This has been a day marked by contrasts. I began the day early at Peachtree Tree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, during my second day at the Festival of Homiletics, where I heard more outstanding words from the likes of Barbara Brown Taylor and Thomas Long, both exemplars of the art of preaching. Our sessions were over mid-afternoon, so I returned to my hotel in what seems to be a pretty nice part of Atlanta, near Buckhead. I spent the remainder of the afternoon reading and thinking about what I've been hearing over the past couple of days.
So, with those lofty thoughts in my head, inspired by marvelous homileticians, I set off to find a place to eat dinner. Although this is a continuing education week for me, I do not ask the church to pay for my meal costs, although I suppose technically it would be appropriate for me to charge them back against my continuing education budget. Instead, I simply apply them toward income tax deductions, as our CPA directs. The freeing thing is that I can choose where I want to eat without little thought about the scrutiny of others.
But, anyway, I decided to have a steak tonight, so I set off for the Longhorn, evidently a chain in this part of the country, or at least in Atlanta where there are numerous locations. Upon arriving I was greeted by a young woman who told me the wait would be about ten minutes, so I sat down, extracting my iPhone from my pocket to scan through email and make good use of my time. In the few minutes that ensued I heard the southern drawl of an elderly man as he was leaving, thanking the young woman at the greeter's stand for the "free meal." She responded professionally. Once he was out the door and on his way, though, I heard her disclosing to her co-workers, in an amused, and not-so-quiet voice: "You'll never believe what he said when he came in here." Her co-workers encouraged her to say more, so she continued, "When I told him that the wait was going to be ten minutes, he looked at me and said, 'I don't speak Spanish.'" Together they chortled about the blatant racism, and caught in the act of eavesdropping, I had to glance up to remember the physical features of the young woman. It certainly wasn't a Hispanic accent of any type; her words to me had been good, Georgia sweetness. Sure enough, her tan skin, dark hair and diminutive height could reflect a Latina background, but I chuckled to myself. Having five Hispanic children of "my own" has inured me to the external judgments of the lilly white.
It was minutes later that I was escorted to my table, made my meal selection and awaited the arrival of my entree. As I munched contentedly on my caesar salad and fresh-made loaf of bread, I became aware of a group of four young (well, younger than I am, but that's not that young any more) men immediately behind me. The conversation went something like this:
Waitress: Good evening, what I can I get you to drink? [The men each ordered their favorite alcoholic beverage, after which she requested ID from the youngest of the men. He dickered with her for a few minutes, but finally produced the ID that indicated he was "legal"]. A few minutes later she came back to be barraged with questions about a table of women across the room:
One guy to waitress: Hey, what about those ladies over there ... are they drinking anything?
Waitress: Hmm. I'm not sure. [Looking more closely] ... it doesn't look like it.
Another guy to waitress: Well, they should be.
Waitress: They should be?
First guy again: Yeah, they should be.
As the waitress departed to take the food orders to the kitchen the four drinking buddies continued to share crudities, about life in general, women in particular and wives with too much specificity. With the country music droning in the background and the slurred Southern drawls from the table behind me, I had to ask myself: "Where am I, again?" I was in an upper-class suburb of Atlanta (part of my test to determine economic levels is to look at cars being driven, as well as how many people are out and about walking around ... in this case a lot of nice cars and no one to be seen on the sidewalks for miles), and I felt like I could have been in Redneck Village, USA. Not, mind you, that I have any particular problem with hard-living people.
I've come from a long line of hard-living people, but it's not how I want to live my life. And, as I ruminated on those thoughts, I began to realize that my deeper issue has to do with the sense of displacement I feel within my own family. Consciously I was preoccupied with what was going on around me, but subconsciously I struggle with the paths our older children have taken in their lives. (It's too soon to say what will happen with our younger ones).
Each of our children were adopted from hard-living situations, involving out-of-wedlock births, drugs, alcohol, neglect and/or abuse. And the current direction (with one exception) of all our children over the age of sixteen involves at least one, if not more, of these factors of their origins. It is confusing and disorienting to me. My values, and the values I had hoped to instill within my family, have not changed, but I am challenged to know why I have lived the way I live when I do not see it reflected in the next generation. It makes me feel foolish, unsophisticated and naive.
Where am I, again?