What follows is a long rambling reflection on events here in the former United States during the past few weeks; events in which I played an infinitesimally small part. During the course of these events (still unfolding I think) I was alternately hurt, angry, surprised, enlightened, comforted and joyful. I am, finally, guardedly optimistic that, somehow, we may have come to realize something about ourselves, and that the once and future United States of America has a chance.
Please keep in mind if you do decide to plow through what follows. This is not philosophy, not theology, not politics, not sociology. It’s just what is on my mind.
A few weeks ago a quiet guy answered a question put to him by a reporter for a publication known as The Baptist Press. Somehow the story got picked up by something called the Huffington Post and published in a blog there that keeps a watchful eye on things which might aggravate people. Though I have heard of the Huffington Post I had never heard of the Baptist Press. Though I knew the fellow I have never met him. His name is Dan Cathy.
I work for him.
Well, that’s not exactly true. I work for a young fellow who is the franchise owner of one of the stores that sells Dan Cathy’s company’s brand of chicken. I call my job my “very important post-retirement career.” My grandson, who works there with me and my wife says he’s going to write a book someday about me and my work there, which consists mainly of hanging out and talking to old folks, young Moms and Dads and playing with teenagers and kids while giving them pieces of chicken. It’s a great job! I’ve never had more fun consistently and gotten paid for it; so much fun that I often tell my boss, Anthony, that I’d work there for nothing. He smiles.
Anyway, this company Dan Cathy owns was started by his father, Truett Cathy, way back in the 1940’s in Atlanta, GA. He started in a small place and built the business into one that sold $4 billion worth of chicken last year.
You ask Truett Cathy if he did all this by himself, and I guess he’d say no.
I guess he’d say he had a lot of help.
And, I guess, the help he’d tell you he had is not the kind of help you might hear our President saying fellows like Mr. Cathy get when they are building a business like Chick-fil-A.
Which brings me back to Dan Cathy, his son, and what he said, and what happened after he said it. All he said when the fellow asked him the question was what he believes in, “the biblical definition of marriage”. Dan Cathy said he believed that marriage is between one man and one woman for life.
And, therein lies a tale.
PART ONE: “You Hate Me!”
She was very young, perhaps not yet three. She was the first one to say to me, “You hate me.” Her small voice from her little seat in the back of the car was quiet, and convinced. It was at once an accusation and a statement of fact. And, to tell you the truth, I was shocked. I was stung by the three words. I was afraid that something had been broken and could not be repaired. I answered with my own three words. But, she was firm, “No, you hate me.”
You see, I had forbidden her to do something that she wanted to do. I cannot even remember what it was, and I am sure as God made little green apples that she, God bless her, cannot even remember that she said something like that or what might have led her to say it.
She is grown now, a young woman of 21, soft of voice and sweet of heart. “I love you, Poppa,” were the last words she said to me only a few days ago when we parted company until we meet again, and soon.
Sometimes I wonder, though, about that little girl all of those years ago. I wonder how could she have known to use that word, hate, in such an at least grammatically correct way? How could she have come to understand what the word meant, even if it did not apply? And, finally, how could she have come to apply it in our situation; to conclude that because I wasn’t going to allow her to do something I must necessarily hate her?
I find odd parallels between my little granddaughter’s accusation and what has been said by some people who should know better what hate means about Dan Cathy’s answer to the question put to him on marriage.
Not too long after that I was at work. The young woman who was the real glue of the office was a full time member of PETA, a mother of a lovely little girl and the owner of nine cats. I asked her one day if she loved more her daughter or her cats. She said that she loved them all equally. This I found hard to believe, and so I put another question to her. Had she a choice between saving one of her cats or her daughter in a house fire which would she choose. Quite seriously, she told me that she did not know.
Then she asked me a question. She wanted to know if I was a homophobe. I had never heard of the word before she mentioned it. It is a rather new word. I asked her what it was and why she asked the question of me. “Because,” she answered, ” you don’t believe that all life is sacred. You judge.” I was shocked again, at the definition and its accusatory application to me. I recalled then, as I recall now, the number of people I knew or know who are attracted to persons of the same sex.
We did not have any more conversations like that. I could not bring myself even to wonder about what went on in her mind, nice person that she was. But, I prayed for several years that her daughter would reach majority safe and sound.
