ll bring it over as soon as I make it.”
“I’ll watch,” the Rev. said. He paused and I didn’t say anything, which seemed to give him permission to vent.
“Let me tell you. I was working out at the Y this morning, minding my business on the treadmill when a retired geezer, whose name I don’t know, said something negative about the t-shirt I was wearing. He read the words out loud and said, ‘You liberals need to live somewhere else.’ Now all the shirt said was this: ‘Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.’ What in the name of Richard H. Nixon does that have to do with being liberal or conservative?! So I asked him what he meant and he didn’t like the fact that I responded. He said I didn’t need to talk back to him and walked away. I could hear him muttering more about liberals. I didn’t want to stop—I had twelve minutes to go on the treadmill—but that geezer irritated me. Talking back? And since when is a Bible verse liberal or conservative?”
“Your coffee’s ready. What table would you like?”
“Some place close so I can rant some more. I mean have you ever heard anything like that?”
“Rev, I’ll join you for a cup.” I carried his coffee and one for myself to a table. “People always think the Bible is liberal or conservative and you can’t avoid politics or the way people brand everything. I hear all kinds of opinions and sometimes Ms. Anne and I have to laugh to keep from crying about what we hear. That’s the nature of retail.” Before I could complete my own rant about customer opinions, the Rev. started again.
“I’m also angry because the other day another old guy at the Y confused me with the local political party leader and he started asking for help with the potholes on his street. I told him that I was a pastor and didn’t do potholes. So he said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re spirituality and that guy who looks like you is politics and they don’t go together.’ I said that spirituality embraced all of life, including politics, and this guy almost ambushed me. He said, ‘If you’re a Republican, it does, but not if you’re a Democrat.’ And that’s when that argument began. I’m just not cut out for this kind of stuff. People think the world is neatly organized into us-and-them categories and they have no real basis for thinking that way. How am I supposed to minister when I see that both ways are wrong?” While he talked, he kept poking his finger into the table.
“Didn’t they teach you in seminary how to deal with conflict?”
“I learned Hebrew and Greek and church history and theology. We studied ethics and worship and mission, but my seminary days don’t seem to connect with modern life. The world is different from those days.”
“That’s true of all of our businesses and callings. When you finished seminary, would you have imagined going to a coffee shop to drink Armenian coffee? Of course not. Nobody knew Armenians from Trocaderians or cenobites. Rev, you can’t let the old guys get to you because they haven’t changed and they’re trying to ward off change like it’s an evil spirit. You know they’re not going to win that fight.”
“I know. I know. I simply can’t believe that the words of the prophet Micah could upset anyone, and here I’ve let that response get to me. I need to listen more deeply, ask questions, and not worry about the reaction.”
“Yeah, Rev. January will be over soon and you’re going to be OK. All shall be well.”