Breakfast at the Garden Street Inn

The Garden Street Inn, one of the quaint 19th century hotels in San Luis Obispo, has become a charming B and B. After a strange night, we welcomed the scent of breakfast. We joined an international group of guests for a Central California coastal morning menu. A Japanese family on our left, an Australian group of women to the right, a San Francisco mother and two daughters on a weekend outing in the bay window, an English couple straight ahead, and we two California couples near the door.

All are talking softly as a collective group about the midnight disturbance.

“Did you hear all that profanity? I was shocked!” asks the late 80s mother. It was hardly what she had expected in this tony place on her weekend jaunt with her daughters. “It was so awful.”

“What the problem?” asked the Japanese father.

Someone explains about the two girls screaming in the hallway because neither was able to fit key in lock because of alcohol or chemistry unknown. “They were…” someone began.

Sudden silence.

The two girls in question are descending the staircase. All forks freeze in midair. Total attention, although everyone is avoiding eye contact. Not even the sound of hurried swallowing of the last bite of omelet with fine herbs, or the whisper of chewing of a fresh hot biscuit.

Everything is on hold.

The startling event that was being discussed, took place at about 1:45 am long after all known guests had retired to their quaint rooms. Ours was on the second floor where a dozen rooms circled a massive grand 24 step central staircase.

Exhausted after the road trip along the Santa Barbara coast and north through the lush vineyards, with a few stops for fragrant wine tasting, we had dropped off into peaceful slumber.

It was the screaming that jolted one suddenly awake, “Help me you M—–f—–, Oh s—, Don’t touch me you a——.” The argument and colorful language increasing in volume as they neared the upper floor.

Leann is out of bed, cracking the door, whispering her report.

“Two twenty-something girls, halfway up the stairs, struggling. One is dragging the other, both are turning the air blue. There, they are on top, one is flat on the floor, cursing madly, the other is dragging her. Now they are in front of the door just across the stair well, the one on her feet is stabbing with a key, but can’t find the lock.”

I peak over her shoulder. The most vocal one, now prostrate on the floor, is moaning, swearing at full operatic volume, then mumbling incoherently. The other, after failing to open the door proceeds from door to door around the hall trying to open other doors. We close our door to let her pass. Going to rescue people who are high on meth, or stoned on heroin, or drunk… no, they seem to be holding onto their dinners if they had such. So it is not alcohol but their drug of choice. Rushing to help does not seem wise.

After three quarters of an hour, the manager, summoned from blocks away, helps them into their room. The closed door muffles the final sounds before mercifully, they fall silent.

Now, here they are, descending the grand staircase. The one, obviously suffering most from the half-life of the potion, heads straight out the lobby and into the street. The other is forced to thread her way among the tables to the counter by the kitchen to return her key.

Foreboding silence fills the room. Will it explode with the grandmother’s shrill censure? Or will someone else find a way to put her down?

She returns, downcast, her whole posture an embodied expression of embarrassment, perhaps the bent neck is an enacted word of regret? No one has spoken. Is there no way to say or do something redemptive?

As she passes the last table, ours, one person speaks.

“Excuse me?”

“Yes?”

“Perhaps you would like to offer an apology to your fellow guests for the disturbance in the early morning?”

“Oh.” (pause) “Yes, I am sorry, so sorry for what we did to disturb you all.”

“Thank you, but one more word. Don’t do it again. You deserve better. We are not the real concern here, it’s you. You are worth so much more than all that. Go live a better life.”

“Uh, OK, uh, yes.”

She hurries out. The silence holds, then breaks with an explosion of air from breath held much too long.

“Good,” says the Japanese father. “Good.”

“Thank you, oh thank you,” says the 80s mother, “we all needed that.”

“Yes, we did,” someone says.

Drama ended, the breakfast continues with each table resuming its own conversations.

At our table, we are reviewing the intervention. “Did you see how she entered the room, like she needed to say something but had no words?” Marlin asked. “And the posture, like a sheep dog who has just been caught stealing sheep.”

