Growing up, I lived through three or four coup d’états in my native Ghana. They were always filled with violence. I remember when an older woman was whipped in public and then paraded through the town by soldiers. And why, you might ask? Simply for selling bread at exorbitant prices and hoarding flour for baking bread. Each time the memory of the woman being maltreated by soldiers pops up, I ask myself why anyone in this world would want to treat another person in such a way.
A Christ Church parishioner, Sonni, tells a story of his experience as a kid during a civil war in Nigeria, a war known as the Nigerian-Biafran War in the early 70’s. There are horrible stories of regular air raids, incursions where innocent people became victims of their own government’s quest to crush a rebellion.
Be it a coup d’état or a civil war, the point I am trying to make is this: differences which yield divisions among citizens and within society can become so dire and sharp that people find more than enough reasons to harm another person. For me, it's during those times that we lose track of what it means to be human - to keep "one for the wall" when differences that are simply philosophical lead to violence.
We are now a few days away from our national elections. Many of you have already voted; many are yet to vote. The reality is that the ballot paper does not have only one name. The fact that we are presented with different choices from which to choose is enough a reflection of what differences and preferences mean. And there is nothing wrong about that.
In and of itself, differences which yield division is not a bad thing. The world would have been a rather boring place if we all looked the same, were of the same weight and height, ate the same food, did everything the same way, and lived at the same place. It would not have been possible, nor would it have made any sense. I believe that God created our world in such a way that our differences may bring out the best in us. One thing I know is that our differences generate diversity, and diversity - when explored to its fullest - is the best gift that has ever been given to you and I.
What’s disconcerting is when we act on our differences - not for the good of another and, by extension, for our own good. What is troubling is when we assume that our differences are permanent features of our lives, and that acting on them saves us from the other. But the point is, you do not need to be saved from the other if you keep one for the wall.
There is a story about a small coffee shop called Molto in Venice, located just around the corner from St. Mark’s Basilica. Two sisters, after touring the Basilica, stopped by Molto for some Italian espresso. While they were sipping their drinks, a man in a business suit came up to the counter and placed an order that they had not heard before.
“Two black coffees please. One for the wall,” he said.
The sisters looked at each other quizzically; the waiter nodded and made the man his order. He handed one black coffee to the well-dressed customer and wrote caffé nero (which is "black coffee" in Italian) on a piece of paper, and stuck it to the wall.
A few minutes later, two laborers in dirty clothes came in, and they ordered “Three cappuccinos please. One for the wall.”
Again, the waiter made their orders and stuck a paper with cappuccino written across it onto the wall.
"What does this mean?" the sisters asked themselves, but they did not have enough faith in the quality of their spoken Italian to ask the waiter what this "one for the wall" thing was all about.
Suddenly, something happened that made the whole thing crystal clear to them... a man walked into the café. His clothes were tattered, his skin was streaked with dirt, and his body odor preceded him by a good five feet. It was clear that this was a homeless person living on the streets of Venice.
He walked up to the counter and asked in slow, measured speech that even the sisters could understand, “May I have one coffee from the wall, please?”
The waiter made the man a nice, piping hot cup of coffee, and handed it to him with a smile.
The man sat down in the corner of the shop and calmly sipped his blessing-in-a-cup, savoring what might perhaps be his only moment of dignity for that day, all thanks to the kindness of someone he will never meet.
The sisters stared at him for a few seconds, and then without a word, got up together and ordered four cups of coffee for the wall.
When we cast our eyes upon our political landscape, what we see are the blood-stained hills and valleys of our country. "Who are we fighting, and for what?" I ask myself. If the fight is with one another, if our differences - differences which have generated so much divisions that people are willing to kidnap and kill others - are just about what we believe to be our approach to the common good, then what, indeed, are we fighting for? Why all these bruises? For me, the common good supersedes any philosophical differences that we may have.
Jesus did remind us that there will be divisions - that brother will rise against father, and that daughter will rise against mother. He also said that the poor will always be with you. Taking these two together may mean that divisions may not necessarily be a bad thing, nor can poverty be eradicated. The reality is that some will have to challenge others in our quest for the common good. Also, not all of us can be doctors, or teachers, or nurses, or any one particular profession. Some will have to have different careers just so the society, as a whole, can function. For that same reason, there will always be among us people like the homeless man who walked into Molto for a coffee from the wall.
See, there will be no point in leaving anything for the wall if we know no one will come for it. But we leave one for the wall because we know that whoever comes for that coffee is as human as we are, and that our own ability to leave one for the wall is, in fact, a blessing.
If the desire of the customers at Molto was to provide for the wall, then it should not matter who it is that comes to pick off a piece of paper from it. Their joy should be in knowing that someone of equal dignity and worth, no matter how different, came to the wall and gave meaning to their own generosity.
Every election is about the duty we owe to each other, and to those who come by the wall to pick a sticker from it - no matter how different that human being is from ourselves. In that same way, every Stewardship Campaign is an expression of the duty we owe to each other, to our beloved Christ Church, to the many people we serve, and to our God. And so, this Sunday, November 1st, we invite you to join us in person or online at 10:00 a.m., and together we will bless our generous commitment to our common life. If you cannot join us in the morning, you may join us for the Organ Recital at 5:00 p.m.
Beloved, I invite you today, this Sunday, this Tuesday, and beyond to keep "one for the wall". You never know who you may be blessing with your generosity, but please know that your generosity goes a long way to sustain the life of those who come by the wall.
More than that, remember that our differences dissolve when we give life and meaning to those in need of the blessings left on the wall.