Thursday, July 06, 2006


I sat in front of my clean table cloth and ordered the pho (pronounced "fu," short "u" sound), Vietnamese soup. I looked to my right, noticed the large white soup spoons, the paper encased chopsticks, the bright red hot sauce, the yellow, liquidy fish sauce, and a finger smudge on the window. Windex. I had the thought of windex and a before-and-after view of the greasy print. I smiled at the thought, and then wiped the crazy grin off my face in case anyone was watching. The restaurant was full of customers, a veritable UN convention of ethnicity, however, heavy on the Viet. I thought about pho for a moment---big white bowl of rice vermicelli, thinly sliced stewing beef swimming in hot fish, coriander, and beef stock, accompanied by a garnish of bean sprouts, basil leaves, lime wedges, and hot, green chilis. In my minds eye I saw the steam rising into my nostrils, and felt the warm moisture clearing my sinuses, giving me a sauna moment.

I snapped back to reality and realized that no one had come with any food. I checked my watch and almost thirty minutes had elapsed since the waitress left. I took a large drink of water and wondered if I was a little dehydrated, so I took another long swig and set the glass down. I looked at the ice and the glistening water two-thirds of the way down. I asked myself if this glass was clean and thought of other customers with their mouths touching the rim, but I quickly blocked this out after flinching from revulsion.

I glanced down at my watch one more time and a few more minutes had passed, so I looked around at the waitresses bringing trays of food to other customers. I mouthed silently, "This isn't good service." It felt good to say it. I turned left to see if anyone could see me, and then entertained the bizarre idea that I was actually in a whole different dimension of space and time at another restaraunt entirely, maybe some other planet. I laughed out loud. A few people looked over, dispelling the whole other dimension theory. My lips formed a "no." I was talking to myself. Kind of crazy. Well, as long as nobody really knows. Nobody knows that I say things like this, well, to myself. I smiled again. No one knows. Then, God knows. He does. He actually knows what I'm thinking. But then, where is my soup? That's what I'm here for.

A waitress passed close enough to get her attention, so I spoke. "Maam. Maam." "Yes, sir." I looked up at her and noticed that she could do without some of the make-up. "I ordered my soup quite awhile ago. Do you know how much longer before I get it?" "Well sir, I hope you don't mind me saying so...." I could see one silver tooth wedged between crooked yellow ones in the part between her lips as she talked. "...but we thought you would understand. We didn't bring you any pho...." I noticed she pronounced it with the correct Vietnamese accent. "....but we really did want to in our hearts. All of us, in our hearts believed in it, wanted to do it, so we thought you would understand. Should I bring you your bill?" I nodded yes.

I did understand because it was something that I had heard quite a few times. God only judged us by our hearts. How could I do any different? I mean I wanted some soup, but now that I knew her heart, I couldn't expect any kind of external requirement, could I? God, after all, was getting this kind of heart-felt non-performance from us all the time. If I just paid for my pho, well the pho in their hearts, then I could feel what God was feeling and that could help me grow. I was still hungry, but the growth kind of made it worth it to me. As I reached for my billfold, feeling the pain from the tendonitis in my right shoulder as I pryed it out of my back pocket, I was happy their hearts were in it.


Anonymous said...

Excellent satire. I just may use this story as a sermon illustration sometime. Indeed, "faith without works is dead."

Jerry Bouey said...

You sure do know how to paint a picture. Good illustration - at least your heart was in it! ;)

Dave Mallinak said...

I hope you didn't pay them. Well, I should say that I hope you paid them in your heart, but not with real money. See, I get this whole heart thing to. In my heart, I wanted you to pay them, only I wanted you to pay them in your heart. That way they could know.

Anonymous said...

I want to know if the reverse is true: Can we do anything we want as long as we aren't doing it in our hearts? If our heart is not in it, for instance, can we steal. I mean, we don't want to steal, but we really need a Harley Davidson? How 'bout it?

A concerned, albeit overweening, brother.

"Who's the weaker brother now?"

Kent Brandenburg said...

Somebody asked me if this actually happened. Many parts of this story are true, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent. As long as you didn't mean it, Brother Mitchell, what can I say? With gas prices right now, you could even argue good stewardship.