The wind at Starbucks

Charles Oberkehr
03/22/2012

The wind at Starbucks

You have to wonder about God sometimes.

For about a week, I’ve been thinking about an article I read that talked about getting pastors out of their offices and into the community. One portion even went so far as to say that the pastor shouldn’t come back to the church until the next Sunday worship.

The article made a lot of sense. Too much sense. I knew I should give it a try, but that immediately put me smack up against my naturally introverted personality. You see, I’m a quiet, shy sort. It’s true. I don’t like calling attention to myself. Lots of clergy are like that I’ve found. Like I said, you have to wonder about God sometimes.

When I go to a public place, I like to slip in anonymously. I like to observe, reflect and contemplate, take notes. The last thing I want is to be noticed. That being said, the idea wouldn’t let me go. I thought I could wait it out. Let it die of apathy or neglect, like my Christmas poinsettias. No such luck. After 10 days of working up the courage, I decided to give it a try. I put on my collar, packed up my laptop and a fistful of business cards. Off to Starbucks.

This is where God gets a little heavy-handed. Sometimes God is subtle and nuanced. Sometimes God swings a sledgehammer. This was definitely sledgehammer territory.

It was a beautiful spring morning. I parked the car and I thought I could maybe set up my mobile office outside where I’d be less likely to be noticed. Stick a toe in the water before jumping into the pool. I checked the tables on the side of the building. A young woman was sitting at one of the tables, with her laptop set up. I recognized her when she looked up. It was Jessie, the editor of the online Patch newsletter. She shaded her eyes and smiled. "Oh, hi Rev. Office hours," she pointed to her table and laughed. "Beautiful morning, isn’t it?"

It is indeed, I agreed, and I promised to send her another blog post soon (sooner than I thought) and told her what a great job she’s doing with the Patch newsletter.

"Thanks," she smiled and excused herself when her cellphone rang.

OK God, you have my attention. It wasn’t exactly a burning bush but close enough. But our Lord was just warming up.

I went inside and ordered a grande (why can’t Starbucks just say small, medium and large like everybody else?) and a yogurt for lunch, and while I was waiting to pick up my order, a woman who had just picked up her drink looked at me, saw the collar and asked, "You’re a priest? What church are you from?" I fumbled in my bag for one of my cards that I hadn’t even had a chance to get out yet, mumbling something about the Reformation and being Lutheran. The woman couldn’t care less. She continued with a sense of urgency, "What does God say about divorce?" "What are you supposed to do when someone rejects you?"

I could see the pain in her eyes, as I handed her my card and tried to think of what to say -- I was kind of drawing a blank. The espresso machine was hissing steamed milk behind me. Steely Dan was playing something I remembered from high school on the speaker. It was a stupid song then, and the years haven’t improved it. What words of wisdom do you come up with while waiting for a grande?

Suddenly God took me back to my own divorce many years ago. What a terrible time in my life. The isolation I felt. The sense of abandonment, even by God. God held it up to me in an instant. What would I have needed to hear then? I recognized the woman’s look. And I also remembered the beginnings of new birth that were stirring, though I couldn’t see it then. If only I could have seen it then. But it wasn’t time. There’s a time for planting and a time for the harvest. God showed it all to me in a second.

"That’s a really hard situation," I said finally. "All you can do is the best you can. Just know that God hasn’t rejected you."

A jolt, like an electric shock passed through me. The woman took my card and suddenly seemed self-conscious. She thanked me, head down, picked up her coffee and moved quickly for the door. We’re strangers after all. A brief window of grace had opened and then it closed.

In last week’s Gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with the Spirit."

I suppose you never really know if what you say makes a difference. In the end, you can only hope. Nor can you know how God will lead you across the borders of social convention to touch a life and in turn, to be touched. Sometimes though, you just open a window and the wind takes your breath away.

All in all, I guess I’ll be setting up my mobile office here again soon.

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Originally posted March 21, 2012, at Between Epiphanies. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Charles Oberkehr’s entry on the blog Between Epiphanies at Lutheran Blogs.

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