The Church of the Holy Dunkin’ Doughnuts

October 17, 2009

Dan StringerMom used to say that I was the only child she knew who was sent from elementary school to see the principal as well as from Sunday school to see the minister. Generally, it was for one of my “observations” or a question the Sunday school teacher felt would “take too much class time to explain.”

One of the first times I was sent to see Reverend Dan was a couple weeks before our Easter Pageant. At my young age, the whole cross thing hit me as rather gross. When I questioned why my Catholic friends hung crosses with a dead Jesus on them, I was sent to Reverend Dan. It seemed to me that the big thing about Jesus wasn’t that He died on a cross but that He woke up and was able to push a big boulder out of the entrance to the cave to keep on teaching in the world. In my wee mind I figured it took no talent to kill someone but something special to wake from the dead. When Reverend Dan asked me what I would use as a symbol, I suggested we could use a rock or the circle shape of a rock.

Dan listened quite patiently. He pulled on his suit jacket, commented that there was an hour until church began, and invited me to run an errand with him. That errand was the first of many we made together to Dunkin’ Doughnuts. Using cinnamon sticks, Reverend Dan explained the Cross to me in a way that made sense. But he admitted that there were more stones and rocks than crosses in the world, and that he liked the idea I had about the circle created by the shape of a rock. So he told me if I thought of God better when I saw rocks or stones or circles, that it was just fine with him, and probably God too.

There seemed to be frequent “go to the minister’s office” events involving me. When I arrived from Sunday school carrying a note from the teacher, Reverend Dan would tug at his jaw, read the note, fold it twice to put in his side pocket, and then tell his secretary that he had an errand to run. As time went by, Dunkin’ Donuts became the pulpit from which Reverend Dan privately shared God’s message with me.

Fighting in Sunday school was a big no-no, regardless of the reason. Having a Chicago accent in Arizona’s desert, or having no father – often resulted in teasing from other kids. After cleaning my split lip, Preacher Dan used various kinds of jelly doughnuts to illustrate how we may look different on the outside but are all the same on the inside. We used seven of them to make sure I got that lesson right.

A question of different religions and the reason why we had missionaries sent us back to Dunkin’ Donuts where this time we were allowed in the kitchen. There Reverend Dan showed me the way that the baker began with one huge ball of dough and how his hand shaped so many individual things. They all appeared different but were still part of the original creation. Afterward, Reverend Dan convinced the clerk to stick his business card in any bags sold, with a note to call and let us know how far their doughnuts had traveled. It was a great experiment, and he also netted a few more church-goers with that one.

It was my question on Father’s Day about the reason why some dads became drunks and were so mean to mothers that caused another visit to Reverend Dan’s office. This time when we arrived at Dunkin’ Donuts, he showed me the baker’s oven. With the heat washing my face and fresh bakery smells surrounding us, he explained that depending on the amount of time the doughnuts were left in the oven and their placement on the shelf governed how soft or hard they became. I began to understand the reason why my dad and bullies in general became a product of their environment. More important, I became more conscious of my choices. Then the minister dipped the really hard ones in milk or coffee and made them as tasty as the soft ones, the same way love and kindness can transform a hardened heart.

On another trip I began to grasp the reason why God was called Our Father and that His holy “parentship” was not a regional thing. Another excursion had Reverend Dan using the doughnut holes to show the way their centers got separated but could still be brought together, illustrated by us eating them.

My Uncle Kermit died when I was quite young and I got mad at the teacher when she said, “It’s okay; he’s with God now.” Frankly, I was mad at God as I carried that pass from the teacher to the minister. As our doughnuts arrived, Reverend Dan shared a lesson I was reminded of years later when I watched the film Phenomenon. He gently took the half-eaten doughnut from my hand, leaving me to stare with my mouth open. He looked at the dripping jelly as if it were the Holy Grail and said, “So if I set this doughnut down, it will get all hard and stuck to the plate and not even the birds will want it. But if we both take bites of it,” and he ate half of what remained, “then…it becomes part of us forever. And no one can take that away from you or me.” He handed the doughnut back and I slowly finished it. “And what your Uncle Kermit gave you, and me, and his friends at the church, well that will be a part of us forever.”

Reverend Dan died recently and I never had the chance to thank him for those quality days we spent at the Church of the Holy Dunkin’ Donuts. He knew how impressions made upon a little boy are the ones that are often carried through an entire life. He was also aware of the way God gets blocked out, so he made sure my difficult questions did not sideline me from church or in life. Thanks to Reverend Dan, I knew that God was still around and part of my foundation. Reverend Dan is also still around in my heart and a part of my foundation.

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