Last week, I stopped at a convenience store on the way to my Air National Guard weekend drill. The store has a reputation for being a stereotypical stop-and-rob, but I was expecting trouble to be hibernating at 5:30 a.m.
Inside, standing before the cashier, I opened my wallet searching for the exact change that would allow me a quick exit, respectful of the line building behind me. When I found my wallet empty, I patted my pockets for coins.
Impatient with my search, the clerk scrutinized the three young men congregating behind me. He suddenly asked one of them, “What you got in your pocket? You gotta pay for that.”
“I ain’t got (expletive) in my pocket! I don’t steal, man!” the man replied with a furious slap to his sagging pants that made it clear his integrity has been questioned on more than one occasion.
My first thought was one of annoyance. I was here first. You can deal with him after I leave.
Uh, oh. I didn’t have any change. I’d have to use my ATM card.
While fumbling through my wallet and juggling hot tea, my credit cards fell onto the counter. Gazing where they fell, I thought, just pick a card, any card! So, I slid the card through the machine, but fat-fingered my PIN.
Wrong code. Behind me a murmuring escalation was building.
“Try again,” the clerk suggested.
“Man, you want me to empty my (expletive) pockets? ”
I rapidly slid my ATM card through the machine, and as quickly as my ATM was accepted, I flew through the exit.
Out in my darkened car, I trembled, half-expecting to see a muzzle flash. Realizing that I too was caught in the neighborhood stereotypes, I slowed my breathing by considering a half dozen woulda-coulda-shoulda responses. In other words, WWJD, (What would Jesus do?)
Perhaps he’d have given the man a look that said, “Ah, come on man! He caught you. Just pay up or return it.”
I knew that I enjoyed a certain privilege in the clerk’s eyes. After all I was an aging white man in a military uniform and he assumed I too was above suspicion; he said nothing about my bulging cargo pockets stuffed with a cell phone, a hat, a book and car keys.
Jesus taught that we must count the cost of serving him. Visiting troubled places can certainly have a high cost, but truthfully, I think Jesus, unlike me, wouldn’t have been so fast to make a hastened retreat. He’d be hanging out more often in this community and breaking down those kinds of stereotypes as he often did.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “No Small Miracles.” He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board-certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at 321-549-2500, email him at [email protected], visit his website at thechaplain.net or write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.