“I really need someone to travel along with me everywhere I go,” I said, walking into the kitchen and setting the grocery bags on the counter.
“Why?” Jennifer asked, giving a glance from the stove where she labored to prepare stuffed pepper soup.
“Because,” I replied, beginning to pull items from the bags, “I truly need a witness to what I’m forced to endure out there.”
“And I need someone to protect me from myself in certain situations at certain times of the day,” I added, pulling more items from the bags.
“Chris, what happened?”
I proceeded to describe what was a hurried trip to the local grocer for a few boxes of macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, and a gallon of laundry detergent.
I wear my clerical collar everywhere I go. It’s the uniform of my office as a pastor. I know, I know. There are plenty who’d debate its modern utility. Interestingly, that’s relevant to the story. Nevertheless, because it’s what I wear, and because I rarely get a day when I’m not on deck for something relative to my vocation, there’s really no use in me wearing anything else. You can pick me out of a crowd at Home Depot, as I’ll likely be dressed in my clerical. If you pass by me in Walmart, the same. If I’m up in a tree cutting branches, the same.
As it would go, I walked through the mechanized doors of our town’s little market to the immediate attention of a young man. A lavender polo shirt adorned his almost-portly frame tucked into brown high-water skinny jeans just above his argyle socks and soft-soled oxford shoes. His hair, fading up from a shave on both sides, was combed up and forward in a perfectly arranged pompadour. Every beard hair was accounted for and in place. And by the way, by “attention,” I don’t mean that he glanced at me and then returned to whatever was previously occupying him. I mean that his attention followed me like a surface-to-air missile tracer. Where I went, so did his glaring interest.
Firstly, I was in a hurry. Jennifer was at home fixing a dinner that was nearly ready. And not only that, but having already endured a long and exhausting day, and proving how such days can dismantle one’s guarding of the sinful nature, I thought to myself while returning a showdown stare, You must be the hip new youth pastor at the local non-denom church.
Secondly, while this man’s attention was anything but casual, you must know that momentary glances are not foreign to my life. Men wearing clerical collars in public is side-show freakish in America today. People give looks. And because this is true, few clergy seem interested in donning the uniform. Most appear to want to blend in with the world around them. Mostly, I think that’s a bad idea, and I have good reasons for believing so. Still, that’s a discussion for another day.
As I made my way from aisle to aisle, I noticed the young man on occasion—his attention less targeted but his pursuit deliberate. In one aisle, I tried to dodge him. Specifically, he was at one end of an aisle, and I was at the other. When I left the aisle in one direction, he left nonchalantly in that same direction at the other end. However, shielded by the end cap, I immediately turned and went in the opposite direction. But lest you think I tricked this well-groomed late-twenties gent, I’m assuming he, too, did a U-turn because, within moments, he’d discovered me two aisles away from where he’d lost me.
He pursued me in this way for five or six minutes. That’s a long time. And friends, it isn’t something normal human beings do. I was starting to become concerned that he somehow recognized me, perhaps having heard one of my metro-Detroit radio segments or that he’d attended a speech I’d given. I worried he would confront me, giving me a piece of his mind.
It wasn’t until I came in for a landing at the self-checkout that he finally spoke, somewhat startling me from behind, “What parish are you from?”
“I’m a Lutheran pastor,” I said, already scanning my mac-n-cheese boxes. “I serve a congregation church in Hartland.”
“That’s great, man,” he said. “I’m the new youth pastor at a church up in Flint.”
“I know,” I said, the relief from not being verbally accosted settling over me while at the same time my damnable sin-nature betraying my initial thoughts.
“Oh, how’d you know?” he asked, revealing his surprise. “Have you been to our church?”
“No,” I said, hurriedly scanning the last of my items before I could say anything offensive. “I just kinda figured.”
“Well, our church did a press release when they hired me,” he said. “Maybe you saw that?”
“No,” I replied, grabbed my bags, and backstepped toward the doors. “I don’t think so. Like I said, I sorta had a feeling.”
“—I’m really sorry,” I interrupted. “I’m in a huge hurry, and I really need to get home.”
“Yeah, no problem, dude.”
“It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope we run into each other again and have a little more time to chat.”
“Um, yeah, okay. I’ll see you around.”
“Blessings to you in your new position,” I said and was out the door.
When I returned home, I immediately knew the whisky that would calm my irritation because it matched the occasion: the Original Ten edition from Benriach. This three-casked ten-year-old offering from Benriach, when I first opened and nosed the bottle, gave a strange stare. On the one hand, there was the sense that I already knew what to expect from the Benriach distillery. And yet, the more I inhaled, the more I sensed an unfamiliar sour that I thought could take the relationship south in a hurry. Thankfully, it didn’t, and after a few moments, it became a wafting of pleasant familiarity.
Apart from citrus-zest glances, the nose of the Original Ten bears a subtle peatiness in its driftings. This ashen specter pursues the whisky throughout the experience. It’s not necessarily bad, but it does seem a little out of place.
The peat, while looming nonchalantly on the palate, provides a peppery edge to the other items in the imbiber’s basket—graham crackers, vanilla, and lime zest.
The finish is barely into medium range, carrying along in its expedited adventure the ever-pursuing peat and the items in the palate’s basket. Again, I know, I know. I was swiftly unfriendly to the young church worker in the grocery store, even though I was wrong about the interaction’s anticipated outcome. Still, I was eerily correct in my ratchety assumption, suggesting at least a sliver of accuracy to the stereotype. With that, and in my exhausted state, no matter how it eventually unfolded, I was destined to make things worse if I’d continued the conversation. And so it was best to follow the Lord’s instructions: to avoid being rash, let one’s words be few (Ecclesiastes 5:2).