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The Wind Blows At Starbucks

At Starbucks, a brief window of grace opens while waiting for a latte.

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 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 to do 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 ten days of working up the courage, I decided to give it a try. I put on my collar, pack up my laptop and a fist full 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 check the tables on the side of the building.  A young woman is 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 shades her eyes and smiles.  "Oh hi Rev. Office hours," she points to her table and laughs.  "Beautiful morning isn't it?"

It is indeed, I agree, and I promise to send her another blog post soon (sooner than I thought) and tell her what a great job she's doing with the Patch newsletter.  

"Thanks," she smiles and excuses herself when her cell phone rings.  

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'm waiting to pick up my order, a woman who had just picked up her drink looks at me, sees the collar and asks, "You're a priest?  What church are you from?" I fumble in my bag for one of my cards 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 continues 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 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 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 the 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 passes through me. The woman takes my card and suddenly seems self-conscious. She thanks me, head down, picks up her coffee and moves quickly for the door. We're strangers after all. A brief window of grace has opened and then it closes.  

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.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Amanda M. Socci, Freelance Writer March 22, 2012 at 10:12 AM
Reverend Oberkehr: This article was beautifully and elegantly expressed. I sensed your trepidation with setting up your mobile office as finely as I had seen it with my own eyes. I enjoyed your descriptions and the nuances of your language. Thank you for sharing this story. I might add that religious clergy aren't the only ones nervous about being in the public. If I saw you, I, too, wouldn't know what to say. Am I restricted to talking to you about religion? Perhaps have a non-religious item at your table as an ice breaker. Stuffed animal, sports memorabilia, etc.
Rev. Charles Oberkehr March 22, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Thanks Amanda for your kind remarks. The floor is open. People can talk about whatever they want or need to talk about. I'm sort of versatile. I love collies, the Yankees, politics, riding bikes on the Mt Vernon trail. Look forward to seeing you a Starbucks :-)
Fred Van Doren March 23, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I to enjoyed this article. For the last several years I have suggested to the individuals in my spiritual group to go out discuss their process with others. Many of them have turned out to be excellent spiritual teachers, published authors and doers of spiritual teachings. With regards to the woman going through divorce here's a great clip from Evan Almighty where God (as played by Morgan Freeman) discusses how God works in everyday life (maybe you can use this): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkQnQFeW53I . You may have seen this on Sermon Spice. And speaking of setting up shop in the coffee shop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxZR4HhlDu4&feature=related
Rev. Charles Oberkehr March 24, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Thanks for your comments Fred, and your helpful links. I had seen these before, and lost track of them. I have them bookmarked now! Here's a link for you. I used this video as part of the sermon last Sunday. Enjoy. http://youtu.be/hN8CKwdosjE
Fred Van Doren March 25, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Very nice hugging clip, loved the music. Some people believe musical tonal qualities enhance the spiritual energy centers of the body (chakras). I find a strong connection between Gregorian chanting, Buddhist throat chanting and Hindu Sanskrit singing. Here's a nice one combining some of those and Sufism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLtcUu0CV28&feature=related . It might be fun to do an experiment on your congregation using different music to see what energy centers get moved, LOL. Speaking of signs, I have a friend out in California who stands out on the corner and holds up a sign that says "You're Perfect". He gets invited to go to other countries and do his sign thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDfwKOONsLo&feature=context&context=C4b0835aADvjVQa1PpcFN2uQIegVnzY-rY8cVm4ngNGSxemY9QvgQ= Perhaps as humans move past the God of judgement they can see the God of love i.e. the God who hugs you in every moment and in every way.

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