“Say What?”: Song Lyrics We Completely Misunderstood.

Everyone’s done it. Whether as children or even as adults, we hear a song and our brain processes what we are hearing incorrectly. We substitute words or phrases in place of the actual lyrics and we proceed to sing nonsense. Sometimes, we get pretty close  – (See Gowdy’s “Africa” by Toto blunder below) and sometimes we aren’t even in the same ballpark – “We built this city on sausage rolls” instead of “We build this city on rock and roll.” Seriously, that’s a real thing.

In that spirit, here are five song lyrics we totally botched.


Money For Nothing by Dire Straits (Gowdy Cannon)

I knew so many factual things about this song when it was released. I knew it was released in 1985. I knew there was a longer version of the song that would be extremely Non-PC today. I could recognize the song after two seconds of the drum intro, or if I had to from about one second of the opening guitar riff. This song played over and over in my life when I was seven and eight years old, including on rides to school in the back seat of my brother Tracy’s T-top convertible.

But 7-year old Gowdy was badly, badly mistaken by the lyrics. I had no idea if it was “chicks for free” or “checks for free,” but that is a common misunderstanding of the song, at least if the Google search bar on my computer is right when I type in “Money for nothing and my…” But even more embarrassing was that I thought the song was saying “Money for workin’.” It was around 1989–four years later–that my future sister-in-law corrected me. I pretended I got it wrong on purpose but that was a lie.

Also, I just found out that in the song “Africa” by Toto it’s “bless the rains” and not “miss the rains” but I forewent that one based on how I already displayed my ignorance about its lyrics in another REO article on the 80s.


Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Man by Petra (Phill Lytle)

I don’t have a lot of excuses here. The lyric I “misheard” is literally the title of the song, and yet, to this day, I can’t hear it correctly. (In my defense, I was pretty young when this album came out – 10 or so.) The entire song is about the power of prayer, something that Petra sang about often, and the lyrics were a great subversion of the world’s idea of manliness and what Scripture says about it. I understood that even then, yet I still always heard (and sang along) to “Get on your knees, and cry like a man!” It made no sense to me, yet that is what I heard so that is what it was.


We Three Kings (Ben Plunkett)

The first line of this song has always been a bit frustrating to me in that it is actually written to make it confusing. We three kings of Orient Are? It makes it even more frustrating that sometimes the song is actually called We Three Kings of Orient Are. (insert Tim “the tool man” Taylor question grunt). So I was a kid in church at Christmas time and I was always like, “Where is this magical land called Orient Are?”

Like many poetic type works, the blame is on the author awkwardly manipulating it for the sake of rhyming. I can’t stand it when poets and songwriters do that. In this case, this little bit of manipulation madness was brought to you just so the author could rhyme “are” with “afar”. Just say “we are three kings of Orient” and end our misery. Come on! (Of course, that creates a little awkwardness in itself, but at least it’s a starting point for a revision).


Brother by NEEDTOBREATHE (Michael Lytle)

A few years ago the band NEEDTOBREATHE scored a hit with the song Brother. It’s a great anthem on the theme of brotherly love. My family enjoyed the song, but one line in the chorus gave us some trouble. For those who are unfamiliar, the chorus says:

Brother let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call when you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way, bring you home

The second to last line was the one we couldn’t figure out. Various alternatives were suggested. My son was convinced it was “In the night with the diamond ore”. My personal favorite was “When you might need a Tylenol”. Eventually, we figured it out. Or maybe we just looked it up. Either way, we all can now sing “When the night winds are driving on” with confidence, and all is right with the world again.


Bringing in the Sheaves (Ben Plunkett)

It never crossed my young mind to wonder why they were singing “Bringing in the Cheese” on “The Little House On the Prairie” nor did it phase me when we sang it at church. Never mind that the rest of the song offers the biblical metaphor of harvesting. Actually, at that point in my life, it would not have mattered what food product they were bringing in, sheaves, cheese, beef steak, pizza. it was all the same to me. While sheaves alone really does fit best with the visual and biblical context of the rest of the song, I was a kid, I didn’t give a hoot for context–so get off my back! Now I want some pizza. Bring in the cheese!


Now it’s your turn. Tell us what song lyrics you have butchered – use the comment section below. And if you enjoy this article, please consider liking and sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. We appreciate the support!

 

 

 




Five Really Cool Things I Heard While Camping Out For Free Chick-Fil-A

Far more than at other fast food places, amazing things happen at Chick-Fil-A. A worker may come by your table to refill your drink, as though you were at a sit-down restaurant. A worker may walk you to your car in the rain holding an umbrella for you.  People may start singing beautiful a cappella together.

The data that proves that Chick-Fil-A is on another planet as far as atmosphere and customer service is only surpassed by the thousands of stories people have told about the restaurant. The amount of videos and posts I’ve seen about it just on Facebook is astronomical. Their ‘Second Mile Service’ is legendary across the U.S.[1. I feel at this point my friend Josh Crowe would add that their mission statement is about glorifying God through stewardship and influence and doesn’t even include anything about making chicken.].

 

By 2011, I had lived in Chicago nine years. The city was different back then. The Cubs lost 91 games that year, in the middle of a five-year run of finishing 5th in the NL Central, and extended their World Series drought to 103 years. Richard Daley announced he would step down after over two decades years of being mayor. The phrase “Willis Tower” still tasted bad on the lips of many Chicagoans. 

And back then, if I wanted Chick-Fil-A I had to drive 53.6 miles to Racine, WI, to get it. And you better believe I did. Often with large groups of people. Back then I was a youth pastor and road trips to Chick-Fil-A were on the church calendar every year. I love the food more than anything not from Yvonne Cannon’s kitchen and I would do whatever I could to get it. I knew where every CFA was in the tristate area, down to exits on the interstate[2. The one off of Exit 172 at West Lafayette, IN is still my favorite one not located in or around Nashville.].

Then, around late 2010, it happened: After a massive grassroots movement on Facebook and YouTube to bring it to Chicago, a couple of them popped up in distant suburbs. And then—insert Hallelujah chorus—it was announced that a Chick-Fil-A was coming to downtown Chicago in June 2011. I knew about the promotion that the first 100 customers got free food for a year and that you had to camp out to do it.

And I did it. The idea of being one of the first 100 at Chicago’s very first CFA was more than I could stand. It started at 6 PM on Friday night and I got there three hours early. There was a raffle because there was far more than 100 people and they called my number (39) pretty quickly. And as I waited in line for 12 hours I discovered that even when you have to stay up all night to wait for glorious free sandwiches, CFA still has a way of amazing you. From the comments of owner Dan Cathy and the people around me, I realized just how special this place was.

