Taking a Leek

Embarrassing my wife, Margaret, is not -- I swear -- the goal of my life, but if embarrassing her were my purpose I could happily retire, having succeeded beyond my wildest expectations many times over.  For example, on our last wedding anniversary (romantic devil that I am) I thought I should take her out for an experience in elegant dining.  Her choice -- Mexican food -- was a bit of a sacrifice because while Margaret likes spicy food, it doesn't agree with me.

But what the heck, at 41st wedding anniversary doesn’t come around every year and we Christians know a lot about sacrifice, don’t we?


Of course I ate too much, and waddling out to the parking lot I asked Margaret to drive because I was feeling queasy — I think from the raw onions.  Our return took us past some of the finest homes in the city, whose grounds swept from the road right up to the front door, and it was there the dreadful emergency occurred.  Needing to throw up, I opened the passenger side door and, hanging my head out, I biodegraded somebody’s carefully manicured lawn.  Margaret, of course, was mortified, and I won’t try to reconstruct what she said to me, but I don’t think it was very romantic.  When I got my voice back I suggested our wisest course was to make a fast getaway.


She became completely speechless when I insisted we had to go back to the scene because while I was leaning over, my keys had fallen out of my shirt pocket.  Since there was no place to park, Margaret had to pull off the road alongside my anniversary meal which I had to comb through with my fingers (by the way, it was the raw onions).  Would you believe I couldn’t find my keys, and for the second time we sped away.  Again, I think I should pass over in discreet silence how Margaret thought she would remember our 41st anniversary, I have to admit that I was really glad that the bumper sticker on my care reads “United Methodist clergy.”


Since Margaret keeps Handiwipes in the car, I was able to get my hand clean.  Then I reached for my handkerchief — back right pocket — and, as the New Testament scholars say — “Lo and behold” there were my keys.  Now, since I never carry my keys in my handkerchief pocket we have a need here for a little hermeneutics, what non-seminary-trained people call an explanation.


It only took a minute to figure out that what happened is this:  when the keys fell out of my shirt pocket they were beamed up to heaven, cleaned off and then beamed down to a pocket where it would be obvious to me and Margaret that a miracle had occurred.  I regret to tell you that Margaret has serious skeptical reservations about the adequacy of this spiritual account, but it is my story and I am sticking with it.


I draw this conclusion.  We are all retching sinners.  That means our human frailty is not only pandemic and pathetic but ridiculous.  Therefore, we Presbyterians not only pray for grace to sustain us in our private weaknesses, but also to save us from our public strengths — those efforts for which many people praise us.


Our recent churchwide troubles which produced charges like “dishonorable actions” and “inflammatory speech” might remind us:  (1)  that the same person can be described, depending on the perspective, as spineless or flexible, intolerant or committed, arrogant or courageous; (2) that the human temptation is to lock our adversaries into the negative descriptions and throw away the keys; (3) that the divine mandate is to forgive as we would want to be forgiven (Matthew 6:12) and to have in us the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5) who is full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  In any case, according to John Calvin, the precept of the Christian religion is “humility.”  The second is also humility and so is the third (Institutes, II.2.11).


Charles Partee
Presbyterian Outlook
June 1998