Connecting Erroll Garner and a Holy Meal
“The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors. The kind of people who will return favor. Invite some people who never get invited out. The misfits from wrong side of tracks. You’ll be---and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return favor, but favor will be returned. Oh---how it will be returned!”
Luke 14:12 “The Message” Translation
The soft summer rain dinged black plastic lids of garbage bins in alley out behind church as man with shopping cart and battered blue Cubs hat just picked out of gutter whistled first two bars of “Misty” with a resonance that would have made Erroll Garner--who wrote and recorded song year that I was born --break into a big old smile.
Almost dinner time. A holy celebration coming.
Erroll Garner would have been 84 this week. Brought back by Clint Eastwood in 1970’s to play his tune in Eastwood’s movie “Play Misty for Me.” Today it’s hard to separate Garner’s masterpiece from cheesy lyric added later by somebody else. (“Look at me. . . .I’m as helpless as a kitten up a tree . . . .”)
Hard to lift out and hear Garner’s tune. Unless you are Clint Eastwood, you really know jazz and are world class good at what you do.
Either that . . . or you’re in alley out behind church. Then tune comes gentle as rain and holy meal just about to start.
In that alley right off a rush hour Damen Avenue, man parks his shopping cart off beaten path next to chain link fence. Two black labs just bursting with life in yard on other side of that fence bound up to investigate; barking and sniffing.
Chuck, who is explaining job to me in natural rhythm of one born to be a leader, says “Now it’s OK if folks leave their shopping cart here. That cart’s their home. Gotta make sure it’s safe.”
Chuck and I circle though alley, back on to Grace, right on Damen, ending up at front of church. “So that’s it,” he says. “Making sure we’re a good neighbor.” Back in front of Damen Avenue door, which leads down to Open Pantry and hall where meal is just about to start, we see two men waiting, sitting in stoop of house next door.
Stepping north across alley, golden tones of “Misty” still reverberating out for all who care to listen, Chuck and I get to do something subversive and radical. We get to say and then motion with our arms “Hey, come on over here!”
“Hey, come on over here!” A message that run in direct and total opposition to divisive cry of “Hey! Move along! The call of “You are on your own!” that permeates very fabric of our world.
“Hey, come on over here!” Like an alien shriek, or maybe something soft as man whistling “Misty.” A phrase as bizarre as church itself.
Five words to describe what evangelism really means, “Hey, come on over here.”
Looking straight at one man and then other, I say, with a smile in words: “I’m in charge of standing around. It’s my specialty. You guy’s want to help?” The two men guffaw. Chuck silently pronounces me trained for task. He turns and goes back inside to finish preparing meal.
Chuck had supplied me with a trash bag. So I say to my two fellow sentries, “Guys, I forgot to tell you that sometimes I just suck at standing around. Don’t do it well at all. So I’m gonna walk around and pick up trash. If you see anybody in alley, or a neighbor’s front steps or yard---will you tell them, “Hey, c’mon over here? You know, make sure they know they’re with us?”
“You a crazy man!” one of men smiles.
“Sometimes I am good at standing around. Sometimes I just can’t!” I wave, walking away, bending down to pluck an empty potato chip wrapper out from under rose bushes and stuff it in my litter bag.
The rain picks up just a little. Still light. It sweeps that soft melody of “Misty” out from mouth of alley on to Damen Avenue, and it covers full east side of church like a musical offering to all hymns inside. Then blended rain and melody sweeps right back out to car clogged city street again.
Floating down parkway on Damen, somehow still fluttering despite rain and music --- a napkin---never used. A foot from ground. I grab it just before it lights on to wet grass.
And in grabbing napkin, in rain, hearing “Misty”---I am back at my first holy meal.
It’s at a Burger King.
Mr. Punnett was presiding. And we were all carefully spreading napkins on orange and tan plastic seats bolted to floor. My sister and I, Mrs. Punnett, Spencer Punnett, who was around ten just like me. His brothers Ian and Eric. In later years, I would be proud to be called “the other Punnett brother.” We had just left Christian Science Church. There was something that carried on from Church to this meal. Like Sunday school and meal in Burger King were all same thing.
Now back up on Damen in rain. I pick up last of litter; ask my two new friends if they are going to help other folks stand around. They say they will work on it. And I go down into Fellowship Hall to see if there’s anything I can do to help before I make my next set of rounds.
Inside, meal s just about to begin---so I go up and motion my two fellow sentries inside.
Walking through door and into Fellowship Hall. There is a purpose in this room. The quiet, Lutheran dignity of work,--- service--- as Trudi and others who form living historical bedrock of this one street corner church in Chicago. That dignity and order washes over one just by walking through door. I whisper a mispronounced high school German phrase to myself. “Arbeit macht des lebens suiss.” (I think I remember it meaning, “Work makes life sweet.”) If you asked anybody who was serving here, what they were doing or why they were here, they’d tell you they were serving dinner. That’s it. Why even bother with such a question?”
To observer though: “These people are making history”
And in seeing order imposed so gently on room, one senses how that order soothes troubled souls gathered here for meal.
Order. Rules. They are not always fun. And they are rarely as gentle as they are in this room with rain whistling Erroll Garner’s “Misty” outside windows.
Mr. Punnett had rules. Back during one of times I lived in Punnett basement, kept company and kept warm in most brutal Chicago snows by a friendly throbbing, ancient boiler; I was truly surprised and schooled by one of rules. It arose in preparing for a visit from Laura.