I don’t know why that conversation occurred to me a week or so ago, at least I didn’t know then. But, I think I do now. I was someone who believed in something different from her. I did not believe the lives of animals were as valuable as the lives of human beings. Hence, I hated animals. And, if I could hate animals, well, I could hate almost anyone, any thing.
I’m not sure, but I think I see parallels between what the nice lady thought of me, and what many people and at least several government officials across the country said of Mr. Cathy and his company.
PART TWO: “The Good Shepherd, Does He Hate?”
The Good Shepherd, does he hate? I think not. I think hate begins in ignorance and grows in fear. Who knows us better than our Creator, and can He do anything but Love what He has made? No, He does not hate. That’s the answer I give to the question. As a friend says, “All the rest is atmospherics.”
The Psalms record a number of such insights about God’s love. The Song of Songs records the love affair between the souls aware of God and God Himself come a-courting. But, there are cautions, and there are boundaries, too, which have been put there for good reason. Odd word that, isn’t it? Reason, I mean.
In his fine piece about Easter Handel has a bit that sets something from Isaiah to music. It’s a bouncy little tune, beginning with these words, “All we like sheep have gone astray…” It continues, “We have turned, everyone to his own way.” Those are most of the lyrics from the chorus. I love this little ditty, even more than the one everyone goes nuts over, the Hallelujah Chorus, as it bounces along like a bunch of sheep bouncing over a meadow, up a grassy slope.
You know, I’ve seen them do that, and wondered about the wisdom of the move however delightful it might look from a distance or in a painting by some master like Turner. Meadows end in all sorts of things I know from looking at them, barbed wire fences, swift streams, deep and dark woods. There are places at the edge of the meadow one should avoid. Hills end, sometimes in rocky cliffs; gentle slopes disappearing into steep plunges.
Silly sheep. They don’t know what they are doing to themselves, do they? They have no reason to know.
Back to Handel, now. Suddenly, the music takes a different turn from the lively sheep “gyring and gamboling in the wabe” and ends on a Good Friday note, “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Do the sheep know? Would they care if they did? Are we sheep? Isaiah thinks we are at least like them.
PART THREE: “Feed My Sheep”
Of course you may think this is all silliness and superstition. Well, it is, for the time being still, a free country. You have all the freedom in the world so to think.
I’ll continue and be brief.
Sheep need a shepherd. That much is sure. They must be pastured well, and watched over. Because, wolves are a fact of life. So are cliffs and swift rivers.
So there are the dogs to lead and to guide and to guard. Silly sheep that they are , and as Handel knew, all will go astray if allowed. A bark and, sometimes, a nip at the heels rounds them back to safety. A word of caution, or two, is supposed to work for us.
The dogs work for the Shepherd. If you’ve ever watched one of them work, you’ll come to know two or three things. They’re devoted to the work, the sheep and the shepherd. They know the rules for the sheep to follow. They listen to the shepherd’s directions.
No wonder we have that beautiful metaphor .
In my part of the pasture, the sheep dogs have put together some guides for me and the rest of the folks in my flock. I’ll abandon metaphor here and simply refer you to some of them. You may read here, and here and here, if it interests you, some of what is recommended for me to think about when forming my opinion on things like same sex marriage.
These were some of the things I thought about as the dark clouds gathered around Dan Cathy, his company and the folks who agreed with him, and I wondered whether the wolves had jumped the fence.
PART FOUR: “That Kind of Day”
I don’t know when it occurred to me on Wednesday August 1, that I’d never worked this hard before, but at some point the thought did break through the wall of noise and smiling people I’d been facing for about two or three hours. Earlier, the young lady who was our shift manager, Kim, had called us a little before 10:00am, a whole hour before we were due in and asked us to get there as soon as possible.
It was going to be that kind of day.
It was Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, and a whole tsunami of appreciating folks were stopping by; so many that it took the average party an hour to get from the end of the line (God alone knew where) to the counter.
I worked two hours longer than I was scheduled on that day, and only stopped because I couldn’t go on. At 70 I run our of steam a little sooner than at 30 or 40. But it was, all in all, a good day, and I did enjoy myself. I’ll share some things:
A lady pushed a couple of dollars across the counter to me, her change. “Keep the change,” she said, smiling. “No,” I answered, “thank you anyway.” Why?” Without a trace of insincerity at all I said, “Because it’s a pleasure to serve you.” It was.
