Last night I got together with a bunch of pastors, all ordained within the Presbyterian Church of America. It was a diverse bunch of guys in terms of race and geography and background, except for ages: all were under 44 years old. I am 44 years old. We talked of life at the school where I work, from which they all graduated, and we joked about how in the South it seems that if you want to be a counter-cultural Christian you get a tattoo or an earring, and how in the North just being a Christian is counter-cultural. We ate chicken from Gus’s down on South Front Street.
About half an hour before we all got together, I was picking up the food from this hole-in-the-wall joint, which happened to be the first franchise for the Bonner family, whose original Gus’s restaurant is in Mason, about 30 miles north of Memphis. Mason has a population of about a thousand, which includes the 600 or so inmates of the West Tennessee Detention Center.
Outside the restaurant a black man about 60 approached me.
“Can I wash your windows?”
“Do you need money for food?” I regurgitated, not really wanting to deal with interaction. I was on a mission for chicken.
“I need money to stay in the mission.”
I looked at him. Was he telling the truth? Did I actually care if he was telling the truth?
“Yeah. I can do that. Let me get some change inside.”
“But let me wash your windows.”
“No, no, man, don’t worry about it. It’s a rental. It doesn't need it.” And it really didn’t need it. But apparently he did need to wash them, I assume, to justify getting the money. So I agreed.
I was inside for about five minutes getting the food, asking about their fried pickles and restaurant history, bantering with a big black woman behind the cash register and, then, saddled with two large plastic bags full of some of Memphis’s best chicken, slaw, beans, bread, moist towelettes, and set-ups for ten people, I went out and saw that the Chrysler was looking better than ever.
“Wow,” I said. “Looks great! They don’t deserve it!”
“I ran out of water,” he said, “and there’s a smudge on the driver’s side window.” He had paid close attention to his work. “And I was wrong, I actually need another two dollars.”
“I need to get a shower and clean up, and that’s extra.”
“Sure. I have two dollars I don’t need.” And, truth be told, I really didn’t need it. Not really. Not ever, in fact. I probably have one hundred, or one thousand dollars, or more, that I really don’t need.
I asked, “What’s your name?”
He said something unintelligible but then, “People call me ‘Pops’.” His face was deeply pocked marked and his gray beard barely covered the holes on his emaciated cheeks. “I moved to Memphis 30 years ago and have been homeless ever since.”
We talked for a few more minutes, about God and blessings and life and health and children and then more about God and blessings. He ended by exhorting me with a preacher’s fiery tone and conviction.
I got in the shiny Chrysler and drove to visit with the pastors.