Here are five things I heard that night that made me smile:

 

“My husband and I had a bet as to which would happen first…the Cubs winning the World Series or Chicago getting a Chick-Fil-A. Never bet on the Cubs.” [Lady in line ahead of me]

The Cubs finally cracked through in 2016. Chick-Fil-A won the race by over five years.

 

“I don’t care how much sleep you get tonight, if you’re married you better be nice to your wife tomorrow.” [CEO Dan Cathy]

I loved this. He is a businessman, but for this moment he was preacher and pastor to 100+ CFA addicts.

 

“I go to our restaurants and I get in line like everyone else, I order like everyone else and I pay like everyone else.” [Dan Cathy]

I could shed a tear every time I think of this. This past Sunday I preached from Philippians 2:1-11 and when I got to “Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being by very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped,” I used this as an illustration. It is a Christian virtue.

 

“The CEO is at the corner of Wabash and Chicago in Chick-Fil-A pajama pants and a cow hat. He wasn’t kidding when he said they do things differently.” [Man at the table next to mine, when they fed us at midnight]

It should be obvious by now that Dan Cathy was the star of the night.

 

“I had to cover one of these things for another restaurant that offered a prize for the first 100, and when I showed up at 6:00 AM there were only 28 people in line.  So I shot the story, then got in line and got the prize. That never happens at Chick-Fil-A.”  [Undisclosed local TV station camera man]

The man made us promise we wouldn’t say who he was to anyone because he could get in trouble, and maybe the statute of limitations has passed. But I will keep my promise.

 

Truly an unforgettable night at an amazing place.

 




Being Generous By Spending Money On Yourself

The Bible speaks abundantly about money and is pretty straightforward: Work hard. Be generous. Save money. Don’t be materialistic. Be content. Do not spend money selfishly.

Let me be clear that I get that. Let me be equally clear that part of the reason ramblingeveron.com exists is to use writing as a way to encourage people to dig deeper beyond the obvious. To push back against thinking boxes. To eviscerate platitudes and cliches. Jesus often blows my mind about how to live and I want to share that with others.

With that in mind, I want to rethink the exact applications of the biblical principles mentioned above. Working hard is non-negotiable, though that can look very different for different people. But on the issues of saving money, being generous and being selfish, it is my contention that we can (and perhaps sometimes should) live these things out in ways that are counterintuitive and countercultural.

What I mean is this: What if there are times it is really the more selfless thing to spend money instead of saving it? When generosity is spending money on ourselves? What if the more noble thing is to spend more on an item instead of finding it cheaper? What if concepts like minimalism, while entirely appropriate for some, isn’t necessarily the best approach for all?

The biggest application I think of when it comes to this are simple and are often mentioned as a way to be a good neighbor: buy local and support small businesses. I hear this advice frequently, but I do not think we discuss enough in the framework of Christianity.

Click here for a deeper dive into giving and generosity.

Anyone who knows me well knows I am frugal. I saved up as much money as I could before I got married so that I could have a huge safety net to provide for my wife. This causes my wife to be concerned when she wants to buy something one of her friends is selling via their personal small business on Facebook. She thinks I will get mad about it. Yet very quickly into our marriage, I began realizing how selfless it can be to support our friends who really are working hard and using their gifts to provide a quality product or service. Therefore, quite often when my wife asks my opinion (Note: NOT my permission) on buying something from a friend on Facebook, I enthusiastically tell her I hope she does.

Same for where we shop and eat in Bel-Cragin, Chicago where we live. We can (and do) shop at huge nationally known stores that allow us to save money. But we could also spend a little more shopping at a place that someone in the neighborhood owns. If I can buy a book from Amazon for $5 or buy it for $7 from a local bookshop, my initial reaction always is, “Go for the bargain. It’s the wise move financially.” But who probably needs it more? Same for eating. If it comes down to buying a meal for $6 at McDonald’s or a similar quality meal for $8 from Endi’s at Diversey and Central, whose owner I see all the time, is it always worth it to save the $2?


My wife and I have a child coming in February. You better believe we are thinking about money and how to provide for the child. But thanks to the grace of God, we are not in a position where we have to count pennies or truly worry about whether we will be able to make it. I have a ton to learn about parenting, yet right now I have learned from the wisdom of others (including my parents) that I want to teach my children from birth that they do not really need everything our culture says they do. I hope they learn that we will be generous by giving money to church, missionaries and social justice causes, but also to people who have earned it through selling goods and services.

REO’s look at managing your money wisely.

Additionally, I have learned in my marriage that spending money on things like vacations and date nights isn’t about living a certain lifestyle or materialism as much as it is about creating memories and a bond in my marriage that is invaluable. So when I look up tickets to Wicked and see prices that would cause pre-marriage Gowdy to shriek in horror, I remember that it is an investment in my wife and my marriage. While I obviously love going to the beach and enjoy every second of it, spending the money to do it doesn’t have to be selfish. My wife loves it as well and the time away matters to us.

Jesus helps me to crystallize this is the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16. That is one odd passage if you read it on its face. The manager is in trouble and cuts deals with people who are in debt. And the rich man commends him. Trying to figure out how to apply that today is a challenge. Yet something Jesus draws out of this, “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself.” The reason, I think, is because we need to understand how desperately we need other people. We need community. The manager was in a desperate situation and the only way out was to be shrewd with his money. In the same way, I can use my money on others to communicate to them that I need them. I take a guy from my church out to lunch and I pay. He gets blessed with a lunch but we both get blessed with the friendship. We think we are helping others when we spend money on them, but they are actually doing us a relational favor by being helped. Only the Bible could be that counterintuitive and countercultural.

A couple of disclaimers I feel are important. First, I realize some people do not have excess or for other good reasons need to be saving money, even the $2 for the burger. My intention in writing this is to challenge traditional thinking, not to present my thinking as absolute truth for everyone. If a person or couple is going in debt from their spending, then a change sounds prudent. In those cases, people may need to be creative in finding inexpensive ways to support local business or their marriage. (Being creative is something we all can stand more of anyway.)

Also, I want to be clear that I am not writing this from a place of success. These are things I need to practice much, much better. I am an Amazon addict. And even though you can buy from individuals on Amazon, I find myself wanting the new things with free shipping. This kind of thinking isn’t easy for me. And it is my hope that by writing about it, I will bring myself accountability.

To me, the worst thing you can do biblically with money is to hoard it. I don’t think, however, we were created to just pay bills and give it away either. We also should spend money on ourselves in a way that benefits others, so that we are completely aware of how badly we need relationships and community. That’s just one of many ways Jesus has blown my mind about how to live.

