My dad smoked a cigarette after every meal. It was a ritual for him. When I was growing up, smoking was much more prevalent and accepted than it is now. He would either sit at the table where we ate and have a smoke or sit on the back porch. If we were in a restaurant, there were always ashtrays available. Just to show how pervasive smoking was, think about something you have probably seen in a church kitchen cupboard. Somewhere there is probably a stack of clear class plates with little compartments. These are called “snack trays.” (Maybe you even had some at home as we did.) There is a larger compartment for cake or whatever the dessert or snack was, there is a smaller, square compartment into which the glass tea cup fits. There is another square compartment that has a little curved ridge on one side of it. That is the place to set your cigarette down. That little square is the ash tray. My dad did not only smoke after eating. He also smoked at his desk at work, smoked while he watched tv at night and so on. Of course, he also died at almost my exact age right now of either a stroke or a heart attack with a lit  cigarette in his hand.

I am not a smoker but I still have a ritual after I eat. For me, it only happens at home. I play solitaire. I still sometimes play with a deck of cards. Sometimes I play a game on my phone. I also do this while watching tv—following in my dad’s footsteps. The fact that I have played solitaire with cards so often over so many years has made me a really good shuffler. When we are playing cards with grandkids, I am the official shuffler. One time my shuffling skills shocked some teen-agers who did not know me. I had taken a group of teen-agers from our church in Burlington, Iowa, to  Albuquerque on a mission trip. We went by train overnight. If you have ever been on the Southwest Chief in the summertime, then you know that there are lots of kids on the train, mostly boys. That is because this train stops near the boy scout camp at Raton in New Mexico. That is, apparently, the pinnacle of outdoor camping for boy scouts. On the way out there were lots of excited boys on our train. On the way back there were lots of tired and smelly teen-aged boys on our train. . .

On the way back I was sitting in the snack car playing cards with some of our girls. The girls had attracted a bevy of the afore-mentioned smelly boys. They were watching us play cards. When they saw me shuffle cards, they were impressed. When the girls told them I was their pastor, they were stunned. They had apparently never seen a pastor with card shark level shuffling skills. This was something they never thought they would encounter.

The world has a lot of assumptions about churches and their leaders and members. Those who have never been to church think we are either the silly, naïve do-gooders by which we are usually portrayed in the media. Or, they think we are hypocrites who think we are better than everyone else. Or they just think that we are old.

How can we help them see who we really are—fallen people who know that we are forgiven; people striving to understand ourselves as beloved children of God even in the face of all that the world throws at us; people who have been called to use our energy, intelligence, imagination and love in service of the gospel. If only they knew that we are real people who, in spite of that, have been convinced of our salvation and called to share that good news with the world.


Susan D. Krummel (Sue)

Executive Presbyter

Presbytery of Chicago