By Tom Holmes
Pastor Walter Mitty woke up Monday morning a week ago feeling both irritable and depressed.
It all began on Sunday at coffee hour. Gerhardt Aschenbrenner started going off about how "these young people spend all their time on their phones."
"They bow their heads during the sermon," he complained, "so everyone thinks they are being pious, but what they are really doing is texting each other. I know. I sat up in the choir loft today and was able to see everything. It's disrespectful."
Asch's wife, Dorothy, tried to calm him down, but while she was shushing him, Dominique took up the baton and started to run with it.
"I'm black," he began, "and I grew up in the Robert Taylor homes, so I know what discrimination feels like, but these football players kneeling during the national anthem — that's really disrespectful."
"OK, OK, Dominique," shot back Sharissa Hawkins, "I respect where you're coming from, but if you're going to protest something, kneeling is about as respectful a way of doing it as I can think of."
That got Hilda Hossenbrenner going.
"I was baptized in this church 80 years ago," she began, "and haven't missed more than 10 Sundays since. You talk about disrespect, my parents would turn over in their graves if they knew that guitars and drums were being played in our sanctuary."
Eric Anderson leaned over to his wife, Debbie, during Hilda's rant and whispered, "They'd also turn over in their graves if they knew that worship was in English instead of German!"
"They went on and on with their gripes," Mitty vented to his neighbor Michael Rosenthal when they bumped into each other around noon the next day. "I mean, Michael, I'm all for respect. I hear where Dominique is coming from, but I also think Sharissa has a good point. Kneeling is a pretty respectful way of protesting."
Michael sat down on his front steps. He felt that his friend was just warming up with his list of complaints about his members.
"Sometimes I feel like everywhere I turn I'm dealing with children, Michael," he continued. "Everyone from our president to talk show hosts to college basketball coaches to drivers on the Eisenhower are behaving like self-centered adolescents."
Mitty's neighbor listened for 10 more minutes until his neighbor had finished his indictment of the majority of the human race. He didn't want to offend his good friend, but he felt like he had to say something in response. "So, Walt, are you saying that you and I are the only grown-ups remaining in Poplar Park?"
"Meaning what, Michael?"
Michael decided approach his friend from a point of view he could relate to. "You know we Jews are as concerned about social justice as you are, right?
"Yeah. You said the concept is 'heal or repair the world.'"
"Right. Tikkun Olam. But in a couple of days we have our Day of Atonement."
"I know and I even put a Yom Kippur card in the mail to you yesterday."
"Sheyman dank, my friend. I've been thinking," said Michael, "that on Yom Kippur we spend all day focusing on our own sins and how we need to repair not the world but our own relationship with God."
"So, Michael, are you saying I should take the log out of my own eye before I try to take the specks out of my neighbors'?"
"I certainly don't think you have a log in your eye," Mitty's neighbor replied. "You know how much I respect you. But the high holy days got me thinking about how everybody in our society seems to be blaming everybody else for the polarization and the terrible state of discourse in this country. And I started wondering if, before blaming those we don't agree with, we first looked inside ourselves honestly. Maybe we'd find enough there to work on that we'd at least speak in more measured tones about those who see the world differently than we do."
Herman Mitty's oldest son always had a hard time accepting criticism. On the other hand, he believed that if the shoe fit he should wear it. He decided to change the subject to how Michael thought the Cubs would do in the playoffs. The change in his tone let Michael know that his neighbor was thinking seriously about what he had said.
Tom Holmes, a retired Lutheran pastor, writes a column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.