She wasn’t the first or the only one of the hundreds of folks who came by. We don’t accept tips at CFA.
A little while later, Ken, one of the young boys who works with me said, “A guy just gave me ten dollars.” It turns out that the fellow had been waiting in line and could no longer wait. So, he did the next best thing, he thought. He “donated” $10.00 to CFA.
Two older gentlemen, a couple, ordered the same thing. As they were leaving, one of turned to me and said, “I just wanted to tell you we are here to support your right to hold your opinions and to express them without being discriminated against for doing that.”
I never thought to hear it, or need it to have been said. But I was glad, and thanked them.
Well, we left when I couldn’t keep up the pace, and I was sorry to go. A couple of hours later the store had to close. There was nothing left to sell to the folks who came by to appreciate us. God bless them. I heard that when the light went out and the crew left, everyone else in the Mall’s Food Court restaurants broke into cheers and applause for them.
That night, tired as I was, I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept thinking about what I’d just been a witness to. I thought I ought to thank one of the people whose quiet steadiness was both an inspiration and a comfort to a lot of folks, me included. Here’s what I told him:
It’s a little before three o’clock in the morning. I’ve been awake for about an hour, now, thinking about what I experienced yesterday while working at what I call my “Very Important Post-Retirement Career.” In the play Henry V by William Shakespeare there is a famous scene where the young King Henry delivers a speech to his troops before the Battle of Agincourt with the French. I’ll not quote it, but if you aren’t familiar with it already you ought to give yourself the pleasure of reading it. And when you do, read it with yesterday in mind. At one point in the speech, Henry says that in years to come the men who were not in that battle will on St. Crispin’s Day curse themselves they were in bed when the battle was fought. It is where the term Band of Brothers comes from. Here is a link to Kenneth Branagh’s rendering of the speech, though I happen more to like Laurence Olivier’s version:
I thought of that speech more than a few times yesterday when I saw you and the other kids battling against the odds. You are not much older than Henry V may have been at that battle, and most of the people with whom I worked yesterday, with the exception of Vickie, Hannah, Maureen and Mariellen, were the precise ages of the men with whom he fought and won that battle, that Band of Brothers. And you led us, as I think you learned to lead, perhaps at home, but, increasingly I come to think through CFA, from the front. I have known only one or two people in my life who chose to do such a thing. The common path chosen is to remove oneself further and further from “the action” and “manage”; to avoid contact and possible injury of whatever kind while looking good and feeling rather self-important. (That will be my one and only possibly un-charitable remark, here.)
The Band of Brothers I worked among yesterday give the lie to the notions about restless, feckless, lazy young people, or old people simply interested in a golden sunset somewhere. They also were shining examples of teamwork. It isn’t the CFA way of doing things, I think, to single out people, and I cannot really separate their cheerful yet determined and purposeful hard work one from the other. One person, or a bunch of individuals, could not have done what was done by them on August 1, 2012. You may look in the mirror and smiling say, “Gee, I really did put together a good team, didn’t I”
But you will permit me to give notice I hope, for the few incidents of “grace under pressure” that stand out in my memory, now. First I would like to mention Kim. All day long I saw her everywhere calmly directing, mostly smiling and determinedly working away while all the time keeping an eye on the whole operation; like yourself a front line commander. It occurred to me that if CFA wanted to devise a “field exercise” to weed out potential new Operators from a bunch of applicants, they could do no better than putting them in charge of a crew somewhere at a CFA Operator Training Academy and letting them oversee fifteen or twenty people on a day like yesterday for twelve or so hours.
She was nothing short of magnificent. When I finally left…and left reluctantly, my body not being able to do more without hurting the operation…I told her I was sorry to do so and hoped she would have enough people to carry on. “I don’t” she said smiling matter of factly, “but we will just get it done.”
I must mention too how impressive was her sister Lisa, who directs and works at the same time. The intelligence and drive of both of those young ladies continue to impress me. It seemed to me that the more busy and frenetic things got, the quieter and more fierce for the work Lisa got, directing and doing at the same time with her squad in the back where the “heat of battle” was something tangible. She too, if I don’t miss my guess is manager material.
