Stay in Conversation with the World
When seeking a Clear Conscience in your work, stay in conversation with the world, and witness to the grace inherent in every nook and cranny of this life.
There are listening bartenders, who are the storied ones, and there are the talky bartenders, trying to jaw away the everlasting sameness of their hours. Pete was neither, and better—a bartender who knew how to visit with his customers.
When the two of us straddled onto stools across the slick bar wood from him, Pete would push a schooner of beer in front of Dad, listen close as a minister to whatever he had on his mind …
Only now do I understand how starved my father was for that listening and gossip from Peter McCabe. Nowhere else, never in the silences of the life we led most of the time on the ranch, could he hear the valley news which touched our own situation, and in a tone of voice which counted him special.
~ Ivan Doig, This House of Sky
The first time I read those lines I felt immense pride that there was once upon a time a bartender named Peter McCabe who knew how to serve more than just beer in the White Sulphur Springs saloon known as The Stockman. I realize it’s tempting to romanticize that scene. But Ivan Doig did not, and neither do I. The Stockman was a saloon, and many of the men who nightly entered its doors were splintering apart, doomed. But in that harsh and violent landscape, there was a man who always wore a soft gray shirt and carried a long oval face, and he knew the value of conversation and witness—two things that quite often make the world a little better place to live and work.
There was a time in my life when the thought of a bartender doing holy work would have been dismissed in the twinkling of an eye. I don’t look back on that time with disdain; it was a season necessary for where I find myself today. The unfortunate thing would have been to stay pinned to that line of thinking, hogtied to a narrow set of morals that are often more cultural than Christ-like. By no means does that indicate every bartender is doing what Peter McCabe did. I don’t believe that for a minute. But I do believe it is possible to be in such a role and to hear God say Good job.
The Face of Work
Stories of the Stockman saloon appear quaint compared to some of today’s burning queries. Yet, I hold that the face of every Christian’s work should be the same: excellence. If you bake wedding cakes, bake the most beautiful, delicious cakes you can. If you’re a professional golfer, swing the clubs in such a way as to draw gasps from the watching crowd. If you write copy for a video game designer, well, you get the point. That’s the face—excellence—always. Behind the face is the mind of our work, the thought, the intent, the goal. That is, I believe, to stay in conversation with the world and to witness to the grace inherent in every nook and cranny of this life.
Does that mean the waters are probably going to get choppy? Yes, welcome to the world, the same world Jesus says to be in but not of. And if we’re going to be in, we’ve got be all in. But take heart, because this doesn’t mean anything goes. There were things Peter McCabe would not tolerate in his saloon, situations where in good conscience he said no. But the “tone of his voice” was such that men respected him, and they kept coming back.
Welcomed to the Conversation
Sometimes, in good conscience I have to say no. But if my goal is to stay in the conversation, I can voice my no with a tone that doesn’t shut the door. Note—I never do this with the view to change someone’s mind or an attempt to convert them to my way of thinking. That’s manipulative, and people can smell that foul a mile away. You and I stay in the conversation in order to make friends, to count another person as special, like we ourselves have been counted.
Good work is attractive. If our work is excellent, I guarantee we’ll be welcomed into the world’s conversation. It’s at that point we must “listen close as a minister” and consider the tone of our response. And never ever forget that grace is everywhere. Everywhere.