Theology in the Trenches: Forgive me, cigarette man

Kathleen Kjolhaug
Religion Columnist

Indignant righteousness expressed itself as the air from my lungs passed on up through my vocal cords, coming right on out my mouth. Perhaps a little back story might be helpful.

I went grocery shopping mid-morning just the other day. The parking lot was newly tarred, and the cement pavement at the small town grocery was poured to perfection. I marveled at how the owners had thought enough of their hometown to invest in something so charming. I was thankful for this nice place in which to shop. I was thankful for the chance to get away, thankful for a place to buy a few craft items sold within, and thankful for the thoughtfulness of the investors.

As I made my way out of the store, to my left was a young man standing just outside the doorway. Judging by the waft in the air, he’d been smoking. It was past tense as upon the newly poured cement was now his half smoked cigarette butt, and just below that was one big round black stain upon the pavement. 

“Excuse me, but did you just put that cigarette out on the sidewalk?” I asked.

Without a word, he walked rapidly towards his parked vehicle.

“Excuse me, but I think you should come back and pick that up.”

He walked faster; I followed.

“Ma’am,” speaking to the lady he was with, thinking it was his mother, I continued.

“Excuse me ma’am, but you should make him go back and clean up that cigarette he just put out on the brand new cement walk-way.”

She turned. It was not his mother. It was his girlfriend. 

“They just built this nice place, and when you do things like that, it’s not very respectful!”

I left. They left. Cigarette butt stayed.

I drove over to the little blackened area, picked up what remained, and deposited it into the trash.

After replaying the scene several times in my mind on the way home, I formulated one question on which to ponder. How did my righteous indignation helped draw this young man, who was made in the image of Christ no less than I, any closer to Christ? Truth-be-told, it did not. 

Forgive me cigarette man. Dear Lord, Cleanse me not only from my unrighteousness, but from all of my self-righteousness.  Amen.

(Kathleen Kjelhaug is a religion columnist.)