From Coffee to . . . Somewhere Closer to Christ, Anyway
Here's a story that's not exactly about the Third Place, but probably couldn't have happened had not Third Place dynamics been, um, in place all along.
The other night I was working a closing shift. One of my friends was in the store. I like that I can say that on any given day, at any given time, at least one of my friends is in the store on one side of the counter or other. This particular friend is the one who once said I was a "challenging person to know." One thing I can say about him is that he's willing to face a challenge. His attitude toward my faith and to Jesus Himself has changed a lot in the time I've known him.
That evening, he said, out of the blue, "You know me pretty well, Jenn. What do you think I should do with my life?"
This is the kind of question to which one should never respond without drawing up legal waivers of rights to sue and that kind of thing, but I didn't. I did pause a bit, though, but it wasn't because I didn't have an answer. It was partly because I had once said to another friend (who has since actually decided to walk with Jesus), "You would make a great pastor; you'd just have to believe something." That guy was a little offended at the time. I think he'd be less offended now. And I still think he'd make a good pastor.
After my pause and a chuckle, I said, "I think you should be a pastor." (Let me just say here that I don't think everybody should be pastors. But my grandfather was a pastor, my dad is a pastor, and my brother is a pastor, so I guess I'm kind of tuned in to good pastoral qualities. When I see someone who has them, I can pick them out pretty quickly.) I left out the part about actually having to believe something, for the moment.
"Why?" he asked, looking less taken aback than I would have expected--apparently because an astrologer has told him something along the same lines.
"Well," I said, "because 'pastor' literally means 'shepherd,' and a 'shepherd' of people is someone who cares for and looks after them. I think you really care about people and you have a lot of the skills that a good pastor needs."
We talked about that some more and finally the topic of belief came up. I said it a little differently this time, but not much: "You'll have to start coming to church," I said, as if I were kidding around. "'Cause you know, it helps to believe something if you're a pastor." (Another disclaimer: I'm not saying pastors can't and don't have their doubts. Probably the best ones do. But I guess I think they also push through them.)
He didn't get offended. But he did stop for a minute before saying, "Yeah. You know . . . it's not that I don't believe it, necessarily. It's just that I don't trust it."
This, I feel, is what It all boils down to--life, the universe, our place in it--whether or not we trust the Good News or, more specifically, the One it's about. I think that's what every day boils down to, for all of us. I congratulated my friend for reducing the issue to its essential part. The actual trust can come later. I still felt like we had just had church.