Maybe it's just a coincidence, but every place I have gone to today to do an errand has resulted in an extended conversation with the sales clerk about their religious life.
Today I have been to Lowe's, then I bought some gas and paid at the counter, then I took my dog to the groomer and bought some stuff at the pet store, then I went to grocery store, and at each place the clerk noticed my clerical collar and struck up a conversation.
Each of them start off something like this:
"Are you a reverend?"
"Yes, I am an Episcopal priest."
"Where is your church?"
"It's Trinity in Easton, on Spring Garden between 2nd and 3rd Streets."
Some, but not all, will ask: "The one with the Soup Kitchen?"
"That's the one!"
And off we go....
...Usually the person has a story to tell me. A relative who is in the ministry, or in one instance who *almost* went into the ministry. About their religious upbringing and either where they go to church now or why they stopped. Thank God I happened to have a stash of business cards with me because I gave all of them away.
My son was with me with some of these conversations happened. After nearly 25 years, he is almost used to this. But even he commented on the frequency today.
Gee, Dad, he asks me, are you a priest or a talisman?
You know, a good luck charm, he says. I stare at him blankly. I've known many images used to describe the priesthood, but i've never been called a rabbit's foot.
Don't you know what today is? He speaks to me with the patience of a person telling someone rescued from a desert island that a few things happened while he was away. Today is 06-o6-06.
I am incredulous. You are telling me that they are being nice to me to ward off evil? This raises all my religion-is-not-magic hackles. I can feel the sermon--no, rant, and there IS a diffference--rising up in me, but I push it back down.
Long ago, when I did CPE at Hartford Hospital, it was considered good luck to pat the head of the statue of the dog next to the front door. The statue commemorated a faithful dog whose bark alerted the staff to a fire in the next ward. Maybe I am the dog at the front door? And is that so bad?
Even if the date were diffferent, and even if there was no movie and no publicity firm spinning away, there would still a lot of uncertainty, a lot of evil out there. Maybe some of us are just a little more aware of how dangerous it is out there.
Frederick Buechner talked about the journey of faith as something like "whistling in the dark." You know, when you walk by a cemetary at night and have a strange, irrational foreboding, and so you start to whistle to let everyone--or no one--know that we're not really that scared.
Maybe these people, these ordinary folks, who daily whistle in the dark; maybe they needed to pat the dog.
Or maybe it's just that I ran into a bunch of friendly people.
These conversations, after all, are not all that unusual for a priest who wears black clericals much of the time. But having the same conversation in so many different places all on the same day...maybe it's just a coincidence.
Or maybe it just seemed like a particularly good day to be nice to a priest.