By Tom Holmes
The attendance at Poplar Park Community Church was way below average last Sunday. It's what usually happens on the Fourth of July weekend.
No one saw the fireworks that happened after worship coming. The few members who had come to church were sitting around the tables in the social hall summarizing where they went, what they did and how much they ate during the long holiday weekend.
At one table Sharissa Hawkins had started the round robin sharing. "Uncle Rosco's bar b q is so good. Lord have mercy. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it. And of course I brought sweet potato pie."
Dorothy Aschenbrenner was sitting next to Sharissa. "Guess it's my turn," she said and then laughed. "Gerhardt and I stayed home all day and then watched the concert in our capital on channel 11. At our age we can't keep up with you young folks."
"Did you go up to Manitowoc to see your sister-in-law and nephews?" Eric asked his pastor.
"I did," Pastor Walt replied. "Watched the fireworks down at Red Arrow Park. Played a little basketball on the driveway with Brian and Matt."
"How are they doing?"
Mitty considered Eric's question for a moment. "So so, I guess. When there's a distraction like the fireworks, they seem to lighten up. Like the boys really loved beating me at H-O-R-S-E."
Pastor Walt paused and then added, "You know, it didn't feel the same. Not just because Herman is gone, but something else. . .I can't quite put my finger on it. . .something else felt. . . "
And that's the spark that set off the verbal fireworks.
Dominique broke into Pastor Mitty's pondering. "And I know what it is." The banker was wearing a pin striped blue suit. Mitty never could understand how Dominique could be comfortable dressed to the nines in 80% humidity. "What's missing is understanding what the holiday is all about. I mean, people treat it like a mini-vacation in the middle of summer. You know, drink too much beer, stuff yourself like a pig and forget to give thanks to God that we live in the greatest country in the world. Come on people. The Fourth of July is America's birthday."
Pastor Walt felt his jaw tighten and his anxiety rise. Dominique usually didn't get emotional. And as he looked around he saw Dorothy's heading nodding in agreement, while Sharissa was clearly signaling her displeasure with Dominique's patriotism.
"Dominique, how can you say we're the greatest country in the world when 75% of the young black men in the neighborhood where my office is don't have a job?"
Mitty always thought of himself as a lover, not a fighter. And the open expression of anger by some of the black folks in his congregation was something this white boy from Wisconsin had never gotten comfortable with. He also knew from experience that once Sharissa's volcano had erupted, there was no putting the social worker's righteous anger back in the bottle.
Pastor Walt saw Dominique raising his hands in a gesture of surrender, and that actually made Sharissa laugh but she was preachin' now and wasn't about to stop.
"You know it's nothing personal, Dominique," she continued, "but your office in the Loop is light years from Englewood. The constitution made slaves three-fifths of a person. Jim Crow laws might be gone but the system keeps most of our people from being fully human."
Dominique, Dorothy and Eric weren't as sensitive as their pastor, so they were able to actually enjoy the exchange. Besides, they knew that there was a lot of truth in what Sharissa was saying, and, to be honest, their pastor's sermons were long on content and short on emotion.
"I hear you, Sharissa." Dominique was not intimidated by the social worker, and he did like her a lot. "But, you keep focusing on the glass being half empty. Don't forget that I grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes. My perspective from my office in the Loop is certainly different than yours, but it's equally valid."
Sharissa couldn't say "you have a good point" to Dominique, but, feeling like she had finished her sermon, she was content to let the exchange rest for the time being.
Pastor Walt sighed in relief and his blood pressure went back down to 130 over 80.
Everyone had left the church for home and Mitty was locking the front door when he saw Henry approaching.
"Happy Fourth of July, Rev," said the homeless man.
"Henry, it's July seventh already."
"I know," Henry replied. "but I want the celebration to keep going. You know, Rev, we live in a great country."
Pastor Mitty was about to ask how a homeless guy could feel good about America when Henry said, "By the way, do you have any of those McDonalds gift certificates left?"