Coffee with Roseanne Barr
Hurried business lawyers, talkative hipsters, and a few homeless folks all frequent my favorite Tulsa coffee shop. I think every single one of them noticed when a recognizable lady opened the door, skirted the line of early-morning-risers, and slid onto a wooden chair across a table from a fairly young guy with floppy hair. He’d arrived earlier and snagged a table in the back corner. (I noticed because it’s where I like to sit, so I had to settle for a table just a few feet from them.) His back was to the wall. Her back was to the customers. He was probably glad she couldn’t see the whispering and sneering behind her. Usually she’d love the attention, but this was not a good morning for Roseanne Barr.
Just days before, she had attacked a former advisor to President Obama with a racist joke – one rooted in historical, inexcusable prejudice. The world punched back and ABC canceled her show. Her world fell apart. At least for this week, she may be the most-hated person in the world.
I noticed a group of five friends having an animated discussion at another table. With a look of bravado, they rose to their feet and marched towards Barr. I put my feet under me, not knowing what was about to happen. Barr’s friend, in one quick motion, stepped in front of them, pulled out a yellow piece of notebook paper from his shirt pocket, and handed it to them. The agitated group looked at the paper like it was a cryptic message. They read it, looked at him, and then at each other. They repeated this same progression three more times. Then they turned and quietly left, one of them tucking the paper into his jeans’ pocket.
What in the world was written on that paper?
My chair was just a few feet away from Barr and the mystery man. I tried not to stare, but their conversation (and whatever else might go down) would not be matched by the one-thousand-page presidential biography I was reading.
When the man sat back down, he gave her one of those smiles that acknowledged her pain. He wrapped both of his hands around her trembling fingers and said, “You still matter to me.”
She looked up, “Don’t you know what people are saying about me?”
“Who doesn’t,” he chuckled, while sliding a muffin and some sort of whip-cream-topped espresso towards her. “I think you’ve had enough fingers in your face for one week. I figured you needed a friend today.”
“People want to hurt me,” she said.
“I know. But I don’t want to hurt you. I want to help you.”
She stared at the table, “At least a few people defended my comments this week.”
After a couple of sips of coffee, he replied, “I’m not sure they should have.”
“But other people have said terrible things and they didn’t get fired. It’s not fair.”
“So does that make your terrible words less terrible?”
Her voice raised a notch, “Ouch! I thought you said you didn’t want to hurt me.”
“I did. But I do want to help you. You’re going to have to work really hard at discerning when words are intended to help you or hurt you. Both kinds can sting. If you reject them all, you’ll reject what you need. So can we talk about how you’re feeling about others?”
“Yes,” she answered, tossing the muffin back onto the plate. “Do I have to start naming people who said hateful things but never lost their careers and reputations? Should I not tell it like it is and show their hypocrisy? Should I not be glad that some people are hitting back on my behalf?”
“Absolutely not. Those who defended your words tipped their cards. They care more about their tribe and their ideology than they do about people and what is right or wrong. They wage war from their little bunkers of hate. Don’t take comfort when an ally tries to defend you by attacking another person.”
“I’m being maligned for purely political reasons, that’s all,” Barr said.
“Maybe,” he replied. “So let’s talk politics for a minute. Is it really helpful for right-wingers to dismiss the faults of their own tribe and only attack their opponents, while at the same time the left-wingers do the same? Is that helping either tribe become better?”
“I guess not.”
“You have to quit obsessing about your critics’ mistakes. I want to even help you quit obsessing about your own mistakes too. But first, you have to believe something. You have to believe that you still matter, you are loved, you are precious. Forgiveness is like a cup of coffee. I dare you to take a drink. But God won’t force it down your throat.”
“Why do I need forgiveness when nobody is perfect?”
“When is forgiveness ever required?”
“I guess whenever it’s needed. But shouldn’t everyone else be begging for it too?”
