By Kindly Words

Even though I’m near a cacophonous corner on Hawthorne, I choose to sit at this cafe table because there’s always something of interest here.  I mention this to the man at the neighboring table. His name is Joe, I find, and we are instantly serenaded by an older gentleman on the corner. (I’ve seen him here before. Even though his back was turned, he’d swiveled and given me a knowing nod before he began). His choice today is “Faith of Our Fathers,” all verses.

…Faith of our fathers, we will love

Both friend and foe in all our strife;

And preach thee, too, as love knows how,

By kindly words and virtuous life….


The preacher opens his Bible and reads a long passage from Jeremiah. I can hardly hear him through the crush of buses and trucks, with a shouting match between pedestrian and driver, each claiming right of way. Meanwhile I’m thinking Jeremiah was thrown into a pit because his listeners hated what he had to say.


I have no beef with this Christian on the corner. (Now he’s singing “I Surrender All.”) He doesn’t shout above the chaos-chorus. He seems part of it. He could be the grace in this mess. He could be John the Baptist crying in this wilderness.


From his table, Joe shouts to the preacher, who walks over. All I hear is the preacher saying “Jesus” very gently several times in the conversation; then he crosses the street and is gone. Joe turns to me and asks proudly, “Did you hear what I said?”


Me: No, I couldn’t hear over the traffic.


Joe: I shouted, “Hey, what are you selling?” He didn’t get the joke, so he came over and said, “Jesus.” I said, “You can’t sell Jesus!” He didn’t get it. I asked again, “What are you selling?” and he said again: “Jesus.” Then he asked me if I wanted to be baptized! “Are you kidding?” I said. He said something about Jesus again and left. He wasn’t very good at marketing!


M: Wow.


J: I’ve been selling for 30 years. When you’ve got a customer, you don’t give up that fast. Unless you know you don’t have a sale. Then you walk away and don’t waste your time.


M: Maybe he knew he didn’t have a sale.


J: You know, you’re right. That could be. But you have to at least respond. You don’t just walk away. Anyway, he was just reading on this street corner. Nobody could even hear him. What a waste!


M: I couldn’t hear much, but I could tell it was from the Bible. You know, I’m a Christian, too. I was just writing in my journal, saying it’s hard for me to judge

whether or not that preacher’s foolish to sing hymns on Hawthorne. God asked people in the Bible to do some strange things. God asked the prophet Isaiah to walk naked in the streets for 3 years! Maybe God’s asking that man to read and sing out on this busy



J: Because maybe one little word will seep through.


M: Yes.

—Margaret Kellermann