I made it a point this summer to become cultured. My plan was simple: listen to NPR, read a New York Times best seller, jam to Bob Marley, hang out with heathens. To carry out this brilliant plan, I picked up a weekend gig at the coffee shop. “Free coffee and culture,” I thought to myself. “Perfect.”
I was eager to reconnect with my colleagues and learn about what’s been happening at our town’s central hub. First there was Amirah, my half Middle Eastern manager who practiced a loose form of Islam and drank boxed wine on the weekends. Next was her sister, Lyla, whose father jokingly tried to sell her in Iran for a herd of camels when she was ten. She was my fellow Bob Marley enthusiast. Then there was Erika, a 6’1 lesbian who always spoke her mind and would have contributed greatly to a sitcom. Finally, there was Taylor, a seventeen year-old rebel who drank heavily and wore men’s shirts and a sign on her forehead that said, “(fill-in-the-blank) off!”
The initial conversations were basic: Joe “Dirt” and Joe “Clean” were still getting their tall Americanos, the building owner is still screwing with the doctor’s wife who works next door, and the Christian camp staff still doesn’t tip, doesn’t smile, and calls the headquarters every day if the “Artist of the Month” hangs a suggestive painting.
As the summer progressed so did my conversations with co-workers, specifically about Christianity. I learned from Erika that she grew up in church, but phased out when she didn’t comply with the teaching anymore. Taylor was content with rebelling against her alcoholic father and passive mother, and preferred drinking away her problems rather than dealing with them. Amirah and Lyla were well liked and goal-oriented; a complete life change seemed unnecessary.
My cause received no help from across the counter. Sunday mornings were filled with people who were upset because they were late for church, a group of conservative twenty-somethings would sit around in exclusivity and read their Bibles to each other, and the Christian camp staff would demand that Bob Marley be turned off whenever they were in the coffee shop. For the first time, I saw the Christian culture from the outside, and I was ashamed.
Erika and I were preparing to close when we noticed that Laura was the only customer left. She hid her face as she hovered over a weathered notebook, writing furiously.
“You think she’s okay?” Erika asked. I shrugged. As my co-worker approached the table, I noticed a steady stream of tears coming down Laura’s face. Erika listened intently for several minutes before giving her a hug and returning to the other side of the counter.
“She’s dying,” Erika said solemnly. “Some rare influenza. The doctor is giving her just under two years to live.”
“One love / one heart / let’s get together and feel all right / hear the children cryin’ / sayin’ give thanks and praise the Lord and I will feel all right / sayin’ lets get together and feel all right.”
I was challenged to evaluate my faith that night. It’s hard not to when a lesbian does the work of a Christian, and Bob Marley sounds a lot like Jesus.