Greasy Spoon Theology

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin, Rector

Some time ago, my second brother, Jeff, came to town for an all-too-brief visit. Jeff is a history teacher in Los Angeles, and was, until the arrival of his namesake, my son Jeff, the single funniest person I had ever known. So it was no surprise that we spent most of our time together talking, reminiscing, simply catching up, and, above all, laughing.

One afternoon, the two of us went out for a quick bite at a greasy spoon diner we both like. As we sat at the counter over our meals, Jeff began to describe an episode from Seinfeld (a show I must admit I never watched when it was on). This particular episode had to do with religion; and I realized, as Jeff recounted the story, that the busman-a man of perhaps 45-was listening and laughing. He interrupted my brother and said, "You know, I just don't see how people can still fall for all that garbage. Why should I listen to some man wearing golden clothes, trying to tell me how to live? I asked my Mom, ‘Have you ever seen God? Do you know anyone who has ever seen God?'" I could tell that Jeff was watching me out of the corner of his eye to see how I would react, especially given that it was my day off, and the street clothes I was wearing did not give away my identity as a priest.

Well, I took the bait, and proceeded to have a rather interesting, very friendly conversation with this guy about faith, religion, the Church, and related topics. I realized, as we talked, that most of the diner had fallen silent, and people were listening to our conversation, even though we were speaking fairly quietly. I was struck, both at the time and afterward, that there truly is a profound hunger in our world, and even in our supposedly secular area, for a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction to life; for a connectedness to something larger than ourselves; for an abundant life that goes beyond the material and visible. Surely all of us have felt that hunger, that longing, that thirst; and surely that is what brings us to the community of faith known as Holy Comforter.

One of the challenges and one of the joys of being part of the Episcopal Church is that we are in a tradition that focuses less on providing answers to difficult questions and more on creating a place in which to wrestle with those questions; and my rather fervent belief is that doing such wrestling in community provides the possibility for a richer, deeper awareness of God's truth, grace, and abiding presence. Speaking personally, I feel safer and more nourished journeying with others than traveling alone. The plain truth is that we need one another: we need each other's gifts, doubts, aches, fears, and hopes; we need to support and challenge and stimulate one another so that we can live our faith in our daily lives, surrounded, as we are, by people just as hungry and thirsty for God as are we. We need to be nurtured together so that we can be open to God's presence in our world and our experience---because you never know when you are going to be talking about and thinking about and encountering God. It might even happen in as unlikely a place as during a conversation about Seinfeld in a greasy spoon....