Black Bean Soup

Pastoral Messages | January 3, 2016

Steve is bright, resourceful, and fun loving, blessed with the capacity in not taking himself too seriously. He also happens to be deeply faithful – a guy who loves the Lord and who, with his wife Joan, has made St. Paul Lutheran Church a second home for nearly 20 years.

Seventeen years ago, Steve essentially learned bass guitar in front of the congregation. I remember well his early strumming. He was all thumbs in those days, playing with a finesse that resembled someone trying to write neatly with the non-dominant hand. Today he is a rock star, an anchor of rhythmic musicality in the back row of our Open Spirit ensemble.

Several Sundays ago, Steve dropped by Panera after church to pick up food to bring home to his wife. The restaurant was out of quart-size takeout containers so the server handed him his black bean soup in four separate bowls. Once the four bowls were strapped into the backseat of his pickup truck, Steve drove off. A few blocks away, he pulled into a convenience store to pick up the coffee he forgot to purchase. As he walked toward the door he spotted a gray-haired man with sunglasses and shoulder-length hair – a Unabomber look-a-like, Steve recalled later. Unkempt. Unshaven. Possibly homeless.

The man was carrying a pool cue stick and had a guitar case strapped to his back. No respectable bass player walks by someone carrying a guitar case without saying hello. “Hey. You a musician?” “All my life,” the man told Steve. He then added, “Can you do me a favor?” whereupon he told Steve the address of where he wanted to go. “I got you covered,” Steve said.

When Steve went inside to purchase the coffee, he asked the clerk if this guy outside was legit. Safe? Yeah, he was a regular around the joint. No problem. Steve helped the guy and his cue stick climb into the front seat, and off they went. “Have you had anything to eat recently?” Steve asked his friend. “No, not at all,” Jeff said. Steve clicked into high gear. “You like black bean soup?” The guy looked as if he had never heard of the stuff before, though his eyes revealed a world of hurt. Steve reached toward the back seat and handed the man a bowl, a baguette, and a plastic spoon. “Here you go. Treat yourself to lunch.”

This is when the guy looked straight at Steve with complete disbelief, “Who are you, man?!” Steve told him he was just a bass player. Off they went. They talked music. Jeff expressed interest in wanting to play together sometime. Steve was friendly but unready to share his phone number.

When they pulled into the parking lot of the address the man had provided, Steve put his truck into park. There was no pool hall nearby, but the man gathered up his cue stick and guitar case, which turned out to be full of bottles and cans for the recycling center, and prepared to climb out. That’s when a young kid in his 20s came up and knocked on the driver’s window. “You got some jumper cables? I need a jump.” Steve rolled down his window to say, “I’ve got you covered. Be right there. First, let me take care of getting this guy on his way.”

The pool shark, who may or may not have been a musician, looked up at Steve and said, “Man, who are you, anyway?!” “Just a bass player,” was the reply.

Sometimes I think of the blood spilled, the barrels of ink drained, and the countless lives exhausted, as Christians have waged doctrinal wars over the centuries. What if, instead of hammering out intricate systems of belief, each of us simply astounded the world with our way of life? Imagine living your life in such compelling fashion – so hospitably – that other people could not help themselves from wanting to know this Jesus whom you know. Wouldn’t that be something?

– Peter W. Marty

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