Preach the Gospel: When Necessary Use Words

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Preach the Gospel (Torah, Koran, Dharma, Vedas) – When necessary use words – St. Francis of Assisi, paraphrased 

by Annette Cook, Director of Senior Adult Ministries; Christ Church Episcopal, Greenville, SC

If we profess to be people of faith—whatever that faith is—do we show it in our everyday actions, words and decisions so that no one has to ask what we believe because they can see it? Are we living consciously, re-flecting on how we live and what we are telling others about us and our beliefs in every moment? I’m afraid most of us would have to answer, “I don’t know; I don’t think about these things often; I’m not sure; or I try to do so.”

Most of us live without reflecting on the above questions very often but I want to suggest by not taking time to look at ourselves and how we present our beliefs with-out words we are missing the opportunity to both grow deeper in faith and to grow more aware of our effect on others as we go about our daily lives. Just maybe we can become the sort of people we want to be around our-selves.

Think of the grumpiest, most complaint-filled person you know; one whom you don’t like to be around too much because they are so negative. Are they a person of faith? You can’t tell by their actions OR their words can you? Do you see joy, trust, compassion, thoughtfulness, and interest in others or do you have to dig for it under a mountain of woes and negativity? Or perhaps you know someone who looks at the world and can only see and moan about how terrible it is and find people to blame. Does that person exhibit joy, trust, hope? Do they live as if they know the end of the story? Am I that person?

The grumpiest person is of course an extreme example of someone who may indeed believe in a loving God and in loving humanity as part of their faith but if they can’t consistently live that belief by example then how deep does that faith go? If I say I love to exercise and you never see me leave my chair you know what I really like to do. My words lie and my actions show the truth. So, am I sharing my faith or my fear or my lack of control when I snap back at someone who snaps at me? If I return a frown for a frown have I added love or anger the world and to the person in front of me?

The other day I heard a radio host say a new study shows that in America we smile less often the older we become. I’d like to see a study that looked at Americans who claim to be spiritual or religious and see if we also smile less often as we age. Are we ever in trouble if it’s true. Maybe smiling isn’t an indicator of our deepest emotions but smiling gives a gift to the ornery, the sad, the tired, the lonely, the grumpy person. We mirror the expressions and postures of others. If someone frowns at us we frown back. BUT we can change that, we can smile. A smile is recognizable from about 300 feet away so try approaching everyone with a smile. If they frown back at least you tried. If someone asked why you are smiling like an idiot tell them you are practicing your faith. Life may be painful and sad at times but smiling hurts no one and we are anticipating the end of our story with hope.

All faith traditions I know of ground their adherents by the deep belief that they are cared for, have purpose beyond their own lives and have a source of strength be-yond human frailty. For Jews, Christians and Muslims it’s God, for Buddhists, the Dharma and so on. Many of us wear symbols of our faiths: crosses, stars of David, headscarves, crescent moons. Nothing turns people away from faith, from us, and from respecting others more than professing one thing and acting the opposite. l know that the best compliment I was ever paid was by a stranger on a plane who, after a 2 hour flight, told me she knew I worked for a church before I could tell her. For at least 2 hours I lived my faith. Let’s add to the kindness, hap-piness and love in the world by trying to live our faith through our actions as well as our words. Let’s share a smile and show our faith not just preach it with words.

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