“Like someone who was caught stealing sleep,” Robin corrects him. We smile in release.

Leann is squeezing my hand.

“You just did another ‘David’,” she says.

Dinner at the Noriega Hotel, Bakersfield, March 13, 2014

“I believe you were just now saying ‘grace,’ so you must be believers?” I said to the little couple seated across from us at the long communal tables stretching forty feet down the dining hall of the Noriega Hotel Basque Restaurant in Bakersfield, CA.

This is community style not family style dining where a hundred guests now sat wall to wall. The first of seven courses (Basque bread, salsa, soup and beans) was already on the table. Before we had all found our napkins, he had shyly taken her hand, they quietly bowed their heads for thirty seconds, then looked up to meet our watching eyes..

“Believers? Oh yes, we are Pentecostals,” he replied.

Mid-eighties, she with grey hair tightly pulled back into a bun, he with galluses over a buttoned white long sleeved shirt, They could have been two plain Mennonites from Lancaster County Pennsylvania.

“Wonderful,” I say, adding, “We are also believers. In a restaurant, we raise our hands and say, “Do you solemnly affirm, before God and these witnesses, that you are grateful for the food you are about to receive and for the friends with whom you share it?’

All down the table a dozen people within earshot raised their hands and said, “We do.” Then we all said “Amen,” and began the multi-course Basque dinner. Even more stimulating, we continued an amazing, warm and friendly conversation among the fifteen or twenty in the mid-table stretch.

“Pentecostal? You folks are growing in amazing numbers. I have a close friend who is the Pentecostal representative in conversations with the Vatican on the massive conversions of Catholics into Pentecostal churches in South America—you are growing exponentially down there.”

“Yes, we are. We are the fulfillment of prophesy. It is all foretold in the book of Revelations. We are the manifestation of the final sign of the end of the age,” he began and then quoted John the Revelator with finality and authority. Darby would have been proud of his clarity and certainty.

“It is the promise of ‘all nations’ and we are the fulfillment.”

“Now isn’t this fascinating?” I replied. “Here we are a whole group of us talking over dinner at the Noriega about The Revelation to John.”

“It is the most fascinating, the most revealing book in the Bible.”

“I’ve found that many Pentecostals tend to read the gospels through the lens of the Book of Revelations. As a Mennonite, I read Revelations through the lens of the Gospels. We see it from two different ends. It looks surprisingly different, if you look at faith and life through the teachings of Jesus or through the eyes of John.”

“Never thought about it that way,” explodes the tattooed Goth style black T- shirted 300 pound young man seated on his left—my image of a gang banger—“but it does make sense. I think I try to wear the Jesus lenses, to ask what Jesus taught.”

I look at him in incredulity—this rebel in scary clothing is talking about Jesus.

“What do you do?” I ask, more than a tad surprised and much impressed by his response.

“I direct a street ministry for abused women and sex trafficking in Bakersfield,” he said. (So much for my stereotyping by appearance.) He soon reveals what a gentle spirit and caring heart he has for the forgotten and ignored. He is non-denominational, he repeatedly says, (a growing denomination, I failed to point out.) Later as he is getting up to leave, he would offer his final word to us, “Just let me tell you all to be ready, Christ will return in 2017. The Scriptures have given us the clue to know the date. Definitely, it will be in November, 2017. He is coming back.”

“What is even more exciting, He is here now,” I say, and am surprised by the “Yes” responses from a half dozen voices up and down the table.

“I didn’t know when I came to the Noriega tonight that it would be a ‘come to Jesus meeting’,” Leann says, and we all laugh in recognition.

But in between the first prayer or the announcement of the schedule for the rapture there were many warm and often funny exchanges. Like when the sliced pickled tongue vinaigrette salad was served, the Pentecostal brother turned up his nose asking “What is that?”—so I offered him the plate first saying, “Brother may I give you the gift of tongues?” And he declined ruefully. As he did when we passed around the red wine the Basques serve.

