Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Even If It Does Quack.

English: Mother with tatooed arm and wet child.

by Charles Moncrief

. . . . . it still may not be a duck. If something I said can have two meanings, and one of them is bad, I meant it the other way. (from an email listing things a man wants to say to his wife) Let me start by pitching a couple of anecdotes to you. The first is a personal experience and the second is from a book by a colleague. The setting for the first is a church pew, on Sunday about ten minutes before the start of a church service. I'm one of three, sitting at the left end of the pew. In the center is the mother of the pre-school child sitting on her right. The little boy climbs over his mother, then over me, as he goes out to get a coloring book and other materials the church provides to occupy young children during the service. The child comes back in the way he left, climbing over me again and then climbing over his mother. 

In his book Dresser of Sycamore Trees, Garret Keizer relates his experience as second in line to check out at a grocery store. Ahead of him is a woman with numerous items, separated into little groups for which she pays individually. She takes a while to pay for her purchases, pulling out small bills from envelopes that seem to match one-for-one with the groups of items. The author must wait until the woman finishes all of her transactions before he can cash out and be on his way. 

Now comes the rest of the story in each case. We know the youngster could easily have gone out the other end of the pew, climbing over no one, but the fact is that he was probably unaware that there even was an “other end”. While he was in the pew, his eyes and his attention were fixed on his mother. It never occurred for him to look the other way. (Hmmm, maybe I should use this as a sermon illustration. But first, I might do well some time to preach such a sermon to myself first!) We could go all sorts of directions with this story, but I'd rather leave it as a gentle reminder that a mother-child bonding explained his behavior -- which for an adult might have seemed irrational or illogical. 

When Rev. Kizer left the store and went out to the parking lot after checking out, he saw the woman getting onto a bus with her many small packages. On the side of the bus was the name of a nearby senior center, and several residents were gratefully receiving the items she had so meticulously kept separate for each of them. 

In both cases, as in many others we encounter every day, it is easy to size up a situation quickly and draw conclusions based on our own life experience. The little fellow wasn’t being rude (in fact, his mother made him say “excuse me” after he’d climbed over me the second time and sat down), and the volunteer from the senior center wasn’t mathematically challenged. But a little more information may have been helpful to me as well as Rev. Kizer. More experience with children would have provided me the information, and seeing the bus outside may have helped my colleague. 

I remember a time from my college days when I became aware of the differences we have in our frames of reference, and what it’s like to be on the other side of such a difference. One of the other fellows in my dorm asked if he could borrow my metal cup to boil some water for soup. My gray hair should tell you that this was before we could cook in dorm rooms! I told him he was welcome to use the cup, and that it was in the top drawer with my T-shirts. When he brought it back later, thanking me, I told him “Glad to. Oh, did you wash it out?” He gave me one of those what-do-you-take-me-for looks and growled something like “Yeah, I washed it out!” Only then did I realize the error in my communication, as I shot back “I meant BEFORE you used it.” 

Do you think there’s room for more clarity on both sides of just about every conversation? Or is there room for more clarity in some of our actions? An insurance company was airing some terrific ads a few years ago, in which they showed scenes that at first glance could appear compromising but had a different reality when the camera pulled back and showed the context. Their tag line was something like “Don’t judge too quickly, we don’t.” 

It is true that the person might very well have a violin in the case he’s carrying into a bank lobby, although to leave the musical instrument in the trunk of his car would be a lot less hard on the nerves of the tellers and the security guard. 

Grace and Peace, 

Anglican Priest, Charles Moncrief, serves up the issues of the day on a platter mixed with scripture, seriousness, and a sense of humor to create a ministry founded in love for his fellow man.

“I’m an Anglican Priest, disguised as a geek during the week. It’s REALLY tough to change my costume, since phone booths are getting hard to find!”

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