By Dick Duerksen

The man is an artist of note. Skilled in his craft and in its presentation. His gift shop and gallery fill two rooms with delicious art, creativity that breeds envy at prices that make covetousness a waste of time.

I was sitting on the floor, admiring one of his pieces, hefting it to test its weight, and holding it beneath an intense LED light to bring out its hidden features. I was in awe of what he could bring from a stone.

“You just passin’ through?” he asked, an off-handed question he used to reel in customers.

“No. I was working here today. I live in Portland.”

“Oh. What do you do?”

The hook was set and I could feel the line tighten.

“I’m a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and had an assignment here this morning.”

His eyes took on a distant look, and I felt him let go of the line. I put the art back in its place and looked up into his face. He was still there, but his mind was far away.

I chose to wait and listen. He finally spoke, his words wrapped in memories.

“I was raised a Seventh-day Adventist. That was a long time ago.”

Our eyes caught.

“Well, I still don’t smoke. And I’m a vegetarian.”

“And you’re kind,” I added, because I had watched him with two other customers. My words brought him back to his gallery.

“I suppose that’s where I got kindness, too,” he chuckled.

Then his memories began to flow. I learned about his family, the death of his first wife and the illness of his second.

“56 years, I’ve been captive,” he smiled.

I learned about his childhood, the loss of his father, Adventist schools through the sixth grade, a stint in the Army Air Force, a PhD from a good school, and now 35 years as an artist.

Then he peeled back a few scars and shared the pain of being ignored and then rejected by the church, of the grandfather who had given his life to saving souls as a missionary, but who hadn’t been kind or considerate at home.

He looked at me again, this time seeing a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who might just be like Grandpa.

“There were three things I learned from the Seventh-day Adventists,” he said. “Don’t smoke. Don’t eat meat. And, don’t lie. That’s about it, I guess.”

My mind was swirling through a thousand ways to tell him about Grace, about the God whose love flows without limits, about how the local congregation would welcome him with open hearts, and about a church where God’s love is far more significant than what goes into one’s mouth.

I bought some art.

He invited me back. “Let’s talk some more if you ever come by again.”

I accepted the offer, and promised to bring him my wife’s recipe for vegetarian chili.