Bass Mitchell: Always have a B.o.T. nearby

Bass Mitchell

I have lots of stuff in my office – so many that they clutter my desk. Though this stuff might appear without value to many, each one has special meaning for me. But there’s one I must always have within reach. It’s the “B.o.T.”

Okay. I hear you. “What’s the ‘B.o.T.’?”

Be patient. I’ll tell you. But before I do, I have to share with you how I found out myself about the “B.o.T.” and its importance.

“The Frisco Kid” is one of my favorite movies. Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford are the stars. Wilder plays a Polish rabbi sent to serve a congregation in San Francisco back in the late 1800s. He gets himself into all kinds of trouble. In one scene he says, “The Talmud says, ‘Find thyself a teacher.'” He did in Ford’s character, except he didn’t know Ford was a train and bank robber. Even so, they ended up teaching each other a great deal.

“Find thyself a teacher.” I have long taken that advice to heart. It’s much like this saying from Ecclesiasticus 6:36: “If you see a man of understanding,” (one should also add “woman of understanding”) “visit him early, let your feet wear out his doorstep.”

As I prepared to become a minister, I sought out teachers, those who had understanding, and wore out their doorsteps. Many gave me wonderful bits of wisdom and insight into the life of clergy. Maybe in another article some time I will share some of those with you, because if you are still reading this, you do not bore easily. Bless you. For now, I will just share one with you.

“Always have the ‘B.o.T.’ nearby,” this aged pastor told me one day as I sat in his study. I cannot remember his name, though “Methuselah” comes to mind. This in itself was most encouraging – that one could be a pastor and still live a long life!

“The what?” I asked.

“Oh, surely you know,” he observed.

I shook my head.

He grimaced and said, “What in the world are they teaching in seminary these days?”

I realized too late that it was a rhetorical question because I was about to answer it, anxious to show that we had made a few advances since the Middle Ages when he went to seminary, if they even had seminaries that long ago.

He held up one hand to let me know an answer wasn’t required, and with the other pointed to something on his desk. His desk was then a lot like mine now – a future site for an archaeological excavation. There was so much stuff there I had no idea to what he was gesturing. So he reached over and touched it.

“Tissues?” I exclaimed, thinking the poor old guy’s eyesight was failing.

“Yes,” he said, nodding his head. “The box of tissues, the ‘B.o.T.’ Never leave home without them. Always keep them in your office.” Then he leaned back in his chair with a self-satisfied look on his face.

Even though I asked for more details, he wouldn’t give them. He’d only say, “You’ll see.”

I whined that I really didn’t have time for riddles. He offered me a tissue.

It wasn’t long after this that his “you’ll see” prophecy came to pass. Starting out in my first pastorate, folks began knocking on my office door – needing to see me for all kinds of reasons. Often, at some point, there was a shedding of tears, sometimes out of joy, others of pain. And I looked around for, well, you-know-what, and didn’t have any. As quickly as I could, I went and bought the B.o.T.

As much as I hated to admit it, that smug, aged teacher/preacher was right. I’ve found the B.o.T. vital to what I do. It’s a sign to anyone who walks through my door that it’s ok to be emotional in my presence. This is a safe place, a place where you can take off your mask, be who you really are, share your joys and fears, laughter and tears. For, see? I have a box of tissues right here waiting for you.

So, if you ever venture into my office, you will find a B.o.T. front and center on my desk. In fact, I have more than one box scattered among my ministerial relics. For one of the things I have also learned that my aged teacher knew well and wanted me to see for myself, is that quite often it wasn’t just the visitor who needed the B.o.T., but me. One cannot help but shed tears of joy or sorrow with those you have come to love and serve.

But maybe the B.o.T. isn’t just for clergy. Wouldn’t it be something if we all carried them around with us, kept them close, so that anyone could see they can be who they are and share what they most feel in our presence? For, see? We have the B.o.T.

Of course, I must add this. A brave pastor friend of mine has a sign in his office with a quote from the father of Austin Powers in one of the movies. It reads, “Got an issue? Here’s a tissue.”

Bass Mitchell is a writer and minister in New Market

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