Post-modernism, Cappuccinos, and Conversation
Editors Note: Well, I received nothing from Mordecai this week because he has received no new letters. So instead I had a chat with him about this while sharing a cup of coffee at a restaurant, and thought I should report our conversation. Mordecai has been a bit down in the dumps so coffee seemed the right postmodern thing to do. But believe me, there’s a lot of him to get down in the dumps with, so it was a bit stressed! There I was, trying to do the pastoral stuff, half hoping someone from St B would see me being a good Christian, while for his part Mordecai just buried himself in the head of foam on his cappuccino (he’s really taken to some of the modern experiences).
“So what’s the problem?” I asked him after we’d got settled. He was reluctant to speak at first, but eventually admitted it was about the thousands of people. This confused me. “What thousands?” I asked. “The thousands around us all the time” was his cryptic reply. “Consider”, he said, “we’re happy with the idea that the planet has billions of people, because we can’t comprehend it. But yesterday I encountered thousands, and that blew me away, because I could see them! How do we reach them, each and every one of them plagued with a plethora of problems, paranoia, and prejudice, and no panacea?” (I thought he was joking at first, but his face said otherwise) “Each one of these requiring in depth encounters. It’s hopeless.” And he tried to drown it all with a nose buried in milk foam.
As I wiped the splattered foam from his sneeze off my face I asked “What do you mean?”, although not really wanting to know. I suspected this was going to depress me as well. “Well,” he said, “in Babylon I had the ear of Esther the Queen, and through her I had access to the King, and in due course I was also at the top and had control of the land. I could issue decrees. I could make God known to all, and they had to listen”. He looked a bit embarrassed at that for a moment, and then continued “But, no offense to you, all we have to work with here is you, and a few others in St B. I mean, it’s not as if we can issue a decree to Cape Town. No one listens. It’s hopeless. The odd one here and there, sure. But the thousands, the tens of thousands. What can we do? Where do we begin. Who’s my Esther? Where are the battles? Who even is the enemy?” He paused and sighed, “In my day it was so much simpler”. At this he looked even gloomier, if that’s possible, and not for the first time I wondered why I had picked up with this guy.
But an inspiration struck, and I blurted out “We tell stories”. Pause. No reaction. “Come on, look at it, what did Jesus do but tell stories to a few? And imagine the New Testament with no stories about Jesus. Can you conceive it? No Acts of the Apostles, no confused Corinthians. No Jesus stories”. At this he lifted his head, and taking it as a sign of encouragement I went on “I mean, really, what else could we ever do? You told stories to Esther, she told stories to the King, and we tell stories in St B. The question is not what to do, it’s who to do it with … we need to tell our stories to others. Especially at Christmas time”.
And at this he seemed to suddenly come alive, it was as if I had flicked a switch. “Right!” he almost shouted. “But none of this insipid ‘silent night’ stuff with emasculated shepherds floating around. It was a dirty business. It was unpleasant. It probably stunk of dung. And that’s the story … the light of the world in the world of dung”. And he struck his fist on the table with a bang, his voice rising. “Where is the light from St B in this city of dirt, who are we speaking to? What’s our story of Jesus?”
“Shhhhh” I hissed as I became acutely embarrassed, “people are looking and listening”. But he glowered from under his shaggy eyebrows twitching with emotion, and growled, “Isn’t that the point?”