 

 

 

 




Around the Table: Five of Our Favorite TV Dinner Scenes

Both of our dinner scenes of film Fives have gone over well (to varying degrees). But in recent days it has come to our attention that television felt left out, cast into the cold and trodden underneath our calloused feet, as it were. For our part, we are aghast that it has taken us this long to highlight some great dinner scenes depicted on TV. Hysterical, awkward, heartfelt, masterfully orchestrated, these are a few of our favorites:


The IT Crowd – “The Dinner Party” (Phill Lytle)

I did not love The IT Crowd immediately. In fact, my first attempt to watch the show ended after the second episode of the first season, much to the dismay and consternation of a few of my fellow REO contributors. It just didn’t work for me. I gave up after those two episodes and figured I would never come back to it.

A few years later, I changed my mind and decided to give it another chance. Some of the REO braintrust, Nathan Patton, Gowdy Cannon, and Benjamin Plunkett, were huge fans, and as I value their opinions on most things, I knew that I had to stick it out.

I’m so glad I did.

Now, it did not work right off the bat, even the second time through. I still found some things in those early episodes that annoyed me, but slowly, I started to appreciate the humor and the characters. For the uninitiated, The IT Crowd follows two socially dysfunctional men (Roy and Moss) who work for the IT department of a large company. In the first episode, we are introduced to the woman (Jen) who somehow manages to be placed in their department as some sort of manager though she has no IT or computer expertise. It’s a match made in heaven. Of course, there are many side characters that add a lot of humor and charm to the show – characters like Denholm Reynholm, his son Douglas, and most importantly, Richmond Avenal, a reclusive gothic weirdo who hides/lives/works in the basement of the building.

In the second season (Series Two for the Brits) Jen is having a dinner party with her new boyfriend. At the last minute, the men she had invited are unable to attend, so she is forced to invite a few of her coworkers – Roy, Moss, and Richmond. I doubt I have laughed more at any other scene in the series as I did during the dinner party that ensues. From the three men and their inability to be remotely normal – their efforts to look normal kill me every time I watch it – to their absolute lack of self-awareness when it comes to conversation and social etiquette. Jen is beside herself in embarrassment but we as the audience are all better off having seen the insanity on display. This was the episode that convinced me that the show had greatness in it. It made every episode around it better due to how perfectly every aspect of this dinner party was deployed.

I’ll leave you with the classic, “look normal” pose.


Psych – “American Duos” (Gowdy Cannon)

Psych was about Shawn and Gus but in this episode, Tim Curry steals the show. Guest starring as Nigel St. Nigel, the lead judge on the fictional American Duos, Curry plays a parody of Simon Cowell. Except if Cowell were about 100X funnier. Wielding an acerbic wit and his natural and phenomenal British accent, he trash-talks everyone with whom he comes in contact with clever and side-splitting material. As when he claims Lassiter’s hair looks like it’s been poured out of a cake mold.

So naturally he has enemies and the main plot is that someone is trying to kill him. He is seemingly not safe anywhere so they eventually put him at Henry’s house, where the competent ex-cop can keep an eye on him. And as Henry, Nigel, Shawn and Gus sit down to steaks that Henry has evenly marinated, the fun begins.

Nigel has helped himself to Henry’s bathrobe. He calls Henry “Horace”.  He asks who decorated the place, “Kris Kristofferson?”  Henry tries to keep up in the putdown war but he’s clearly outmatched as if he brought a fork to a gun fight. Nigel has an endless arsenal of insults and they are all hilarious. Shawn and Gus are not to be completely ignored, however, as Gus procures three full ears of corn from the fridge and continuously and violently slaps Shawn’s hand away when he tries to have some. The seriousness and tenacity with which Gus denies Shawn his corn (“Keep playing, Shawn! Go ahead!) is evidence of why Gus is one of the great TV characters ever to me.

The scene ends with Nigel claiming that while wearing Henry’s plush robe, “I feel like an angel baby, swaddled in a cocoon of cloud candy,” just before Shawn takes a timeout with Henry in the next room where Henry declares that Nigel has violated “basic robe code”. But not before it leaves a wake of tear-inducing laughter behind. It was the first scene in this show’s run that caused me to think “This show can be ROTFL funny.”


The Office – “The Dinner Party” (Ben Plunkett)

The Office is famous for being hilarious yet so awkward it’s almost hard to watch. This episode is a prime example of that. In fact, it would not surprise me one bit if this were officially awarded The Most Awkward Dinner Party in TV History. It definitely deserves an awkward award. Again, it is hilariously so. The evening begins simply enough for Jim and Pam, albeit with a small glimpse into Michael and Jan’s decidedly dysfunctional relationship in their clearly Jan-centric home. After they are joined by Andy and Angela, the evening slowly continues to escalate to ever more horribly awkward levels. At one point Jim tells the camera, “Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game, and it’s called, ‘let’s see how uncomfortable we can make our guests.’ And they’re both winning.” About three hours later Dwight arrives uninvited with a date (his former babysitter), and his own glasses and food (beet salad, of course.) For the rest of the evening he is gloriously oblivious to the mounting tension in the room (either that or in his own Dwightly way he just doesn’t care). But he is only to delighted to take his bosom pal Michael home with him following a huge Jan and Michael blowout that brings the police to their door, serving as the awkward evening’s grand finale.

I feel compelled to add at this point that it is in this episode that Michael describes a wine as having “an oaky afterbirth.” And, really, that describes Michael and Jan’s dinner party, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? It had some sort of awesome oaky, hokey afterbirth.

Jim: “What was that?”


Parenthood (Phill Lytle)

For some time, I have wanted to write about the importance of sitting around a table and eating with friends or family. There is a sacredness to breaking bread together – something that feels almost divinely designed. One of my favorite shows of the last 10 years, Parenthood, used dinner scenes as a way to explore family bonds and unity. There are too many dinner scenes in the six-season run of the show to only focus on one, so I won’t even try.

Parenthood follows the Braverman family. They are a close-knit group, to say the least. The whole family tree is included, from the patriarch and matriarch to the grown siblings – two boys and two girls, and all their respective families. They are passionate and deeply protective of each other. They fight, they argue, and yet they always find their ways back to each other. A key dynamic in all this passion and familial color is the dinner table. The opening credits even reinforce this idea of what it says about a family that eats together. They are united in all the ways that count. The dialogue in each dinner scene is real – avoiding feeble attempts at plot building, instead opting for character and relationship development. The scenes feel real because they remind us of all those times we’ve sat at a table with our families and friends, with all the accompanying shouts, laughs, and noise. It’s beautiful and sacred stuff and we need more of it in our lives.


Seinfeld – “The Strike” (Gowdy Cannon)

Seinfeld has flooded our culture with so much that is now iconic you can’t escape it. From the Puffy Shirt in the Smithsonian, to Patrick Warburton painting his face in real life for a New Jersey Devils playoff game, to nearly everyone having invoked some version of “No soup for you!”

