My Long-suffering Father
Growing up next to a Shell Service station, my three sisters, my one brother, and I were all trained to serve gas at the pumps. It was during those marvelous days when the price of gas was 33 cents a gallon. And It was also during the time when there was such community trust that customers just called out "charge it" and drove off without bothering to sign.
Our particular bookkeeping system was to fill out a bill after they had driven off, and file it in a huge gray account book that Dad tabulated at the end of each month.
One day as I was about to take over my shift, my father asked me not to serve a certain neighbor gas anymore because he wasn't paying -- and I had to be strong because this certain man seemed to know exactly when I was on duty since I was the youngest server at the time.
I'll never forget the day he drove up and I had to go out and decline him service. I died a million deaths as I watched him drive off in a huff.
I confronted my father when he returned. "Do something," I said.
"Can't. Mennonites don't take people to court. It says in the Bible that in the church we are to settle it among ourselves peacefully."
"Then why don't you take him in front of the church?" I knew that was in the Bible somewhere.
"Then what would come of it? I would get my money, but how would he feel? How would the church feel?"
"But you're out of a lot of money!" The bill was close to a $1000 -- which was a lot of money during that time!
He just shrugged his shoulders.
And then the real tough question. "Then why try to stop him at all? Why don't you just let him run the bill up even higher? Is that allowed?" I asked.
He sighed. "It's complicated. Even though we can't always stop it, we can't empower them to sin... and do wrong."
I don't think those were his exact words but that is what I heard and that is what I took away from it.
Thereafter, every Sunday I would watch the man sitting near the front of the church, and I would wonder... at the injustice of it all.
One evening, I heard my father say to Mom, "That man has more problems than I have. He will pay when he can." The issue of justice becomes obsolete when a bad debt turns into a gift. Dad was no longer wronged; he had given the money away. That's why he could sleep at night.
Years later, the man eventually paid.
Even though I didn't understand it at all during the time, I was observing an alternative lifestyle. My father very intentionally tried to live out the "forgiveness lifestyle" that became so important to me in the writing of the book.
However, my frustration was that all of the examples of forgiveness my father used were in wartime non-resistance language or business conflict resolution lingo. Even the Bible, with all of its male authors and perspectives, didn't quite translate this complex concept into my world -- a young woman's world -- that was not only romantic and idealistic but also very practical and justice oriented.
“....concept: we whisper little kindnesses into the night, sending out love to no one in particular and everyone at once.” ― L.J. Buchanan, How To Fall Apart