“So, on a scale of one to five, what's my Sunday dinner rate, Mr. Eminent Critic?” Sandy said, leaning back in her chair.
“Three-and-a-half stars. Maybe an anemic four,” Pete said, one eyebrow cocked, while spreading what Sandy considered too much margarine on the last piece of coffee cake.
“Sunday brunches are very in, sir,” she said. “I got docked because I didn't make potatoes and gravy.” She picked the last piece of pineapple from the fruit dish and placed it daintily in her mouth, as if they were dining at the Waldorf. “I confess,” she said, holding up both hands, “I simply cannot make big Sunday dinners.”
The kids were already outside, where the sun was beaming the way it's supposed to on a Sunday afternoon.
“This may come as some surprise, but I'm not shocked at your confession,” Pete said.
“For all these years I've thought of it as my secret sin.”
“Why don't you pass me the rest of that bacon?" he said. “That reminds me—did you notice anything strange about the worship this morning?”
Sandy shrugged her shoulders.
“About the confession of sin?”
“I'm sorry to say I don't remember,” Sandy said.
Pete reached for the bulletin he'd left by the phone. “Mind wandering again, eh?” He opened the bulletin and pointed to the order of worship.
Sandy took the sheet from him and followed the lines with her fingers, read it twice, then looked up and shrugged her shoulders. “I'm not supposed to like it, I take it,” she said.
“I just wondered what you thought,” he said.
She sat there with the bulletin in her fingers, waiting for him to explain. Pete sipped loudly on his coffee. “Well,” she said, “what's the beef here?”
“Nothing,” he said.
“It's not nothing, my dear, or you wouldn't have asked.”
“Maybe I'm overreacting. Just forget it.”
“Pete, don't do this to me,” she said. “What's the gripe?”
He broke a strip of bacon with the side of his fork. “I wondered if you thought that new confession we're using is a little— how-do-you-say-it?—maybe a little heavy, a little too ‘wretched'? —kind of I'm-way-too-full-of-sin?”
Sandy looked back at the lines: “Lord,” it read, “we have sinned. We have sought our own desires while forgetting our neighbor's needs. We have searched for fulfillment in things and despised the promptings of the Spirit. We have gloried in our law and neglected your Word—”
“Pretty bleak, isn't it?” Pete said.
Sandy spooned up the last few ounces of fruit juice. “I don't particularly like to admit it, but all this may be true.”
“Come on,” Pete said.
“I didn't know you were so full of sin, you old Calvinist.”
“We all are.”
Sandy looked again at the words. “Yes, that much.” She picked up the kids' silverware and laid it on their plates.
“Reading it bothered me. I just don't feel so miserable about myself, I guess.” He pulled the sheet away from her. “Is that wrong?”
“Maybe it is—”
“No, I mean it. You know what it says in the Bible: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' ”
“Sandy, for pity's sake—”
“I don't think the Bible says ‘except for Pete Baker, who's not a bad Joe'—”
“Don't be silly.”
"I'm not being silly. We're all full of sin, aren't we? Even the great dinner critic?"
Pete looked miffed. "Where does it say in the Bible that we have to walk around moaning, with our chins in the gutter?"
"That's not the point, Mr. Perfect." She poked a piece of banana and held it up to his mouth. "Here, sweeten up a bit." Reluctantly, Pete opened up. "The point is that we have assurance that we're forgiven. Here, read this." She reached over and pointed at the assurance of pardon in the liturgy. "Go on, read it aloud."
Pete shoved the banana chunk into his cheek. "There is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," he read, "for the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death." He pursed his lips, and his eyebrows furrowed. "So?" he said.
" 'So!' " Sandy said. "That's the point, isn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"The point is that whatever we are, however dirty and grimy and dour and obsessed with sin, however—as you say—'old-fashioned Calvinist' we are, we're forgiven, and we don't have to feel dirty and grimy. That's the point."
"You mean we agree for once?" he said, his eyes dancing.
Sandy exhaled loud enough to make the screens rattle. "No, we don't agree. I don't think there's anything wrong with admitting we're sinful—even dirty, grimy, greasy sinful. We are. But we know that we've been forgiven."
Pete pulled up his nose. "You mean it doesn't bother you to wade through all this negative stuff—'not obeying the Word'—"
It doesn't bother me to admit my sin because I know it's been washed away. It's that simple."
Pete looked around as if he were embarrassed at his own blindness. "I get it," he said. "You got any more bacon?"
"Am I your slave? What do you say?" she said, dropping the worship sheet back near the phone.
"Confucius say, 'Pretty lady no cook but sharp cookie.' "
"Talk about anemic," Sandy said.
"Now tell me," Pete said, cleaning out the last of the scrambled eggs. "How do you get so smart when you don't even listen in church?"
"I'm the one who listens. You didn't even hear the assurance, did you?"
Peter grimaced, as if he'djust taken a bite of bitter herbs. "Got me again," he said, "but it's a dietary problem with me. I'm not getting the right foods, and it's affecting my mind—"
"Aha, the old 'woman-thou-hast-given-me' excuse. Now, that's original sin."
"I'm sorry," Pete said.
"And you're forgiven." Sandy grabbed the rest of the dishes from the table. "By the way, you remember it's your turn to cook tonight, don't you?— what're we having?"