At work the other day a customer came through the line, complaining he couldn’t find anything to eat. ”What are you looking for?” I asked him. “We have plenty of options.”
He paused, hemmed and hawed, and I waited for him.
“Are you looking for something sweet or savory?” I asked, watching the line pile up behind him. I hoped I could encourage him in the right direction.
“Oh, I don’t eat any of that stuff,” he told me, waving toward the pastry case.
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t really blame him. I rarely eat the stuff in the pastry case, either. “How about a spinach wrap? Or an oatmeal?” I suggested. “Our oatmeal comes plain, and you can add your own toppings.” I could sense he was looking for healthier options.
“No,” he said. “I don’t eat grains.”
“Are you gluten-free?” I asked him.
At first, I was excited to hear his admission that he was gluten-free. It’s rare to meet someone in Florida who knows what “gluten-free” means, let alone who abides by the diet. It’s common in Portland, where I’m from, but not so much here. So at first, hearing him say, “I don’t eat grains” made me feel kind of at home.
But I wasn’t prepared for what came next.
Right there, in the middle of Starbucks, with a line of people waiting behind him, he launched into what sounded like a rehearsed diatribe about how grains are the devil.
He had read this book, he said. It was by a doctor, and the doctor had told him that grains made people fat. If we just stopped eating grains, he told me, we would all stop being fat. Suddenly, I couldn’t help it, I found myself looking down at his gut. It just happened. “If we just stop eating grains,” he told me, “it would solve all of our problems with everything.”
Everything? I asked him. Everything, he said. And suddenly I started thinking (I couldn’t help it) … Literacy? Fatherlessness? The divorce rate?
But since my whole job is to be nice, I kept my mouth shut.
He rambled for a few more minutes before merging out of line, making sure to remind me of the title of the book, and to reiterate that it was written by a doctor (a doctor. He said it twice for emphasis). He told me I should read it because it would change my life.
“Actually,” I wish I could have said. “It wouldn’t.”
What I never told this man was that I am also gluten-free. I’ve been eating that way for about two years now. I cheat sometimes but, for the most part, it makes me feel better, it seems like my body has an easier time digesting my food and it keeps me from eating junk. The problem is, after listening to his little diatribe, it made me want to quit.
It made me want to open the pastry case and eat one of everything.
I’m sorry to say it but your gluten free diet is not going to change the world (unless of course you have Celiac disease, or are legitimately allergic to gluten, then it will probably change your life dramatically). Your new diet is not the golden ticket to changing everything about everything. Neither is your politician, or your church, or your denomination.
It’s just a diet. Just a man. Just a group of people that get together on Sunday morning.
That’s not to say that those things aren’t meaningful, or that they don’t have an impact. It’s just acknowledging the truth about people, places and things. They are just that. People. Places. Things.
They cannot save you. They will not fix you.
They are not the answer to everything.
Have convictions, yes. Life life by those convictions. Even feel free to share your personal convictions with others. But also be willing to admit that you don’t have it all figured out all of the time. Get off your soapbox. I know it’s scary, but it isn’t until we admit that we don’t have the answers that we can recognize the one who does.
Question: Do you know someone with a “soapbox”? How have they tried to convince you they’re right? Have you listened?