But at the very top of the list is the Festivus episode, named “The Strike” for Kramer’s subplot. But there is one big reason everyone remembers this episode: the introduction and celebration of Festivus. It’s so popular that a few years ago Jason Alexander said it was the most common thing shouted to him in public, which is saying something. And perhaps no scene in the episode is more memorable and lasting than when a motley crew of nine people–The Big 4, the Costanzas, Kruger and two random mega-creepy guys from the horse track–gather to celebrate this ridiculous made-up holiday.

Frank dominates the gathering. He invented it, so he gets the mic. And he does not disappoint. He begins the airing of grievances (He’s got a lot of problems with those people) by trying to insult Kruger but gets disoriented: “You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe—-I lost my train of thought.”  It’s so realistic I could totally believe Jerry Stiller really forgot his line.

Festivus is epic, and it’s never over until George pins Frank. So for that it makes our list.

 


Those are some of our favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section below. And while we’re at it, spend some time around the dinner table with your family and friends. It’s good stuff.




Five Facts About Arminius the Man, and Not the Theology Debate

Jacobus Arminius was born either in 1559 or 1560 in Oudewater, Holland and died about 50 years later. During that half a century he lived a fascinating life in a lot of ways, yet it seems the only thing many people associate him with centuries after his death is a systematic theology argument. The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of significant theological and denominational divisions in Christianity and Arminius’s teachings were so impactful that he gathered a fierce, loyal following in his day. And people continue to adhere to and teach them in our day.

I have written about Arminianism many times for this site and you can see those articles below. Today, though, I want to remind everyone who reads REO that Arminius was a human soul, not a mere set of beliefs. I’m sure he experienced pain and disappointment. I’m sure he experienced joy. I’m sure he felt compassion for people. His sermons on Romans 7 and Romans 9 have been well known from his time until ours. But by comparison very little is known about his character and personality.

So today I submit five things about Arminius the man, that have little to nothing to do with his teachings on Christian salvation:


1. After the bubonic plague invaded Amsterdam in 1601 and claimed 20,000 victims, Arminius took water into homes of the sick that no one else would enter[1. Robert Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will, 8].

I believe the willingness of a Christian to get their hands dirty serving people who are in desperate need is a significant mark of a disciple of Christ. Arminius, at least at this time in his life, was this kind of disciple. I find this convicting.


2. His father died when he was an infant. When he was about 15 and a newly registered student at Marburg University in Germany, his mother and brothers were all killed when Spaniards burned his hometown[2. Gerald McCulloh, Man’s Faith and Freedom; the Theological Influence of Jacobus Arminius, 12].

Growing up fatherless (in a strict sense, note that he did have male mentors as Theodorus Aemilius and Rudolph Snellius) and losing all of his immediate family when he was a teenager had to be a tough blow. But he did not let it derail his education and got a degree from the University of Leiden.


3. He strongly complimented and encouraged people to read John Calvin’s commentaries[3. Mark A. Ellis, Introduction to The Arminian Confession of 1621, vii.].

Arminius was a mere five years old when Calvin died, so the two men were not true contemporaries. In fact, Arminius’s chief theological rival was Fransiscus Gomarus, a Calvinist and fellow faculty member when Arminius went back to teach at Leiden. It was Gomarus who opposed Arminius’s teachings and not the other way around. My understanding, especially noted in the bolded statement above, is that Arminius was not a vicious debater and respected those whose interpretations differed from his. But anyone who teaches the Bible stands to receive opposition. Arminius often did throughout his life.

It was Arminius’s followers after his death who facilitated a bigger divide between the teachings of Calvin and Arminius, notably in their publications the year after he died and later in 1621. It is a divide that exists to this day. I do not necessarily fault them for staking claim to key theological ground; my point is that Arminius was not a fire-breathing, Calvin-bashing preacher. He wrote in 1607:

“I encourage the reading of the commentaries of Calvin, which I extol with the greatest praise…For I say that he is incomparable in the interpretation of Scripture, and his comments are better than anything which the Fathers give us.”[4. Jacobus Arminius to Sebastian Egbert, 3 May, 1607, Christiaan Hartsocker and Philippus van Limborch, eds., 236-37; cited by Ellis, vii.]


4. He had a wife and nine children, though very little is written about them[5. Kasper Brant, The Life of James Arminius, 38, 299.].

His wife’s name was Lijsbet Reael, who was from an affluent Amsterdam family, and they were married in 1590. He lost two children in infancy but eventually were blessed with seven sons and two daughters by the early 1600s. Beyond this, very little is mentioned about his family in the works I have read. I find it humanizing, however, that this man who taught things so significant that people bear his name on their theological system over 400 years after his death, dealt with the trivial, menial, daily aspects of marriage and parenting. And with the horrifying tragedy of losing children to death.


5. He drew big crowds whenever he preached[6. Donald M. Lake, Jacobus Arminius’ Contribution to a Theology of Grace, Grace Unlimited, ed. Charles H. Pinnock, 226; cited by Picirilli, 6]. 

Arminius was a pastor, preacher and a professor. My experience tells me it is hard to be exceptional at all three. Yet by all accounts, it appears he was. The time and culture he lived in were different than mine, but I wonder if it wasn’t as prevalent back then that educated young pastors often preached from ivory towers where common parishioners either could not understand or were turned off by it. Either way, it is encouraging to me that Arminius knew how to preach well enough to reach a lot of people. Preaching should neither be boring or prudish.


Perhaps one day I will do a similar list for John Calvin. In the meantime, I encourage us all to see people as people and not merely as a set of beliefs or opinions, though those can matter. Our humanity demands treating other people like humans. Just as Arminius did.

 

 

 




The Biblical Truth of Rejection in Evangelism and Failure in Discipleship

I would guess that most Orthodox Christians that I know can tell you that there is at least something wrong with how preachers like Joel Osteen present the Bible.

There may be a range of opinions on how heretical he is or isn’t but most would have the wisdom to realize that there isn’t much if any content on God’s judgment or suffering. And not that I think just anyone can avoid these topics and still build a huge church, I have no doubt that people often have ears that want to hear only good news. And in spite of the success of what can accurately be labeled a “health, wealth and prosperity Gospel,” most true Christians I know see through the facade.

Yet I submit that even within genuine Christianity, where pastors and preachers deal with divine judgment, suffering and a whole host of other unpleasant topics in the counsel of God, there are topics we too often avoid.

One of them (or in reality two that are closely linked) is the rejection the church should often face when preaching Jesus, either immediately or eventually.

