How’s the Weather: Modern Day Evangelism in The Club of Queer Trades
I once wrote a short story for a creative writing class about a guy at a bus stop. He talked about the most random, incoherent, and meaningless things, and it drove the woman sitting next to him crazy. I won’t reproduce that story here; I will only say that my professor loved it, though I am not sure she understood my meaning. My point was satirical, and I was attempting to demonstrate how most of what we discuss with strangers in public places is absolutely meaningless. What’s your name? Even though I will never see you again. What kind of work do you do? Though I probably don’t care enough to hear all the details even if you would tell me. Are you married, and how many children do you have? Although it makes not the slightest difference. And the most common: How about the weather we are having? All too often we feel the need to engage others in conversation without any real intention of making it meaningful.
While recently reading G.K. Chesterton’s work, The Club of Queer Trades, I arrived at a point when the narrator relays his first meeting with Basil Grant, the main character in the work. He says that they “exchanged a few words about the weather” (67), and I thought I would next hear about his work, his family, and all the rest. Imagine my surprise, then, when Chesterton says through his narrator that they talked about politics and God, for “men always talk about the most important things to total strangers” (67). This encounter got me thinking: why is this not the case anymore? When did we stop talking about the most important things with strangers? In fact, why did we ever start talking about anything else? For it makes little sense to discuss mundane issues of one’s occupation and family if we are not beginning a friendship, but it makes a great deal of sense to talk to another about his eternal destiny, thinking this may be our only chance. The only answer I can think of is social acceptability. There was once a time when a conversation about God was an amiable conversation that was perfectly acceptable. We are now in a day when such conversations are often deemed intolerant, leading to angry words and raised voices.
I have always struggled with this issue, wondering whether I am not doing more damage by pressing such a conversation than I am simply leaving it alone. So as much as I wish it were not the case, I am learning quite a lot these days about the weather.