When discussing my father as a minister in my youth, I will often say, “He was not a good preacher, but he loved God.” The comment is never meant as an insult to my father’s ability to preach the gospel, but rather, my father’s ability to preach in general. He is an ex-marine; gruff, tough and determined. Many of his sermons were delivered exactly that way; as though the congregation was in boot camp, and he was training the troops for war (though the Christian soldier analogy works great here). It seems that the average church-going Christian actually does not want to be yelled at every Sunday; nor do they feel comfortable with clinched fists from their preacher. I remember taking my first speech class, my freshman year of high school; the very first lesson we learned on day 1 was all about body language. As the teacher discussed the “DO NOTS” of public speaking, it was like a checklist of my father’s preaching. Later that week, I went to the church building while he was practicing one of his sermons; his fist must have pounded on the pulpit a dozen times before I walked up to the pulpit, and calmly opened up the fingers on his massive hand. My father just looked at me confused for a moment, then I said, “With an open hand you are offering them the message; with a fist, you are shoving it down their throat.” When Sunday morning came, I waited to see if he had learned anything. It was amazing!! The lesson was more loving, gentle and kind; furthermore, after worship, it may have been the most compliments my father had ever received from a sermon up to that point.
In this week’s reading, Glaser wrote, “Words are not things—they are the representations and symbols we use to view, think about, and process our perceptions of reality and they are the means of sharing these perceptions with others.” The problem comes when our words do not match our actions, and as the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” I was very appreciated to Jay last week when he tackled the sensitive subject that he did; though soft spoken and kind, his words were very precise and effective. I think I always see Jay with this very soft, quiet nature, and it was probably that nature that made him the perfect person for presenting that topic. In personal reflection, I know that there is an aggressive demeanor lying just beneath the surface; I get frustrated when trying to express my own point, so I have to be careful of how I word myself…A LOT! It is that ability to not role the eyes, smirk, or even pop off with some stupid comment (it happens), which becomes a hindrance to our conversations rather than a support.
I have always been fascinated by how important it is for our body language to match our words; without it, the message we are trying to project can become distorted, or worse, offensive. My oldest son went for a job interview yesterday; when he came downstairs ready to leave, he was wearing a black pair of sweatpants with cat hair on them and an ugly polo shirt; his hair was a mess and his beard was straggly. I said, “Let’s try this one again!” His reply, “I heard it was a really casual dress code.” We had a loooong talk about presentation and respect for the person you are trying to get to hire you. The outfit turned into black jeans, clean beard trim, brushed hair, and a dress shirt. He got the job. Isn’t it amazing how we can send out messages just by walking in the door sometimes. Sheila Butt addressed this in her book, “Seeking Spiritual Beauty,” by writing, “The way we dress is a reflection of our hearts and inner spirit. The way we dress portrays whether we are striving for inner beauty of sordid attractiveness. The way we dress tells the world a lot about our souls.” Now, I’m not focusing on the dress, but rather, our non-verbal presentation as ministers of the Gospel.
I was driving through town a few years ago when I saw a woman in a mini-van run through a red light, and then extend her hand out of the window and flip-off the person that almost hit her as a result. As I shook my head in amazement, I was even more shocked to see the “Jesus” sticker with the fish logo on her back window. Needless, to say, she was the product of my sermon the following Sunday; can you imagine what it was about? “What message are we sending?”
For some reason, this reading prompted my to think about our graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang. In the beginning of the story found in “Boxers,” we see a holy man come into the village and exact his own justice upon the villagers. In the story, the man says, “Here! Take! For Justice!” The words sounds as though he is a just man, fulfilling righteous deeds; however, the story shows him steal from one to give to a liar and a bully. I know our desire is always to take the loving, peaceful message of Christ to the world; sadly, I also believe that too often our desires and passions against sin, create barriers in how we address others that fail to achieve our initial goal. “When we create conversational rituals that enable us to honor and respect others’ views of the world—especially when these views are very different from our own—we create a space for better conversations and for new ideas to emerge.”
I believe my father is a much better minister today; his heart is softer and his hands are almost always open. I know that we are all in a molding process by God, and the greatest obstacle to that masterpiece is ourselves. I made a comment in bible class last night regarding an encouragement Christ gave to His people; “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also loved one another.” The very nature of the verse used to puzzle me; primarily, because “love” has always been an expectation from God by His people. However, then I made the connection; Jesus was telling us that we needed to improve on it, because frankly, we were terrible at it. So, He became our example of true LOVE; though it wasn’t just by His Words, but rather when His actions completely mirrored the words that He spoke to us.
Butt, Sheila Keekler. Seeking Spiritual Beauty.Huntsville: Publishing Design, Inc. , 2004.
Glaser, Judith E. Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. Abingdon: Bibliomotion, Inc, 2014.
Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers.New York: First Second , 2013.
Glaser, Judith E. Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results.Abingdon: Bibliomotion, Inc, 2014. P xiv.
 Butt, Sheila Keekler. Seeking Spiritual Beauty.Huntsville: Publishing Design, Inc. , 2004.
Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers.New York: First Second , 2013. P 17.
Glaser, p. 63.