This is not a rare theology in our Bible. Jesus himself said the way to Heaven is narrow and the way to Hell is broad. Isaiah defined Christ as “despised and rejected by men”. And there is even a story in John 6 where Jesus preached a hard truth about how dedicated his followers had to be to him and John records that, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Reality bears this out. As recently as 2015, Pew had 31% of the world claiming Christianity[1.www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe]. And seeing as how undoubtedly that number includes cults, those who believe in works salvation and those who merely attend church without any real life transformation from the Gospel, we can be assured that far less than 31% of the world is following Jesus. Jesus testified this by saying that many who claim him are not his followers (Matthew 7:21-23), It is for this reason that I use qualifiers like “true,” “genuine” and “orthodox” when describing actual disciples of Jesus Christ.

Another thing that makes the number of true Christians hard to know is that one of Jesus’s parables states that there are four responses to the Gospel. One is flat out rejection. The last is acceptance and a fruitful life. But the middle two present more nuance and more difficulties in the topic of evangelism and discipleship. Without getting too sidetracked by the interpretation of the middle two types of seed, I think it is fair to say that there are many people who accept the message of Christ for a short time but do not finish. The fact that neither of the middle two groups is fruitful leads me to believe they are not genuinely saved.

This coincides with several verses that teach, or least strongly imply, that a person is not saved until they have lived faithfully until the end of their life. Consider:

You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).

Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).

For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 3:14).

If we endure, we will also reign with him (1 Timothy 2:12).

 

It also not my intention to turn this article into an Arminianism vs. Calvinism debate but it is hard for me to miss the truth of what Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews and John all seem to agree on. This also supports the translation of present continuous in some verbs of belief, as Picirilli explains about John 3:16 and 3:36, etc. The whoever “is believing” is saved. Because the person can cease to believe at some point. The parable of the sower seems to confirm this.

But more than an area of theology this troubles me in practice. I suppose it is easy for me to say this as a pastor of a non-mega church, but I experience rejection in evangelism and failure in discipleship all the time. I’ve talked, witnessed and preached to countless people who never made a decision for Christ. And beyond this, there are two facts keeping me up at night from my 16-year ministry in Chicago: probably 90% of the teenagers that were being discipled when I was the youth pastor of my church are not actively being discipled today and the majority of people I’ve baptized (adults and teenagers alike) are not actively being discipled in a church today.

I have zero doubt that some of this is on me. I have faults and I have ignorance in the areas of witnessing and making disciples. But the Bible verses mentioned above make me realize that some of it is just the reality of how people respond to God, and not to me. Part of my goal in writing this is to get it out there for people who may feel similar. I would imagine just about every Christian who values evangelism and discipleship (which should be every Christian) gets this to some level. Even the megachurch workers and those who share the Gospel with hundreds of people each year. It just seems to me the books and blog posts and sermons and resources on these topics, even in conservative Christianity, focus primarily on success. Here is what to do to be successful. Failure or rejection may be acknowledged, but often only in passing. I feel that the New Testament gives it a thorough treatment.

Quite often in my life, because I’m sure God directs it this way so that he gets the glory, I feel like my experience and knowledge are so flimsy. I mean that sincerely, even as someone who writes for a website. So when I feel like I don’t know enough from my experiences to write to help people, all I know to do is interpret the Bible. That is how it should be regardless, but often it isn’t. So today, after years of frustration and failure in the two pillars of how the message of Jesus Christ impacts the world—evangelism and discipleship—I only offer a theology that is far more important than my experience.

If you feel the same or if you feel completely different, we welcome feedback below.

 




What I Wish Generation Z knew about 9/11

If my calculations are correct, the high school senior class this academic year will be the first ever to feature kids who were not born when 9/11 happened. Equally as stunning, I think it is reasonable to assume there will be college graduates this year who have no significant memories of that day. This generation, the one immediately after the Millennials and often referred to as Generation Z, will be the first to not truly remember the day America was attacked on our homeland in a way we hadn’t been before or since. 

Like just about anyone who was old enough to have memories, mine from that day are sharp. I was a graduating senior at Welch College. I worked every morning at the YMCA from 7 AM to 8 AM and that day I realized I was going to be late for my first class so I went and got a haircut instead. They had TVs in the barbershop. Like millions of others, I was very confused as to why one of the towers in New York was on fire. Like millions of others, I saw the second plane hit live as it happened.

So much has changed since then. Netflix, Twitter, and Facebook either weren’t invented or weren’t public yet. We were six years from smartphones being a thing. And even though Amazon had been born, it was a shadow of what it is today.

Some things changed significantly because of that day, like air travel. Homeland Security was created. And some things we experienced that day and the time afterwards in the realms of politics and culture are things we will likely never experience again.  

Here are just a few that I hope the generation coming up with no memories will take the time to learn and appreciate. Because we all need history; not just facts on a page, but stories from those who saw it firsthand.

 

First, I wish this generation knew what it was like for the country to be unified.

I wouldn’t want anyone to ever have to go through the trauma of that day, where 3,000 died and thousands more had their lives drastically altered for the worse. But something that rose from the ashes was a countrywide unity that I do not think we will ever see again. By the end of his second term, George W. Bush was an extremely unpopular president. But after 9/11 his approval rating–for the country as a whole, not just Republicans–peaked at 92%[1. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/President Bush Approval Rating 92%]. Few things on a national scale have brought me patriotic chills like Bush walking out to the mound for Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, seven weeks after the attacks, in a bulletproof vest, waving at the crowd, giving the thumbs up and then throwing a beautiful strike for the first pitch. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played on TV and radio and American flags flew everywhere. Policemen and firemen were the toast of the country, especially in NY. 

 

 

I’m sure there were a few people who didn’t join in and those who were Muslim or are very sensitive to Muslims probably remember those days quite differently. Even as an evangelical Christian I do not want to overlook this. But simple data proves that the country was united greatly in the face of tragedy.

The last 15 years or so have seen so much political division I feel confident no president will ever reach that height ever again, meaning that we will never be that united again. My fear is that not even a non-polarizing president, unlike our last and current one, could unify us. Even if we do experience something like 9-11. God forbid we ever do.

 

I wish this generation knew how surreal that day was.

The adjective “Surreal” and the phrase “It felt like a movie except it was real life” have been overused the last 17 years describing the event. Yet it’s hard to say it uniquely without losing accuracy. That is exactly what it felt like.

I bet I spent 8 or 9 hours in front of a TV that day. I’m sure others spent more. My Bible College had a chapel service dedicated to praying for what was going on but who knew what to think or say?

Even after all the details emerged It was hard to know how to react. Even those who don’t like country music probably remember Alan Jackson singing “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?—an emotive, contemplative and beautifully written song about that day. For my money, that was how most people I knew felt. It captured the mood of the country perfectly to me. You better believe I called my mother to tell her that I loved her. People were going to church and holding hands with strangers, people were giving blood and people were staying at home and clinging to their families. And more than anything, many were just stunned and shocked for many days after. 