I can’t ignore, either Matt’s work, and his willingness simply to put his head down and keep “praising the Lord and passing the ammunition” while all the while offering advice and direction to people like me who needed it. You have in them three people with whom you could leave this store for a month at a time, I am sure, and not worry once that things may go awry and not be able to be put back in top shape. And, their combined age does not equal mine! That\amazes me!
Vickie and Hannah deserve a mention for the quiet, steady and cheerful way in which they worked producing the articles needed up front, God bless them both. As well, Maureen and Mariellen who, but for me, could have stayed on until the end, were cheerfully steady in the best spirit of CFA and unrelenting in their response to the challenge. All the others, Dan, Ian, Noom, Kerri, Brittany, Rebecca, Emily, Connor and Ken were pure delight to work among for their intensity, concentration, efficiency, helpfulness and unfailing sense of good spirits throughout. I did not hear one person the whole day say anything critical, complain or grumble, as one might have expected. No, all I heard was good humor throughout the entire time, good humor and willing participation. And all I saw were smiles.
You have reason to be proud of them, very good reason. If there were to be an Olympic competition for service, the Anthony team would win!
Oh, and I’ll not forget our volunteer former team member, Colleen, whose appearance and cheerfulness were a wonderful pick-me-up. A basket of roses for her and her smile.
Now, Sir, to you. I have only worked for one other man to whom I gave my trust and respect. He and you have in common the ability to lead and listen, two “L” words I consider essential in a good leader; signs of both confidence in oneself and humility, a kind of ego control which allows a leader to develop people willing to share themselves and their own intuitions more than normally they would. Perhaps this is the reason Truett Cathy’s little place in Atlanta became what it is. If it is part of the story, you have it, in spades. I am happy to call you “Boss” a title which in my former business was one both of respect and brotherly affection. I said I called only one other man by that title fully investing the name with my loyalty, trust and affection, though a lot of other guys, and one or two women, tried to fill the roll.
I read some of the stories about decisions you’ve made in connection with this current series of events affecting CFA, and particularly you who are CFA, here. For what it is worth, I am proud of all of the decisions you have taken.
Let me speak now of what some (many?) may call a mistake on your part; the decision to provide food for the Gay Pride event in Manchester. Some may think it a betrayal of CFA’s Biblical/Christian “esprit” or call it a marketing strategy. I do not think it anything than what you have called it, a carrying out of CFA principles of serving everyone without distinction or difference. In that sense it cannot be more firmly Biblical if it tried, and marketing is not its purpose. If not, what then? I answer: Evangelization.
St. Francis of Assisi once said ” Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words.” To my mind this is a perfect example of that principle. Anyone with an understanding of the Spirit of this country, and of the faith and principles on which it is based: Equality, Freedom and Faith, among them cannot but agree with and support you. I do, and I am happy to be associated with you for a whole host of reasons, and for that.
Thanks for being my Boss.”
A day or so ago some guy or gal tweeted: “The secret ingredient in their sandwiches is liberal outrage.” I don’t quite know what that means. But it isn’t the case. Nah, that’s sour, acidic and smells bad. The secret ingredient is plain good food, good service and good manners. And that’s something the folks on the other side of the argument –and there ain’t any argument really…CFA ain’t arguing — that’s something those folks don’t have. Good manners.
Seems to me like folks could use some, all over this land.
I haven’t ever had a desire for a same sex experience of any kind, though the opportunity has been offered me on a number of occasions. Only once did I react angrily to that proposition. That was because I found out what I thought was simple friendship was a complicated seduction of a lonely young fellow far from home by a much older and experienced man. I was so angry I was going to kill him before some others prevented me.
But, he took the hint.
I have never hated any of my “suitors”. Some have surprised me, some saddened me, some disappointed me, and once I was very amused.
It is certain that more than one girl or woman thought much the same about me in similar situations.
I know that in my own case some of those situations I tried to engineer involved what universally used to be thought of as sinful behavior. It is doubtless the case that some of the situations described above involved sinful behavior. Being angry enough to take a life, or at least attempt it, is I think certainly such a thing. But there is no way I can know if anyone else involved actually did commit a sin, either while paying me those attentions or in other similar activities with more willing partners.
Only the Good Shepherd knows that. Well, each sheep may have some idea, too, about themselves.