Comfort

I don’t wear my clerical very often, depending on your definition of often.  In general, I wear it no more than a few hours a week, on Sunday mornings.  While I’ve gotten far more comfortable with wearing it publicly, I don’t see that it offers the same blessings to those around me that it might have a few decades ago.  As the tragic hero Malcom Reynolds of Firefly/Serenity observed, in post-modern, post-Christian culture, “Men of God make everyone feel guilty and judged.”

My Sunday morning ritual is to pick up a bagel and tea for the final morning preparations before worship.  Which means that I arrive at the coffee shop in my clerical.  I’ve been going there for years.  They know my face and they know my order.  They know my profession.  But that has been the stimulus for startling few conversations about faith or God over the years.  The owner once confided to me when his daughter passed away, but hasn’t mentioned it since.  He talks with the language and nuances of vague Eastern philosophies, so I’m fairly certain he’s not Christian.

This morning I was placing my usual order.  They know what it is as I walk in and are already starting to get it ready.  The one hiccup is the new computerized system they use to log orders and record payment.  The particular type of tea I always order is singularly difficult for them to find in their.  Every.  Time.  Maybe I’m the only one who orders it.  Given the somewhat silly name of Jasmine Fancy Black, perhaps others are too embarrassed to order it.

This morning it came out that the reason nobody can ever find it in the system is that it is mislabeled.  Instead of Jasmine Fancy Black, it has to be searched for as Black Jasmine Fancy, a state of affairs created by the owner himself who mislabeled it in the system.  Finally we all understood why this was always such a problem!  He proffered mock apologies for his role in the confusion.  He’s only human.  We shouldn’t hold a simple mistake against him.  Then he glances at me and says “God will forgive me, right?”

What do you say in that situation?  To a person who very likely doesn’t believe in forgiveness or God in any Biblical sense of the words?  He was just kidding, but instantly I felt like I couldn’t just laugh it off with equally vague assurances and commendations of God’s unilateral forgiveness.  I responded with “Quite possibly!”, which caught him off guard.  He laughed and responded with partially feigned surprise “Possibly?!”

The young woman putting the bagel in the toaster responded “You have to ask him for forgiveness,” a very salient insight from an unexpected quarter since I don’t assume that she’s Christian either.  But it was encouraging that she understood the basic concept – there is forgiveness in God, but that forgiveness has to be received.  It has to be recognized as not just appropriate and desirable but actually necessary.  Until the moment of actual guilt and actual repentance, forgiveness is a nice theory, an intellectual construct.  But it is not actually received.

It isn’t forgiveness that is uncertain.  That’s an objective reality created by the incarnation, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.  But whether that forgiveness becomes mine or not, that’s the subjective part.  Will I receive it?  Will I recognize my need for it?

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