I have been in a couple of places lately where all the cylinders did not seem to be firing: a warehouse store, a restaurant, an emergency room. What I mean is that people were moving slowly, if at all. If I tried to make eye contact with someone working there, what I mostly got was an immediate glance in another direction or at a computer screen. If I was persistent, I generally got short answers as the person stepped in a different direction.
I have been on the phone lately, talking to a couple of companies that seemed to have more important business to transact than talking to me: an internet store where I needed to make a return, a doctor’s office, a customer service entity. I say I was talking to these customer service representatives, but if I was striving for accuracy, I would say that I was on hold with these folks. And when I was actually engaged in conversation, it seemed to me that there existed a discernible lack of enthusiasm about the issues that had prompted my calls.
I launched a little problem-solving expedition a couple of weeks ago on behalf of a person who needed help getting some services to which we believed she was entitled. This required navigating a monolithic bureaucratic agency. Need I say more?
I entered the drive-through of one of our local establishments not long ago to order a breakfast sandwich and a large coffee – two Stevia, no cream. Twenty minutes later, I had my coffee – with cream and what I would judge to be no sweeteners. I did not drive away with a breakfast sandwich since they had run out. Understandable – it was already 7:30 am.
Now, believe it or not, my intent here is not to gripe or to tell anyone under the age of thirty how it was back in the day. No, what I want to report is that at every one of the establishments I have referenced above, I could also relay other very positive experiences – either eventually during these recent encounters or at some other call or visit. At every one of these enterprises, I have had occasions when someone greeted me with a smile or a cheery voice and worked diligently to serve or solve. Each time before the exchange ended, the person working with me checked to make sure that he or she had done everything they could to meet my needs. And they expressed their hope that the rest of my day would be wonderful, and they did it in a tone of voice that made me believe them.
How? Why? Explain it. I don’t know. Maybe I caught a few brand-new employees who hadn’t yet become cynical and irritated because of all the rudeness they endure on a daily, even hourly, basis. Perhaps. And in truth, I think what we most often pass forward is not the beautiful stuff. Rather, when someone treats us rudely, we are quite apt to treat the next person who walks in front of us in a foul way. Someone lies to us, we probably will be inclined to judge that the next person we meet is lying. Linda and I talk about this from time to time – she works in a world of people who have their hustle on, and yet it is crucial to her work that she not make any assumptions about the person who is walking into Hope Station. Because otherwise, we rob everyone of dignity. We can be strong and determined, but to banish trust and good-will from our encounters with our fellow-human beings is disastrous.
I think from time to time about an old Jimmy Buffet song about a happy streetsweeper:
He said, "It's my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that's enough reason to go for me
It's my job to be better than the rest
And that makes the day for me"
I’m not saying it is easy. I am not saying it comes naturally.
But it almost seems like living out faith to me . . .
being a light for our community . . .
being salt for our world.
Blessings and Peace,
Out at the end of our driveway, Linda has planted a garden where before there was only roots and hardscrabble ground. Looks pretty good, if I may say so. Anyway, I was watering the garden one morning last weekend while Linda was in Florida, when a woman who was out walking her dog passed by. She said, Your wife did a lovely job with the garden. I replied, Thank you. She helped me quite a bit. The woman hesitated before resuming her walk, but I heard her say under her breath, Your wife is the only one I ever saw working on it. Yes, some of our neighbors are busybodies.
The next day, I was out at the Glovers’ farm hoeing in our “Season of Faith” garden. I was using my new 2-prong/hoe with a telescoping, 34-inch handle (Lowes, $17.98) when John walked up, examined my work and said, So you actually can do a little farming. I did not like his attitude.
I ended up talking to my brother and complaining that my farming prowess has not been garnering the respect I feel I am due. I figured Dale would understand since he has completed all of the coursework and has received the title of “Master Gardener.” He keeps all of the Kansas family stocked throughout the summer with okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, squash and such. Anyway, Dale says, You know, Gary, I hear that the federal government pays some farmers not to grow crops. His voice trailed off, Maybe you could get in on that. Third child – need I say more?
Well, disrespect aside, I think this Season of Faith garden is going to prove to be a blessing – to me, at least. After our Saturday planting session, Linda and I got away to the beach for a couple of days, but on our journey back to Wilson, we traveled on the back roads: NC-50 out of Holly Ridge, staying north on NC-41, then on to NC-111. There are a lot of farms along that stretch. It was near dusk, the end of the work day, and everything seemed quiet. Faint memories floated through my head of some days spent a half century ago at a farmhouse sitting on a couple hundred acres of land between Sherman and Van Alstyne, Texas. Rocking on a porch . . . burning the day’s trash . . . looking out on the fields as darkness fell. Pure nostalgia wrested from no more than a handful of days in my life.
The thing is this: City life has made us look at work in different ways. Something to be done . . . something necessary . . . productive even. But not always something to be embraced. Vacations have become about getting away . . . far away. And I cannot tell you how many of my friends and family members talk for years about retiring before they actually can pull the trigger. I know a barrel of folks, who when they were fifty-some-odd years old with a life expectancy of eighty-plus, could not let a day pass without talking about the day they would retire.
But there I was, standing with my co-workers in a plowed field with a hoe in my hands as darkness began to envelope me. The half dozen rows that we had worked were pretty with the darker, up-turned soil showing and the nut grass chopped out. I even allowed myself a few minutes to wonder and worry about whether it was going to rain. Someone said we even had a couple of peppers on the plants – eight days of a garden and we already had a harvest on our hands. God is good, I know, but that doesn’t even begin to say it properly.
So, I hope you get away for a few days this summer. Away from your work. But I also hope you get to spend a few evenings surveying what you have accomplished here: a mowed yard, a painted fence, a mighty barbeque . . . whatever. And I hope you can taste and see that life is good and work can be holy. And that God blesses all of it. Amen and amen.
And remember one more thing –
I can hoe with the best of them, and don’t you forget it, John Glover.
Blessings and Peace,
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These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.