We can learn so much about people we meet in the public world if we go beyond our first observations of them--if we notice their presence at all--and simply seek to learn more about them in their context.
Last week I was at the grocery. It was Friday morning and I soon realized it was the time when people are in the aisles giving out samples of products. A woman was serving samples of potato salad near the front door. I then moved to the meat counter to buy some fish. Tilapia was on sale. I commented that this seemed to be the new popular fish. “Yes,” the meat man said, and then went on to say that Tilapia multiplies very quickly and the supply can be replenished in a very short time.(He was more specific…I wasn’t listening that carefully yet.) Then, sensing I was engaged, he went on to say he had gotten an e-mail that morning. (Did I know that meat counter men got email?) Their grocery chain wasn’t going to sell Orange Roughy after a certain upcoming date because over-fishing has decimated the world supply and, even with good management, it would take years to replenish this slow-growing fish.
We talked a couple of minutes more--not long. We both had other commitments, he at his counter and I at my own computer in my office. But he added that some say that Tilapia is an old species and perhaps could have been the fish that was given to Jesus that he used to feed the multitudes. Now, was the man being a biblical scholar, a theologian, or a meat man? I don’t know, but here in this man whose name I don’t know, was a person doing theology in his daily language. He was, without saying so, making a connection between Christ’s miracle of feeding the thousands, and his own obvious concern that there be enough fish on a sustainable basis to feed millions today. He was, in what I would call his ministry in daily life, actively involved in keeping informed and making decisions to be part of that sustainable feeding.
A little while later, while checking out, this “meat counter” man was bagging groceries. “Oh, I see you are here now,” I said. It was clear that he was an active, willing team player, helping out where needed, beyond status. And the woman was still by the door with her potato salad samples. I spoke to her, (almost asked for a second sample, as it was good) “Are you here every day?” “Oh, no,” she said, “just Fridays. The rest of the week I’m pretty busy this time of the year doing people’s taxes."
Ah… How we are called to see, really see the people……