A longtime preacher friend of mine tells the story about two groups of people: the “West Coal Pilers” and the “East Coal Pilers,” a story he swears is true. Since he’s a man of God and all, I tend to believe him.

Seems there was a church back east some years ago that installed a coal furnace. Now, this was big news. The entire congregation was quite excited, looking forward to finally having some real heat for their worship service. All was well. Life was good.

That is, until the first delivery of coal arrived to stoke the furnace. Evidently, it was a hefty shipment, and the pile was unloaded on the west side of the church building. That Sunday, a company of the churchgoers was astounded that the pile of black stuff had landed on the west side of the building. There wasn’t a shred of curb appeal; it simply didn’t look good from the street. These folks were downright peeved and insisted the coal pile be moved to the east side of the building.

A dutiful bunch of church elders set about the task of moving the coal pile to the opposite side of the structure. Keep in mind that this was in the days before backhoes, Bobcats and heavy equipment. This was a man-plus-shovel job that took most of a whole day to complete.

The next Lord’s Day rolled around, and sure enough, another whole party of parishioners was shocked to find the coal pile had been moved. They were horrified that the pile on the east side of the building now partially hid their view of the majestic mountains in the distance. You guessed it: They demanded it be moved again – back to the west side.

The fight was on. There were meetings after meetings. There were untold numbers of phone calls. There were accusations, snide comments, stern postures and eyes rolling all over the place. Was there a win/win situation for the East and West Coal Pilers?

Some members of the congregation didn’t wait to find one and stopped attending church altogether. Friends ceased confabbing in the produce aisle. Neighbors discontinued their practice of watching each other’s kids. Families never picnicked together again. Fences grew higher – literally and figuratively.

So, a pile of coal split the congregation right in two, and the West Coal Pilers and the East Coal Pilers parted ways, leaving one group without heat.

Today, to wear a mask or not to wear a mask seems a whole lot like the East Coal Pilers and the West Coal Pilers. The unmasked call the masked “sheep,” non-thinkers who haven’t done their research. They boycott businesses that require masks for shoppers. Leaving their masks at home, they attend massive public gatherings almost in defiance.

The masked folks think the barefaced are non-caring individuals whose belligerence surely will make us all sick. Even in my own circle of family, friends and acquaintances, that face-covering has made more than one relationship pretty darned rocky.

Is this a classic mountain-from-molehills situation? As columnist Earl Wilson (1907-1987) put it, “One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.”

Or coal piles. Or face masks …

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