 

I wish this generation knew how people looked to Heaven in those days.

Much of the evidence is anecdotal and less is statistical, but even without that I think most people I knew sensed a increase in the general feeling of “I need to pray and go to church” after 9/11. One pastor, Ed Young, says his church attendance went up by several thousand the Sunday after 9/11. Tim Keller says his nearly doubled. Beyond that, it seemed people were praying all over the country, out of sheer desperation and helplessness. To be frank, because the US is quite pluralistic, it reminded me of Jonah 1 when the men on that boat were faced with tragedy and they all cried out to their gods.

 

I wish this generation knew how fleeting it all was.

One of the more immediate sobering memories I have post-9/11 is that there was a backlash against something New York policemen or firemen did at some point. I thought, “Their time to be honored is apparently over.” Church attendance leveled off very quickly and in some cases reduced. Bush became less and less popular. And 17 years later, there is confusion for people like me as to when patriotism becomes nationalism[2. That word is loaded these days so understand I mean it as simply as I can: the feeling of superiority as an American to the point of demeaning other countries.]–a question that seemed odd back then.

But there’s a life lesson in all of this. Much of life, even the good, is quite fleeting. As a Bible-teaching Christian I can’t help but think of Ecclesiastes and its message of how dark life can be when you try to find meaning and purpose in what is fleeting. I am proud to be an American but I also fully believe that all people of all cultures are fundamentally flawed morally. And I do not find meaning in how unified our country is or is not, or how many people come to my church or how my president is perceived. I find it in Jesus Christ and him crucified. And in what he calls me to do. Which is make a difference to my home, church, neighborhood and country in practical and daily action.

More than anything I wish Generation Z knew that 9-11 was a huge reminder of how desperately the world needs the grace of Jesus Christ. Because that is my most signifiant memory.

 

 

 

 




Brees or Brady? A Gonzo Take On the Classic “Stats v. Rings” Debate

About a year ago, in an undisclosed location, the REO staff had a meeting. Present were Phill, Ben, Mike, Dave, Nathan, Mark and me. We ordered pizza and as the doorbell rang signifying its arrival, Phill rolled a die to see who would have to get it, counting off each of us seated at a round table as a number. I informed Phill that by casting the die he was then creating a world with six alternate timelines. One where each of us has to get the pizza when the die lands and seals our numerical fate.

In one of the timelines–let’s call it The Darkest Timeline–things go berserk thanks to some terrible luck, a Norwegian troll doll and an Indiana Jones diorama. People get hurt. Things catch on fire. Apocalyptic chaos ensues.   

Thankfully we don’t live in that timeline, unless you get on Twitter where apparently everybody is in a perpetual meltdown. But due to a Dreamatorium created and shared by Mike and me, Darkest Timeline Gowdy has a chance on occasion to interact with our timeline, as he did in January when he debated me about whether Severus Snape was more hero than villain. Today, I, Regular Gowdy (RG) again invite Darkest Timeline Gowdy (DTG) to Ramblingeveron.com to have a debate about which NFL quarterback is better: Tom Brady and his five rings plus exceptional stats or Drew Brees and his one ring plus assault on the NFL record book stats.

 

RG: Thank you for joining me again.

DTG: I think it’s been 9 months since I shredded your dignity in our last debate. I hope that’s enough time for you to have recovered. 

RG: I’m ignoring that. Before we begin, I assume you have read my article on why Tom Brady is the most overrated quarterback of all time.

DTG: Yes, I read it. I was particularly impressed with how the number of times Matt Cassel gyrated in the huddle in the 3rd quarter of November games in 2010 playing vs. AFC West teams totally nullifies Tom Brady’s 4 Super Bowl MVPs.

RG: I’m ignoring that as well. I mentioned it, though, because I want to make the rules for this debate clear: We are here to laud the quarterback we are defending, not trash the opponent’s quarterback.

DTG: You’re not going to insult Brady? I don’t believe it. 

RG: I’ve said all I can say on that topic.

DTG: Yes, and that’s 2500 words that made everyone who read it dumber. 

RG: Let’s just get on with the debate. Since I went first last time, I’ll give you the honors.

DTG: Fine. Tom Brady is more than just five Super Bowl rings. He’s far and away the greatest clutch football player of all time. 27 playoff wins, approaching twice as many as second place on that list. 71 Playoff TDs, over two dozen more than the #2 guy. Eight 4th quarter comebacks and 11 game-winning drives in his playoff career. The Biggest comeback by far in Super Bowl history and the second biggest ever by 4th quarter deficit. In every Super Bowl win he had lead a game-winning drive in the fourth. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

RG: Brees on the other hand is rewriting the record book. He will soon best Peyton Manning for career yards and career TDs. He’s passed for 5000 yards in a season five times, which no one else has done more than once. He’s the all time leader in completion % and has three of the top four seasons there. He’s led the league in passing yards a record six times, in completions six times, in touchdowns four times and in completion percentage four times.

DTG: But even by that criteria Brady is exceptional. He has 480 career TDs and 66,000 yards and may also pass Manning in both of those before he retires.  He has a 3:1 career TD to Int ratio and has led the league in Passing TDs four times and in yards three times, including last year at 40 years old. Besides, greatness is measured in playoff success. No one can compare to Brady. 

RG: Interesting you say that because there aren’t many passing stats that are commonly used to evaluate QBs that Brees doesn’t have higher per game averages in the playoffs than Brady. He averages more yards per game, more TDs per game, has a better completion % and better TD to Int ratio. And on and on. His problem is that he hasn’t gotten the opportunities as Brady has.

DTG: People often say that but you can’t fault a man for staying with the same franchise and leading them to the playoffs year in and year out. 

RG: I don’t deny that….

DTG: Narrator: “He did deny it. 2500 words worth.”

RG: …but Brees has missed the playoffs six times as a Saint and his defense ranked the following in points allowed per game those years: 31st, 32nd (last), 28th, 31st, 26th and 25th.

DTG: So what? Brady drug a 31st ranked defense to the Super Bowl in 2011. 

RG: That was based on yardage per game. By points, the better statistic for determining defensive success, they were 15th. In fact, Brady has never played with a defense below 17th, which happened twice (2002 and 2005) and those were the two least successful years of his career in terms of winning.

DTG: Sounds like a Brady insult and a recycled stat. That’s a warning. Next time I get to punch you.

RG: Fine.

DTG: But as far as Brees goes, even when he’s made the playoffs he’s only 7-6. 

RG: That’s because his teams have failed him in the 4th quarter over and over.

