About a mile from my house stands Berclair Coin Laundry. Berclair is a racially diverse area, mostly Hispanic and black, with a small remaining core of white elderly survivors from its heyday as a nice Memphis suburb. We’re also seeing an influx of young families since the houses are well built and inexpensive. When I pulled up to the empty parking lot, I noticed the sign overhead:
<-- Laundry Parking Only -->
Because they carry the heavy Laundry
I immediately recognized the syntax as an indicator of an Asian-American proprietor. A few more signs inside the otherwise empty museum of washing machines confirmed this suspicion:
“Please, pick your dryer sheet up, because don’t hurt slip down everyone.”
“Please, use rag for wipe out, if water leaks on floor
because be dangerous slip down, don’t hurt everyone."
“No horse blankets.”
Ok, that last one was perfect English, but the fact that we were 20 miles from anything remotely equestrian made me giggle. These illustrations serve to set the tone for the language barrier that caused a great deal of frustration in my conversation with the Laundromat’s owner, Phillip. I couldn’t pronounce his real name, and I guess that’s why he goes by Phillip. He could tell that I had no idea where to put my quarters, which machine to use for my oversized bedspread (the occasion for my visit), or how to even open the thing, so he came to my rescue with a great deal more patience than I would have had for someone as clueless as I was. I noticed as he rose from his desk that he had a pocket Bible and I leapt at the opportunity to ask him about it.
What follows is the result of a LOT of repetition, hand-motions, and failed attempts to cross the linguistic divide. He knew barely enough English to run a Laundromat and I know absolutely zero Korean, so this conversation took well over an hour.
Phillip was 48 when he and his wife moved from South Korea 8 years ago. Their two sons are in their late 20’s and live in New York. When I asked him why he reads the Bible, he said because he wants to go to Heaven. I asked him where he attends church, and he said he doesn’t go and then said something about the Antichrist. I dared to press further, asking if he knew about the Korean Presbyterian Church about a hundred yards south. He said, yes, that’s the one he was asked to leave. Mesmerized, I continued the investigation, and he launched into how he had been studying the Bible through correspondence for a few years and had come to the conclusion that the church had misinterpreted the passages about tithing, so he had confronted his pastor and asked for a refund of his 30 years’ worth of tithes. They had, of course, refused, and then he went on a diatribe about how all churches were money-making scams and that he needed to only trust the Bible because pastors were liars. I decided at that point not to tell him what my job is. Also, for some reason there was quite a bit of hostility toward the Catholic Church. I’m sure this kind of talk was what led to his dismissal. He then pulled out his Holman Atlas, Strong’s Concordance, Korean, Chinese, NIV, and KJV Bibles and showed me all the discrepancies he had discovered. He showed me where the Korean version had omitted the second half of Genesis 2:20 because of a cultural philosophical disgust at the idea that God would have looked for a suitable mate for Adam from among the animals. He really wants to learn Greek and Hebrew, but new languages are hard at his age, he says.
Then things got weird.
Phillip believes that the Trinity is a false doctrine based on his conviction that Jesus and the Spirit are the same person. We should not be waiting for Christ’s return, because he already came back at Pentecost. Since it’s Jesus who’s talking to us now in His Spirit, we’re all apostles. He showed me a stack of Korean sermon CD’s that I think are probably the original source of his hard divergence from the orthodox path. The thing I find most fascinating about that is, apparently the Korean Church still practices church discipline to the degree of excommunication. It’s not even practical to do that in Memphis, which has more churches per capita than anywhere else in the world. If we disagree with the leadership we can just go anonymously to another assembly. And boy, do we.