Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reading the Tea Leaves

Mother and Alfred were sitting in the Solarium on a Sunday afternoon. Before them lay the remains of their afternoon tea. The Royal Doulton Old Country Roses teapot stood empty and the matching Royal Doulton teacups and saucers held only the dregs of their afternoon Darjeeling tea. 

Mother swirled the remaining tea in the bottom of her teacup and looked at it in a dissatisfied sort of way, and said, “Alfred, It is grand that we have finally called a new Rector, but I must admit to more than a modicum of anxiety.”

“What is it Mother?” asked Alfred.

“I see trouble in the bottom of the cup,” said Mother looking at the tea leaves, “It’s old Harry Prudhomme. He is just never satisfied with anything. On the surface he seems like such a lovely fellow, socially quite acceptable and so very spiritual, but if you stop to listen to him he is quite disappointing.”

“How so, Mother?” asked Alfred

Mother shook her head, “Well, Alfred, old Harry never seems to stop complaining. There is always something he doesn’t like. It’s gotten so that I just try to avoid him in Coffee Hour after Church.  It’s always something. He doesn’t like the music. He doesn’t like the soloist. The choir robes need to be cleaned. There was a mistake in the bulletin. The sermon was too long. Why can’t they put the better green hanging on the altar? That young Mrs. Wilkins should keep better control of the children. Now he is saying that the Calling Committee didn’t to a good job. If it’s not one thing it’s another.”

“The problem with Church, Mother,” said Alfred, “is that it’s made up of people.”

“Well, you are absolutely right Alfred,” said Mother.  People can really spoil things for others.  Do you remember Mildred Hutchins?  Mildred couldn’t take a hint and just continued grousing; but you know me Alfred, I’m not meek and mild. When she wouldn’t stop grousing I finally said, ‘Stow it, Mildred! No-one wants to listen to you complaining.’  Well, Mildred was furious and went storming out, but not before saying, ‘You’re new.  What would you know about it?’ She was an awful woman.  Isn’t there a verse in Proverbs that says something like, ‘A cheerful heart makes a good medicine, but a grousing spirit rots the bones,’ or something like that?  Even if it’s not there, it ought to be. Well, she is long gone, and I’m still here in our church, but so is old Harry Prudhomme. I just hope that our new Rector has a thick skin.”

“You know, Mother,” said Alfred. “Every church that has tucked some history under its belt has its complainers like Mildred and old Harry.  In the tale of King Arthur and the Round Table Sir Launcelot du Lake said, “It is hard to take out of the flesh that which is bred in the bone” (Mallory, Le Morte d'Arthur).  What Harry needs is not just a heart transplant, but a bone replacement.  The very structure of his life may need to be torn up, so that God in his grace can begin again. Harry is like a ruined pot on the wheel and the Potter may have to scrape him off the wheel, pound the lumps out of him, and reshape him all over again. Even at that Harry might just say to God, ‘I am perfectly fine, thank you. Leave me alone.’ He must be very unhappy; we really need to pray for him.”

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