DTG: People always say that but quarterbacks make their own luck. Do you know what Brady’s stats are in his five Super Bowl wins in the 4th quarter?  56 for 76 (73.7%), 598 Yds, 4 TD, 1 Int, 108.3 rating. Also, if you look at his stats when he is behind in the 4th quarter in the Super Bowl, they are even better. His rating and QBR are astronomical. 

RG: But consider this: In four of his playoff losses with New Orleans, Brees’ offenses in the fourth quarter alone put up 17 (vs. Minnesota last year), 16 (vs. Seattle in 2010), 15 (vs. Seattle in 2013) and 18 points (vs. San Fransisco in 2012). Three different times he’s led his team on a go-ahead drive late, only to have the other team come back and score and win.

DTG: That happened to Brady vs. the Giants in 2007…

RG: In a game where New England only put up 14 points…

DTG: That’s another snide Brady insult. [Punches RG in the arm.] And it doesn’t matter. Brady has had terrible luck in the fourth quarter of Super Bowls and other playoff games. Helmet catch? Mario Manningham? Philadelphia scoring late last year? Brady passed for 500 yards and still lost. Brees isn’t anything special here. 

RG: But the thing is, Brees gets shafted before the Super Bowl. He didn’t even get to go to the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl but once in his career so far. And he was excellent. He’s lost playoff games despite scoring 32 and 36 points…

DTG: Brady lost the Super Bowl despite scoring 33!

RG: But that’s the Super Bowl! Brees’ teams aren’t good enough to even get there.

DTG: Brady lost to Indianapolis one year despite scoring 34. 

RG: But to be fair 14 of those points were from the defense.

DTG: Because Peyton Manning was a playoff turnover machine. 

RG: Don’t you have a go at Peyton Manning!

DTG: “Have a go?” Quit pretending you really talk like Harry Potter.  

RG: Getting back on topic….Brees could have made the playoffs more and had more success if he didn’t have to deal with things like bottom of the league defenses and his head coach getting suspended.

DTG: New England has dealt with controversy and Brady has still thrived. Wasn’t it great when Brady got to stand there and get the Lombardi trophy from the man who unfairly suspended him for four games to teach him a lesson?  That was so emasculating for Goodell. Just as it was for you and all the other mouseketeers in your little “I hate Brady because he’s better than my favorite quarterback” Club. 

RG: That’s like apples and mangoes, though. Brees thrived with the offense, but you can’t win with a 30th ranked defense.

DTG: We can only evaluate them on the hands they’ve been dealt. And straight up and down, my final analysis is this: Brady is the GOAT because of his playoff greatness, his Super Bowl success and especially his 4th quarter when behind Super Bowl resume. Brees is great, but behind where it matters.

RG: My final rejoinder is this: Brees is the most prolific quarterback of all-time and when he’s has had the playoff chances, he’s been as good or better than anyone, including Brady. Switch places, or just switch defenses, and he would have five rings.

DTG: Are we finished? 

RG: Yes, I’d say that was a draw.

DTG: I’d say I thrashed you again. 

RG: Whatever.

DTG: Exceptional comeback. 

RG: Wanna debate Die Hard in the future?

DTG: Yes, but that must wait for December, when it’s Christmas.   

RG: Get out.




Streets Ahead: Five Community Episodes That Make It The Funniest Show Since Seinfeld

“If you have to ask, you’re streets behind.” (Pierce)

 

Seinfeld is the Jerry Rice/Godfather/Cinnamon Toast Crunch of sitcoms. It wins any “greatest” conversation to me (and won the REO staff’s tournament). But in my mind there hadn’t been a sitcom I had been willing to put in the same conversation with it.

Until now.

Let me be clear that I have thoroughly enjoyed several sitcoms this century. Arrested Development was exceptional from the first second of the first episode and brought the jokes at a rapid-fire pace. Scrubs could be right up my alley in how ridiculous and random it was and yet how it could pull the heartstrings like a well-done medical drama. Park and Rec had the biggest heart and best ensemble cast of maybe any sitcom ever.

Yet one show stands above the rest in terms of comedy, the most basic category for how we rank sitcoms: Community. I say this as purely my own opinion but I will say we have an objective way to measure humor—by how much we laugh and how hard we laugh. The previously mentioned sitcoms (and I’d even thrown in Psych, though it was an hour-long show) were probably better shows. But you can ask my wife; no show that we have watched together has caused me to laugh like Community. To me, no show I’ve watched in the last twenty years is funnier.

We binge-watched it a year ago and my laughter was so long and disruptive, often literally causing me to ROTFL, that my wife had to have the remote so she could pause it so we didn’t miss 5-10 minutes of the show. 

And after we finished it, I immediately watched it all the way through again and then asked for it for Christmas to have forever. 

It is probably the most creative show I’ve ever seen. And the most meta. It took something that Arrested Development and Scrubs did well (being self-aware, winking at the audience and parodying everything) and took it to the extreme. Yet comedy is laughter when broken down to its most existential form. Here are five episodes that made me laugh till I cried and started beating the floor, begging for mercy.

[Note that this isn’t necessarily a Top 5 list and that two of the best episodes–Contemporary American Poultry and Remedial Chaos Theory–are missing by design. Because I’ve honored them in other REO articles.]

 

Environmental Science (Season 1, Episode 10)

This was the first episode where I realized Chevy Chase was going to bring all of the magic that made Clark Griswald and Dusty Bottoms great to this role. When he teaches Shirley effective public speaking tips, including “hand them a sandwich,” and she uses them to get a roaring applause, his reactions while sitting in the audience are priceless. This, along with the other episode plots, happens as Abed and Troy sing “Somewhere Out There” as they search for Fivel. And there’s a lot of El Tigre Chino in this episode, making it even more riotous.

 

Paradigms in Human Memory (Season 2, Episode 21)

It was the climax of the second episode of season one when I realized this show had the ridiculous and random I love so much, when Jeff helped Pierce with his Spanish project and at one point they were waving huge Greek flags. It was the aforementioned Chicken Fingers episode late in season one when I realized just how hard this show could make me laugh. But it was this episode when I knew I was witnessing greatness.

Most sitcoms rely on the clip episode at some point and some shows have even made fun of how lazy that is. But Community is too outrageous to settle for that. Their “clip” show is from entirely made up episodes and in the show’s classic fashion, makes fun of itself by having Jeff bring it home at the end with an insane mashup of his speeches from these entirely made up episodes.

“These drug runners aren’t going to execute Pierce because he’s racist…

it’s a locomotive that runs on us

and the only sharks in that water…

are the emotional ghosts I like to call….

fear…

anchovies…

fear…

the dangers of ingesting mercury!

because the real bugs aren’t the ones in those beds!…”

And on and on he goes as the music builds and we are treated to images like Pierce having a gun to his head in Mexico and the entire group in straight jackets. Out of this world cleverness and tear-producing laughter.