The family on the right soon entered the conversation to tell of teaching high school in Shafter, Leann’s alma mater, of Mennonite colleagues and shared friends. Then we learned that the man across the table is church organist at First Methodist, Los Altos up near San Jose. We discussed Buxtehude, Widor and Bach. I mentioned my former colleague Orlando Schmidt who could play Widor so presto that he emptied the chapel in quick step.

At some point I told of how Orlando and his Catholic priest friend toured Europe to see all the organs Bach played and getting to play several of them. As a musician, he loved the story, somehow I added that Orlando was a man who had suffered deeply, his wife and son burned to death in front of his eyes when their Pinto was rear-ended on the 55 near Bloomington Il. “It was not the divinity of Jesus that saved my sanity through all that, it was His humanity,” Orlando would say often. I mentioned that as years passed his witness was highly respected even though it became clear that he was gay, his having suffered so much so faithfully silenced any who might have criticized him.” Leann heard the Pentecostal man ask his wife, “ Should we leave?” when a good word was said about a godly gay man. She shook her head “No,” after all, the garlic chicken was arriving as the fifth course, to be followed by the pork ribs. And then the blue cheese plate (our Pentecostal friends tasted blue cheese for the first time, but it was not pleasing to their tongues). The topics returned to their comfort zone.

Our Goth garbed brother tells of intervention into sex trafficking and I realize how valuable tattoos are in identification, solidarity, and connection with many he serves. As we are talking about sharing Jesus, I mentioned what I learned from the late Clarence Bauman quoting, “I often wonder when folks talk about Jesus, which Jesus? I have learned to ask: 1) do you have clear beliefs about Jesus? 2) do you believe in Jesus? 3) do you believe Jesus? 4) do you believe what Jesus believed? The first is orthodoxy, the second Pietism, the third discipleship, the fourth is doing what you do ‘on the streets of Bakersfield’ caring for the oppressed and the misused and abused.“

“Now that is good” the Pentecostal man said with conviction. “That’s where it’s at, the Goth said,

To the right a family from Alhambra had brought a guest newly arrived from Berlin to eat Basque food, so then a few lines of Deutsch were exchanged. The ice cream came and we passed all the left over blue cheese from the whole long table down to the German man who wanted it instead of the “Eis.”

As people rose to leave, we got the final parting “heads up on the second coming 11/17. It was a bit like saying goodbye after a church potluck. The Methodists and the Mennonites stayed behind to reflect on the mystery of how different faiths meet. We were still chuckling together as we got into our cars in the parking lot and waved “So long.”

Now that we are getting closer to 2017 and the “second coming,” I reflect on the many comings of Jesus, surprising us as we break bread.

The Anabaptist Comma

Walter Bruggemann once said, “The Apostles Creed leaps from the words, “born of the Virgin Mary”—to—“suffered under Pontius Pilate” with nothing but a comma between. “Only a comma, nothing more than a comma, but Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh what a comma!” We Anabaptists confess His life as well as His death and resurrection. We are saved by it all, or incarnation means nothing at all.

Our church Peace Mennonite Fellowship created this liturgy which adds what we call “the Anabaptist Comma” to the Apostles Creed.

I believe in God , The Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,

Welcomed by shepherds,
Greeted by Magi,
Pursued by Herod,
Sheltered in Egypt,
Nurtured by Mary,
Taught by Joseph,
Baptized by John
Called by the Father,
Anointed by His Spirit,
Tempted by Satan,
Rejected by Nazareth,
Followed by disciples,
Heard by multitudes,
Understood by simple,
Despised by clergy,
Praised by lepers,
Touched by the ill,
Seen by the blind,
Hosted by outcasts,
Rejected by siblings,
Obeyed by psychotics,
Rebuked by Martha,
Embraced by Mary,
Anointed by prostitute,
Cheered by crowds,
Loved by John,
Denied by Peter,
Abandoned by all,
Hated by the Powers,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day he rose again;
He ascended into heaven,
He is seated on the right hand of the Father,
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The holy catholic church,
The communion of saints,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.