Common courtesy

Common courtesy

By By Dr. Robert R. Kopp

By Dr. Robert R. Kopp

Common courtesy

One of my favorite scenes in Terms of Endearment is played out at the cash register of a supermarket. A character castigates the checker for being discourteous to a customer. The checker says, “I didn’t think I was being rude.” “Then,” comes the retort, “you must be from New York.”

Common courtesies seem to be on the way out. Please, pardon me, thank you, may I, and the like seem to have gone the way of persimmon golf clubs, wooden tennis rackets, IBM Selectrics, and anything resembling pizza west of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Anyone who doubts this hasn’t been to the mall lately or tried to get to the shrimp at the seafood buffet; not to mention the end of the last-shall-be-first ethic at church dinners.

And I’ve been astounded if not amused by the liberties taken by people with their pastors.

You know what I’m talking about; and if you don’t, I’m not giving any hints!

But I remember one of the most gifted seminarians to ever pass through my homiletics courses at Kansas City’s Nazarene Theological Seminary back in the early ’80s. Only a few months into his first pastorate, he quit because he couldn’t handle comments on his car, clothes, children, where he lived and went to eat, hairline, waistline, and all of the other things so vital to the advancement of the Kingdom. I think they were even upset because he didn’t like any of the pizza places in town.

I’m just kind of kidding about that last one.

Actually, I’ve escaped most of that over the years. I haven’t been as above it all as my mom pretends, or as below it all as a few have charged.

Again, you know what I’m talking about; and if you don’t, check out what’s in your eye, and you’ll know what’s in mine.

Yet I’ll never forget the woman in Kansas City who swept into my study without warning and started, “I don’t like your beard!”

Hello, just dropped by to see you, I’d like to chat for a few minutes, and other warmer salutations were bypassed for an assault on my looks that tempted a kneejerker about her thick and toxic perfume being pungent enough to drop a bull at 40 paces.

Instead, I took the pastoral approach and said with neither smile (didn’t feel like it) nor scowl (felt like it), “I hear you saying you don’t like my beard.”

And to think some therapists get a bundle for that.

Fortunately, I’ve learned over the years that it’s usually the second or third thing that someone says that gets to the real issues. The first line is bait—inviting or inciting.

It’s like a watch. If it’s not working, don’t look at the hands. Look deeper!

Anyway, I spent enough time to discover her son had a beard, and she thought of their awful relationship whenever she saw my beard.

Parenthetically, aren’t most of our problems generated by psychopathological transferences?

In one of my dimmer moments in ministry, I offered to shave it off if it would make her happier. She accepted with a smile (liked it) hinting at a scowl (really liked it).

That very next Sunday after worship, I looked forward to greeting her and absorbing her gratitude. She approached me, took my hand, and said with that scowl of a smile, “Now about your moustache.”

I learned two things that day.

I’m not called to make people happy. I’m supposed to call people to faithfulness; reminding myself to be faithful along the way.

The other lesson is be careful who defines you.

That was reinforced again during Dr. Rick Wolling’s exemplary charge to Cliff Mansley as senior pastor of St. Joseph, Missouri’s Brookdale Church on May 10, 2002. Dr. Wolling asked two rhetorical questions to encourage and exhort Cliff’s pastoral definition: “Who do you want to be as pastor of the church? Whose do you want to be as pastor of the church?”

These questions must be asked of any Christian in any vocation: “Who do you want to be? Whose do you want to be?”

Walking the talk of Christianity is honoring the Lord whenever and wherever through whatever.

Or as Jesus instructed, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself” (see Matthew 22:34-40).

Simply, love God and be kind to one another.

It’s the most basic common courtesy.

Dr. Robert Kopp is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Loves Park.

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