Monday, April 13, 2009

Know the People

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……


Chris said...

There's something so ESSENTIAL about the simple act of conversing with each other. We spend so much of our time in either "transactional" communication - I need something from you, you need something from me - or in "small talk" that serves as prelude or postlude to the transactional. We miss so much discovery, so much joy, when we neglect our need and call, just to listen to each other. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

In a recent trip to Ireland, I had amazing encounter after encounter of folks just walking through the airport willing to sit and talk about life. I met and shared with a group of students going to eastern europe; I listened to there hopes and dreams of escaping their group but it gave me an opportunity to share a few thoughts on what to do in a foreign land. Of which I used for my trip to Ireland as well. I met a woman who looking haggard from travel, who lived in minnesota but was traveling to Norway but she was a retired English teacher that worked with CEO's needing to brush up on their English skills for communication skills with the people they worked with and for. All of the people I spoke with or listened to, did share more than a bit of themselves. Something deeper than just being a nameless human doing.
People who I don't know of whom I won't ever see again shared moments of grace with me for no other reason that to make connection, to find meaning in conversation and that made the trip to Ireland amazing.
William Stafford's poem "The Ritual To Read To Each Other" has much to say about being open to conversations and not prejudging others according to their disposition whether at the store, in church, or at the airport. I liked the article I hope this makes sense. PJ

Anonymous said...

There is a tendency on the part of most of us to be so absorbed in themselves and their life or activity that they miss the people they encounter every day. They see others as persons whose purpose is to supply the needs of their lives. I suppose you could describe that as an evidence of original sin. "It's just about me."

There is a wonderful opportunity to encounter Jesus in others we encounter every day. There is certainly an opportunity to encounter those whom Jesus loves and for whom he died.

Luther's theology of vocation is always helpful as a means to discover how others serve God through their many vocations. The church could do a great service to others by naming those many vocations of life as ways of serving God.

I love to engage others in conversation. It is a great joy to meet people and to learn about them and experience God through them.

David Baer
Whitewood, SD

Chris said...

There is something that is to be said about seeing people as they are where they are at, but also people as they once were. My mind goes back to when I was living in Phoenix. Homeless people would wait for handouts at several different large intersections in the city, and it amazed me how many of them had signs that said that they were a Vietnam veteran.

Trying not to be jaded, I would look on as these people would stand proud and upright in the sun, looking for somebody else to see them as they may have once been.

There is a certain imago dei moment that happens when viewing these people. Where were we when we did not feed you, Lord?

Anonymous said...

The other day, my husband introduced me to a family friend that he had run into at the gym. He knows how difficult it is to make new friends and find people to hang out with outside of work/church. I know he hoped that we would hit it off and make plans to get together later.

She and I talked briefly for a moment, but I was anxious to get back to my workout, and it was just an awkward situation. Ever since, I wish that I had been more open to further conversation. All I know is that my husband and her brother were friends in high school and that she had recently moved back to town. Does she have a family? What does she do during the day? Do we have any similar interests? What does she think about--the economy, kids, God?

Oh, the missed opportunities there are when we think there is no time to go beyond the superficial and really open up to new people--even just a little.

Tobi White

Anonymous said...

It is a profound and amazing thing, to think that we are known by God, and God loves us in spite of that. Even when we are too busy to get to know God - God knows us. Even when we look over the person at the meat counter, the gym, the intersection - God knows them and loves them in spite of our neglect.

It is out of that great love, that we dare to see, really see, the people. No matter how scary that "other person" is, we cannot help be blessed by sharing God's love between us, and knowing the boundless, wondrous works of God in each other.

I recently went on a trip with five different stops. For the first half of the trip I was chronically overdressed. My shoes were too shiny, my blazer should have been a windbreaker, and my hair should have been in a ponytail. The second half of my trip, I was chronically underdressed. My hair did not lay down even when it was windy, my shoes were brown instead of black, and my blazer should have been a suit jacket. There were some people on each side who had trouble seeing past the clothes. Eventually, they would say, "Oh, your so-n-so" and I would be chastised or teased for a bit. I learned my lesson for next time about knowing my context - but it still amazed me, how the smallest of things could completely distract people from seeing me.

God, give us vision to see how you love people, so that your love in us may overflow to them! Amen