I started my #wildgoose2021 road trip with the movie Coda. Hearing child of Deaf parents wants to be a singer. Great movie, and great start to my travels. It got me thinking about Deaf Bob--which is a stretch of epic proportions. Deaf Bob has nothing in common with this movie other than the fact that he was Deaf.
(For anyone squirming at the name “Deaf Bob”, let me assure you that it was his chosen moniker.)
Deaf Bob was a parishioner at Worcester Fellowship, the outdoor church for homeless and at risk adults. He and Tom taught me ASL and much more. They taught me to communicate with my Deaf neighbors using rudimentary signed english, a lot of repetition, and an ever present note pad. They emphasized that it is important to understand that Deaf culture is very direct. Bob says what he means without needing innuendo or words accompanied by a wink. I heard about sex and bowel movements and body pains that hearing folk simply do not generally discuss with their pastor.
When I would be embarrassed Deaf Bob would say, laughing, “Pastor Liz, it’s okay, we are Deaf. Deaf people talk like this. Relax!”
I’d love to tell you that I learned to relax. I did not. But I did learn the value of being direct.
As a a regular volunteer at St. John’s Food ministry on Temple Street, Deaf Bob was on obvious choice for the cooking team for our annual Sock Hop. He planned the menu, provided the grocery list, and guided, er, forcefully directed, the cooks. Early in the planning Bob came to me to ask what to do about Glen.
Glen was a helper—quick to volunteer, kind with everyone, and honest to a fault. He was also a little slow, didn’t speak clearly, and typically wasn’t very clean. Glen had a strong odor.
“I thought I’d encourage him to do set-up,” I explained to Deaf Bob.
“He wants to cook.”
“Well, you know,” I hedged and could see Bob getting impatient. “I don’t think he can cook.”
“He stinks. I’ll take care of it.” Bob was confident, I was nervous.
Later I saw the conversation. Away from the team, Deaf Bob invited Glen to join the cooking team. He then used signs and motions of requirements to be on the team. Bob demonstrated showering by putting soap on a wash cloth and washing under his arms, around his private parts, (thank you Jesus he remained clothed for this demonstration), and balancing on one foot, demonstrated scrubbing between his toes.
He rinsed off, Glen agreed to the terms, and started to turn away, but Deaf Bob pulled him back. He moved on to illustrate how to trim his beard, trim his nails, and even how to clean under the nails. I was becoming more and more nervous that Dave would be put off by this lesson, but he seemed entranced.
Sure enough, on the day of the event, Glen showed up in a clean shirt and jeans, a neatly trimmed beard and clean hands he presented to Bob for inspection. Deaf Bob went around to all the volunteers providing hair nets, beard coverings, and disposable gloves. No one was dissuaded by being asked to follow basic hygiene requirements!
During clean-up Glen came by and told me thanks. He had never been welcomed on the cooking team before, and loved the experience.
Deaf Bob died earlier this year. I hope he knows how much he helped me learn ministry.
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.