Five Routine Minutes: That Road Heads North TooPosted: September 7, 2011
On Monday night I got to watch the football team from my beloved University of Maryland open the season with a win. As I watched the game, the prominence of the Maryland state flag on the team’s (hideous) new uniforms reminded me of an incident several years ago. It happened far from my home state, far from campus…in my office in North Carolina.
The organization I work for has always had chaplains on staff. My section was assigned a new chaplain. I was working at my desk and heard him come in and start introducing himself to everyone as he passed them. I got up from my desk as he got to me. Things were pretty standard at first.
I shook hands with them both and we did the small talk thing. Then Reverend Bob said something completely off the wall.
A nazi flag? My first thought was that someone was playing a joke on me. Practical jokes are part of the culture of my workplace, but there is an unwritten code of what is and isn’t acceptable. A symbol of hate would be far from acceptable.
I searched my work area for the offensive flag, but didn’t see it. The only flag present was an image of the Maryland flag fluttering on my computer screen saver. I pointed at it and asked if that was what he was talking about. It was.
I explained to Reverend Bob that I grew up in Maryland and graduated from its top-notch university. I tried to laugh off his gaffe because it was such an awkward situation. Mrs. Reverend Bob was looking at him like he was an idiot. Neither of us knew how determined he was to prove her correct.
You see, some people in the southern U.S. are not fond of people moving to the area then constantly talking about how they did things back where they used to live. They see that sort of thing as demeaning and they do not tolerate it well. But all I had done was say I was from Maryland. Reverend Bob went on the attack.
Now, by the power vested in him, Reverend Bob was kicking me out of North Carolina. He was really starting to irritate me. If part of his job was to save my soul, he was doing a lousy job of it.
I try to be polite, even to rude people. In this case, I stopped trying.
Reverend Bob gave me his business card and said “call me some time, we’ll talk about your spiritual needs.” I don’t even talk about spiritual needs with people I like. I knew I wasn’t going to do it with this guy and I told him so.
Reverend Bob complained to my boss’ boss. Apparently he found being called Sparky pretty offensive. I meant it that way.
I got called into my boss’ office to explain why I was calling a minister a sarcastic name. I recognize when you say it like that, it does sound kind of bad. Fortunately, I have a reputation in the organization for being fairly polite. The boss didn’t hassle me all that much once I told him the story.
He did ask me not to call any clergy person Sparky until after he retired.