Garret was a simple pastor from Nebraska and as he walked into the beautiful old cathedral repurposed for this conference, he felt immediately judged. He stood at the registration table and looked through the doors to the sanctuary. Through the big wooden doorway he could see the organizer, the young Dr. Scranton, trim wasteline and well-groomed like a white Trevor Noah. He scrambled about, straightening the white, pressed table cloths, while holding down his fitted blue sports coat and tie to prevent them from brushing over the pre-dressed salads and candle flames.
"Hello sir, welcome to the 'Reconstruction Podcast' conference." The registration lady hadn't looked up at Garret yet, busy writing a name on a list. Are you an influencer, a distributer of the podcast material, or are you media?
"A pastor. So, I suppose, an influencer."
"Thank you. What is the size of your congregation?"
"Three churches adding up to about 100."
"100,000?! Great!" She said, looking up as she reached for one pile of resources, including a book and canvas bag. But she glanced at his bulging dad-belly, surprised and slowed.
"No, no, no," he smiled. "100 total people in the little Nebraskan town where they think the podcast started."
"Oh, okay. I'm sorry." She smiled up at him insincerely. Here you go. She handed him just the paper handouts on top of the stack.
Five round tables filled the nave where pews used to be. Garret set his work bag by one of the chairs and examined the beautiful space. The light streamed through the stained glass onto the ornately carved ambulatory. Other people floated in. He recognized TV preachers and Pastors who had advised the White House.
He stood off to the side by himself, watching and listening. This was kind of how he learned about people. Garret had receding hair, and didn't believe in spending money on clothes to impress others. So whether or not someone started conversation with him in a crowd like this told him about their motives.
He overheard a powerful looking black lady speaking to a large man in a pinstripe suit, "Obviously what Selah is doing is brilliant. I'm here to see how we can customize the podcast specifically to the black population in our nation. They need to hear it. Has anyone found out how to contact him yet?"
Her counterpart replied. "I don't think so. Still as mysterious as when it all started. Never even seen him at these conferences that are about his work--at least not that we know of--we still don't even know what he looks like. About all they know is his parables are mainly set in Nebraska."
"Yeah, those parables are amazing. Even my husband who is a practicing Jew and NYC Lawyer listens to those parables."
The woman glanced at Garret politely and moved toward the tables. Garret could see the strategies start to play out in the minds of the people approaching the tables. Who would they sit by? Where would they be best seen? When the organizer saw someone important he chatted with and directed them to a seat he seemed to have in mind for them.
Garret found himself fascinated by a homeless man who had wandered in toward the back. He was talking to an old church lady who was gathering the offering envelopes from box. When Garret turned back, all five tables had been filled. One critical person must have sat down and the rest politely scrambled for the best positions. Garret looked around and saw one pew left at the back of the room. The homeless man sat down there, crossing his legs and folding his hands in his lap. He had untamed black curly hair with shocks of white swirled in. Indian maybe? He was thin and hunched as if he worked at a desk all day. He had an almost caricature of a face, big eyes and overbite. Five O'clock shadow.
Garret delicately plucked up his bag and walked back to the pew with the homeless man. Garret smiled at him and the man shared the comic disdain of Garret's lost seat. Garret liked this guy. He had a green, hooded rain jacket on and scuffed up brown penny-loafers. Actually maybe he wasn't homeless. Garret sat down a few feet from him as they started the conference. Garret lifted out his iPad, opened up twitter and looked up to listen.
Before too long the man next to him had inched within a foot of Garret and was looking at his screen.
Garret glanced at him, half entertained. The man's mouth was opened. He whispered, "Wait, you're pastor Garret V?"
"Yeah?" He was pleasantly surprised but also aware the man's loud whisper echoed throughout the cathedral. "I'm live tweeting to my congregations."
The Indian man replied, "No way! My mom follows you! You're doing such great work with the widows in Hastings!"
"Really?!" Garrett turned to him, but also replying in a whisper significantly quieter. "I thought only people from Nebraska followed me."
"I'm from Nebraska!"
"Really?! What's your name?"
"Well, my mother calls me Sharanahan. Indian name."
"Sure, sure!" Garret looked up and caught the eye of the organizer who was now very aware of the whispering men in the back. Garret looked back to the Indian man, "Well, lets talk more at the break. I'd love to connect with you all."
"Yes, I'd love to!" The man was so excited it no longer came out as a whisper. His voice echoed across the attendees and back like a wave returning.
"Excuse me, gentlemen in the back." The organizer paused his talk to address them. The people all turned around and saw the two frumpy men in the back. "Would you please conduct any private conversations in a breakout room or outside?"
"Oh, yes! I'm so sorry." The man next to Garret stood up. Garrett just nodded and put his head down, trying to blend into the pew. There was a pause as if they were all waiting for something.
And in that pause, the man's voice echoed back to Garret and something about it seemed familiar. So strangely familiar somehow. And as Garret looked up at the man who was looking down at him, he realized who the man was. The man gestured with a throw of his head to come outside with him. A wry smile grew on Garret's face. He put his iPad in his bag and got up. They left, chatting, without even looking back at all the important, indignant people in the room.
Raw Spoon 1-30-23