Monday, March 05, 2012

“American blind justice…”

There is a lovely bit of irony in Arlo Guthrie’s song Alice’sRestaurant, which is carried through in the movie by the same name. In the song, Officer Obie has arrested Guthrie for dumping trash, and he is required to go to court. Officer Obie, had compiled “27 eight-by-ten color photographs” of the crime scene with which to impress the judge of the severity of the crime.
We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. 
Man came in said, "All rise." 
We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down.
Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog.
And then at twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, 'cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American blind justice... And we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but that’s not what I came to tell you about.
Came to talk about the draft.
And this isn’t really about blind justice…

Our church, which is very small, has been without a pastor for almost a year, and another church in our denomination in the next town down the road, which is also very small, is also without a pastor. So the two of us put our heads together and thought perhaps we could find someone willing to pastor two small churches at the time. Together we could come up with enough money to provide a living wage. The idea is not without precedent – the Methodist minister in town takes care of two churches and so does the Presbyterian minister and so does the Catholic priest.

After weeding through lots of resumes and interviewing various candidates, the state coordinator for our denomination found someone in Michigan who said he would be willing to take this on. There were several conference calls between the woman at our church who is keeping things going, and the people at the other church, and the state coordinator, and this man. 

They invited him to come to Missouri and preach at both churches and he agreed to come over the weekend.

When she was explaining all of this to us, she mentioned he "had a hearing problem." But we didn't think anything about it. Her husband is a bit hard of hearing. We figured he was an older guy who had some hearing loss. Not a big deal.

The woman at our church is very excited. Last Sunday she requested that the piano player (me) and young man who plays the keyboard at our services have an extra practice session with the congregation to make sure we were familiar with the songs she was going to pick from the hymnbook and for us to work on the contemporary songs we play together so we would sound good.

We abandoned several songs because nobody could sing them well or the melody too high or the pianist had no clue -- just like I had to learn "southern gospel" type music when we joined the Freewill Baptists, I am having to learn another very different musical tradition with this denomination.

We had “meet and greet” carry-in dinner Saturday night, and when we walked into the other church’s fellowship hall and he came over to greet us, and introduced himself, and began to speak, I knew immediately by the way his voice sounded and the way he pronounced his words that his "hearing problem" was actually profound hearing loss. He is not totally deaf -- he does have a bit of hearing in one ear that is amplified with a hearing aid (and he can hear on the telephone) -- but he must read lips.

Our practice the Sunday before was not a waste of time, but it was very clear he was not going to be able to hear us singing. I couldn't help but remember what happened to Arlo. There was more to my smile as I spoke to him than pleasure in meeting him..

He did preach at both churches yesterday. He did a good job at our church and I assume he did a good job at the other church. I know all of us were required to pay very close attention to him and to watch his mouth as he spoke to understand him as much as he is required to watch our mouths when we speak for him to understand us. The “old man in overalls” at our church, who has trouble hearing, commented “I didn’t fall sleep once!”

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