After church a few weeks ago I went to Gloria's restaurant in Montgomery Plaza. Table for one.
Every so often, especially after Sunday worship, I love to eat lunch alone and people watch. It is a good way for me to decompress after the intensity of Sunday morning and it sit and enjoy the diversity and uniqueness of humanity. It is great.
The hostess sat me at a table that had a chair on one side and a long booth on the other. The booth side was long enough for three "tables for one" to share the booth. Seemingly normal enough, the "table for one" next to me was occupied.
Pat was reading a book which title fascinated me, "Medical Apartheid". While not being able to see the subtitle I asked, "Who are the victims of the medical apartheid?"
"African Americans." She said.
"Well, what do you think about the book?"
"It is awful, I mean the book is great but the facts they share are hard to read. Gut retching. But I think everyone should read this, especially you since you are a minister." She said pointing to my name tag.
"Can I ask you a somewhat personal question?" My head cocked impressed with her observational skills.
"My name is Jason and I often get into conversations with people. When people find out that I am a minister the last thing that they think I should be sticking my nose into is anything political. Healthcare is a rather hot topic these days on the political scene, why do you think of all people, a minister should read about a political issue such as health care?"
"Well, hello. My name is Pat. And I just think that if you love Christ then you should love people." She said rather bluntly as though it were common knowledge to all people.
I smiled and said, "So do I."
After several questions and points of conversation Pat turned to me and said, "you must not be a minister from around here."
I responded by telling her the church I am connected with was just a few miles from where we were sitting, sharing conversation and two different "tables for one".
She told me she grew up in the church but has since left the church because of the hypocrisy and bigotry she experienced in the church.
Now I have no idea how old Pat is, but I would say she is in her late 50's. It made me sad to hear someone so bright, multi cultural (she grew up in Venezuela, I think) and speaks fluent Spanish, teaches Spanish and Anthropology at a preparatory school in Arlington, and is insanely well spoken and read, has left the church (and organized religion) because of what she experienced as bigoted Christianity.
Pat is the type of person I think we need more of in the Church. People who are willing to see religion as a much larger tool than a hammer to beat people with. She did not experience the "Good News" as Good but rather hate filled.
I asked her what I could do as a minister to help people see that not all religion, not all Christians are crazy people who protest with signs that say "God hates fags". There are liberal Christians right here in the belt buckle of the Bible belt and we have a deep sense of connection to God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. And I think liberal Christians could benefit and appreciate the views of someone like Pat.
As we parted ways, she wished me good luck with my job. I wished her Grace and Peace. And Pat left her "table for one" with a little bit of coffee left in her cup. I reflected on my conversation with Pat and regretted that I did not have a card to give her if there was anything I could do.
I paid my bill and left the restaurant assuming that I would not encounter Pat again.
However, Pat being as observant as she is, caught my last name and looked me up on Facebook. She asked when we are going to continue our conversation about books and religion!
Pat just made my month. She extended to me a Grace and an invitation to conversation that I did not have the awareness to do.
It is those conversations that give me hope as a Cultural Architect. And I hope I see Pat again at Gloria's because I think her story is fascinating. But I better brush up on my Spanish.