 

Competitive Ecology (Season 3, Episode 3)

This episode has the distinctive feature of one of the ROTFL moments coming from someone outside of the study group: the mild-mannered, quick-to-forgive punching bag Todd. He’s been paired up with Pierce because the class assignment calls for a partner and the study group is an odd number. And throughout the entire episode, they berate Todd with insults and end with “No offense” before he jovially replies “None taken.” When Pierce calls him petty for showing empathy because Pierce wanted to be with his friends, that was a fall on the floor laughing moment to me. But it was upstaged by Todd’s meltdown at the end, which he punctuates by exclaiming he’s finally going to go home and take his insulin shot. (And don’t miss Abed’s facial reaction to that statement.) It was a rant worthy of Clark Griswald, an appropriate comparison given the circumstances.

 

Pillows and Blankets (Season 3, Episode 14)

You really never knew what Community was going to do for episode premises. The study group could be video game characters, muppets, claymation, or in a G.I. Joe cartoon. There could be a paintball or a Halloween party with real zombies or a Dungeons and Dragons game. Jack Black could show up, there could be a bottle episode or they could fight Germans for the study room.

So it should be no surprise that truly one of the most special episodes is a brilliant parody of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary. As the second half of a two-parter that has Troy and Abed go to battle over the exact thing the episode title says, it opens with noting that Shirley is “AKA Big Cheddar” (a callback to a previous episode where she made Jeff cry when they were kids). And it only gets funnier from there.

 

Cooperative Polygraphy (Season 5, Episode 4)

This episode holds the record for most times I laughed so hard that my side hurt. The fascinating thing is that most of it was at Pierce…and Chevy Chase wasn’t even in the episode. Mr. Stone (Walton Goggins) comes by after Pierce’s death to be executer of Pierce’s will. Nearly all of what he says is written by Pierce and it is delivered with stone-faced monotone. Yet because of the writing, Mr. Stone captures Pierce’s “voice” and presence perfectly and it’s over-the-top hilarious to me. Because Pierce was one of the greatest sitcom characters ever.

 

I could make this list 50 episodes if I wanted to. That’s how good this show was. Community overcame a significant amount of obstacles—Chevy Chase being a jerk in real life and departing, Donald Glover quickly realizing how huge of a star he could be to the point of leaving as well, Dan Harmon oddly getting axed for a season (though that season was still great)—to vault itself to the top of the Greatest Sitcom charts. The last half of Season 5 is passable and Season 6 was surprisingly pretty good, with the finale being outstanding. If Troy and Pierce had been present, it would have been the best ever.

But for 4.5 seasons it was white hot. And only Seinfeld beats it to me.

 

 

 

 




Gestures and The Gospel 

“And what a relief to see your friendly smile. It is like seeing the face of God!

[Jacob, to Esau]

 

It’s happened twice in the last month. First, a man from my church was doing work on my home and met my next door neighbor. To my shame, I’ve never met him. But my church friend got to talking to him and my neighbor mentioned that he has wanted to ask me something about my house for months but “it always looks like he’s angry so I’ve never bothered.” Then a youth group visited my church and I led them in passing out flyers in my neighborhood for ESL classes and other community events. And one of the youth mentioned to a lady in my church, “Gowdy always looks like he’s mad about something.”

I have to laugh at this because while I’m not mad that often, what I call my “resting introvert face” clearly causes people to think I am. Part of me wants to react “That’s just how I am and if people are confused that is their problem.”

Yet I think the nature of Christianity pushes against this. When I was in grad school, my favorite professor, Dr. Wong Loi Sing (whom I’ve referenced several times in theology articles) taught us something that was way out of the norm for grad school level classes on things like Hermeneutics and Greek. He taught us that gestures—the subtle, easy-to-take-for-granted, mostly non-verbal ways we communicate—can reflect the Gospel.

In light of that, I have been thinking recently about how I really should smile more. Not all the time, and not in a disingenuous way, but just in a way that demonstrates, “It’s not my nature to smile because I’m deep inside my own head, but you are important so I’ll focus more on you than me.”  Generally speaking, people appreciate a smiling person. Twice this summer I’ve read, once in a Christian blog and once in a secular book on grit, that smiling is one of the easiest things we can do serve other people and make our environment better for everyone.

Several months ago I wrote about how we can use greeting others to preach the gospel. And I firmly believe that greetings are just one (albeit a crucial one) of many gestures that fit this idea. Since I’m a pastor and preacher I feel the need to clarify that the gospel in its most potent form must involve words (Romans 10:14). But I also believe when Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify God in Heaven,” that there are thousands of small, seemingly meaningless gestures that could apply. If the gospel doesn’t touch every single aspect our lives, including our facial expressions, body language and the whole of non-verbal communication, then I do not think we understand it.

When I am walking down the street in Chicago, 99% of the time I have headphones on, listening to an audiobook or something in Polish. And when I see someone on the street that I know, my temptation as an introvert is to give a wave and keep going[1. And if I’m being super honest, sometimes the temptation is to pretend I didn’t see them.]. Yet I know that quite often the right thing to do is pause what I’m listening to and take the headphones out and speak to them. Sometimes this means a brief conversation happens. Other times it means just a simple greeting exchange takes place. Yet I think taking the headphones out communicates to the other person that they are worth deferring to. It’s not a big sacrifice like helping someone move or visiting them in the hospital. It’s a mere gesture. But I think it matters. I’m sad it’s taken me a long time to learn this.

Other examples that I think matter to my personal context come to my mind. Some cultures appreciate a slight bow to older people when greeting them. When someone is trying to turn right in their car and I am in the crosswalk as a pedestrian and they are waiting on me, running to the corner instead of walking says “I see you. Your time is worth something to my convenience.” And saying “Excuse me” or “Con permiso” to people of certain cultures if I come even close to them when I pass by them is something I think I should practice[2. Full disclosure: when a close friend of mine, whose parents are from Mexico, told me I should consider doing this even if I come within a couple of feet of someone as I pass, I bristled at it. I told him there is no need to say “Excuse me” unless I bump into them or I need for them to move so I can pass. Which of course is true in my culture. He handled my defensiveness with tremendous grace and that caused me to reconsider his advice and put it into practice. Sort of a “soft answer turns away wrath” type moment.].

Your circumstances are likely different than mine. If you are an extrovert, stopping to talk on the street probably brings joy and requires little effort. Maybe for that type of person, the gesture could be to avoid doing something so as not to draw attention. I only give examples for practicality’s sake. But all people can consider how to use gestures to in some way “consider others more important than yourselves”. The gospel is absolutely proclaiming Christ with our words. And it’s huge sacrificial actions. Yet it’s also small gestures that we can practice dozens of times daily.