Last Saturday, Pastor Walter Mitty, Asch and Dominique happened to walk into the Main Café at the same time. It was the first time they had been together in person for the weekly men’s fellowship breakfast in 15 months.
Alice, sporting an American flag apron, greeted them with, “Well, if it isn’t the bleeding-heart liberals club.”
“It’s good to see you too,” Dominique replied with a smile. “I see that you and the other servers are wearing aprons decorated for Memorial Day.”
She put her hands on her hips and said, “Yeah, well someone in this town has to show a little patriotism.”
On their way to the big table in the back corner of the diner, Asch leaned over to Dominique and said, “That’s the first time anyone has called me a liberal.”
And Dominique replied, “For Alice, anyone who admires Liz Cheney is a liberal!”
Pastor Mitty tried to steer the conversation toward the Pentecost story and the gift of the Holy Spirit which he had preached on seven days earlier, but the six men sitting around the table wanted to keep coming back to Memorial Day.
Asch started the conversation with a question. “Am I the only veteran at the table?” his eyes panning the six other faces.
“I never thought about it before,” confessed Eric Anderson, “but you’re right, Asch.”
That opened the door for the secretary of the Poplar Park American Legion Post to wax eloquent about the flag, motherhood and apple pie. “OK, so Alice is a curmudgeon,” he began, “but don’t let her grumpiness prevent you from hearing what she has to say. I mean, when was the last time we sang God Bless America in church? We used to have the American flag standing just to the right of the altar.”
“I’m only 25,” said Troy Williams as he spread grape jelly on his toast, “so I don’t understand why the American flag is such a bone of contention.”
Asch drew a deep breath. “Troy, the flag used to be a symbol that drew Americans together. Kind of a spiritual glue. But now it seems like liberals — or at least the ones on the far left — are ashamed of it. Like they feel they have to apologize to the rest of the world for being citizens of a country, which thousands and thousands of people risk their lives trying to get into.”
“As you know, Troy,” said Dominique when he saw that Asch had paused to let someone else join the conversation, “I didn’t vote for 45 even though I’m a card-carrying Republican. Just like Asch, I wish Americans were more patriotic. Part of the problem is that the flag — like face masks, Birkenstock sandals, and cowboy boots — have become so politicized. If you hesitate to get a vaccine, you also get labeled as a believer in the Big Lie.”
“You mean sort of like what happened to Colin Kaepernick?”
“Well, yeah.” Dominique looked around the table at the six other heads nodding in agreement. “You saw the pictures of the riot on Jan. 6th, right? Remember how you saw the American flag right next to the Confederate battle flag?”
After thinking for a moment, Troy asked, “But isn’t that like letting those crazies define the meaning of what Asch said used to unite us?”
Mitty let the silence hang for half a minute as the men chewed on their hash browns along with what their youngest member said.
“Come to think of it,” Mitty said, “I saw President Biden on TV making some announcement and I thought I saw an American flag pin in his lapel. I have to believe he was making one small attempt to bridge the chasm created by the culture wars.”
“That reminds me of a book Trudi and I are reading,” Ryan Becker said as he folded his napkin and set it on the table. “It’s called The 5 Love Languages.”
Dominique nodded. “By Gary Chapman?”
“Right. What Chapman argues is that different people feel loved in ways that other people don’t, and if you want to nurture a relationship, you have to be kind of bilingual. Like know your friend’s or spouse’s language as well as your own.”
Asch was intrigued. “Say more.”
“Well, Trudi asked me the other day if I really loved her, and I got defensive and listed all the things I do for her. She said she appreciated that, but what she wanted most was to spend an hour at least every other day just talking about how each of us is feeling.”
Asch’s jaw dropped and his eyebrows lifted. “Almost verbatim what Dorothy keeps telling me.”
“I wonder,” Ryan concluded, “if President Biden is trying to speak a love language that conservatives understand.”
“Maybe you’re onto something,” said Eric. “I wonder if that was hard for him to do, I mean knowing it would be a turn off to some in his party.”
A lightbulb went on at that moment in the head of the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church.
“Remember the Pentecost story from last Sunday?” he asked. “One of the things the Holy Spirit did was enable the disciples to speak to a diversity of people in different languages!”
“Even though it might not come naturally to them,” added Dominique.
“And even though,” Asch added with a semi-embarrassed smile, “it might have pushed them out of their comfort zones.”
“And the key,” thought Mitty, “is that you have to care more about nurturing the relationship than winning an argument.”
Tom Holmes writes a regular column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.