“I didn’t come here to talk with you about the rest of the world. Can we quit comparing? Why do you keep bringing up other people?”
“I guess it makes me feel better about myself.”
“But does it?”
“No,” she said.
“It might for a moment, but it’s like a bad drug. It only worsens the problem, but drinking forgiveness actually heals.”
“OK,” she relented, “So let’s talk about me. Have at it.”
“Why did you say what you said? I’m not buying your ‘it was the sleeping medicine’ excuse. Something inside of you formed those words. Are you angry at someone? Are you angry at everyone with a certain color of skin or political leaning? Did something happen to bring this about? Tell me. You can be honest.”
At this point in their conversation, I’d forgotten to even pretend to be reading my book. I may as well have been eating a box of popcorn as I watched the show. He shot me a look that was crystal clear. So I fumbled with my book and started highlighting a paragraph until I remembered that I’d checked it out from the library.
At this point, she leaned in close and whispered a story to him. I couldn’t hear it, but I saw him nodding. It went on for a while. Then he leaned back in his chair and said, “You do know my ethnicity, right?”
She laughed, maybe for the first time in a while.
“Let me ask you something else,” he said. “Who is unimportant to God?”
As if sensing a poor attempt at humor bubbling to the surface, he added, “I’m serious. I don’t need a joke here.”
“Well, nobody, I guess.”
“That’s right. Don’t forget it.”
Her shoulders relaxed a bit and she asked, “OK, so what should I do?”
“How’s Twitter been for you? How many times has it started a big fight for you? Somebody once said, ‘If your right eye causes you to sin…’”
“I know, I know, I get it,” she interrupted, “And if my Twitter causes me to sin, I should sign-off.”
“Bingo. The Bible says a lot about being quick to listen and slow to speak. You have to admit, if you obeyed this command, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“True. But isn’t deleting my Twitter account just masking my issues?” she asked while looking at her watch.
“No, it’s being wise. But you are onto something: real change happens in the heart.”
Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out another sheet of yellow notebook paper. “Let me make sure this is the right one,” he mumbled before sliding it across the table.
“Do you have a note for every occasion in your pocket?” she quipped.
“No, but three or four notes cover most scenarios,” he chuckled.
She unfolded the note and slowly read it. Then she read it again. Then I saw her wipe her eyes as she confessed, “But what I said was indefensible.”
“True. I won’t defend your words, but I’ll defend you – not by attacking someone on your behalf or making excuses, but by extending forgiveness. The offer is there. Think about what I wrote you.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You are welcome. I love you. Now go and leave your life of sin. I’m here to help anytime. He smiled and slid her uneaten muffin to his side of the table. She returned his smile and walked out the door with brand new possibilities.
I wrote this story after I was asked in a radio interview, “In light of your book, what would you say to Roseanne Barr?” It was a great question. In Dancing in No Man’s Land, I explore what it looks like to pursue both peace and truth in our hostile world. We’re so quick to jump into our bunkers, either idolizing or demonizing others, but Jesus refused to hunker-down against other people. I’m not sure what Jesus would say if he had coffee with Barr, but I’m always amazed at how Jesus handled the most difficult of circumstances.
The parallels to Roseanne and the woman caught in adultery (John 8) are striking. Both had sins that were public and considered unforgivable. Both were publicly shamed by enemies who wanted to destroy them. The woman from John 8 needed to hear of God’s grace and God’s truth. Jesus delivered both. If received, they’d bring peace to her life.
I don’t know anything about Roseanne Barr’s personal or spiritual life, but I pray someone approaches her in peace, grace extended, and tells her of God’s love and truth.
If you’d like to join me in learning how to pursue both peace and truth, please check out my book and encourage others to do the same.
Photo Credits: “Roseanne Barr” flickr photo by Monterey Media shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA 2.0) license and modified under permission; “The French Press Coffee Shop, Santa Barbara” flickr photo by LadyDucanne under a Creative Commons (BY-NC 2.0) license and modified under permission.