It was a bumpy flight all the way from Baton Rouge to Atlanta. My friend Barry and I were en route to a meeting. I was sitting next to the window, Barry was in the middle and a stranger was on the aisle seat. Assuming that the stranger didn’t like to fly, I leaned over to Barry and whispered, “The guy next to you us wringing his hands and seems very uptight; it’s your Christian duty to encourage him a little.” In a few moments, I heard Barry ask him, “Is this your first flight?” “Oh no, not at all,” the man responded, “I’m an airplane mechanic and I know how easy these things can just fall apart,” as he commenced making a whirling motion complete with a crashing vocal sound. Barry leaned over to me and said, “He’s making me nervous!” “Yeah, I know what you mean,” I laughed under my breath (a little).
Of course, we are contagious. People can make us nervous. You can be around certain people for five minutes and get a headache. No doubt about it, we rub off on each other. Psychologists tell us that we actually become a part of everything that happens to us. The things we see, hear and do become integrated into our personalities, however minor they may be. This is the reason we warn our children to be careful who they run around with. I can just hear my momma’s warning: “Birds of a feather flock together,” or, “Monkey see, monkey do.” It occurred to me that maybe their parents are warning their kids not to monkey around with us either.
When the church was beginning to take shape in the first century, as recorded in the Book of Acts, there is a reference to the boldness of Peter and John, who couldn’t help but speak the things they had seen and heard. And others “recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13-17). Certain spiritual qualities rubbed off on them, and the Christian movement began to take shape. That movement exists today because people have continued to “rub off” on each other.
Think of the people who’ve influenced you; those who have had the greatest impact on your values and behavior. It may be your momma or daddy or Sunday School teacher, or coach, or whomever. We may say to ourselves, “I want what that person has!” or, “I would like to have her outlook on life,” or, “I want to be like him!” One human being inspiring and helping another human being keeps the world turning and makes life worth living. It’s the “social network” behind every civilization.
There is a ceremony in our church tradition which illustrates this very well. Older, retiring ministers pass the “mantle” (a liturgical stole) on to the younger ministers during the Ordination Service. It’s a beautiful way to symbolize the way we influence and encourage those who will come after us, who follow the path left by those gone before us. The symbol of our faith is handed down from one generation to the next.
One of the ongoing dangers of the church is that we can be so busy tending to our buildings, the upkeep of property, etc., that we lose sight of the individual. We can be so focused on the mechanics of a worship service that we are blind to the woman who is grieving the loss of her husband, the man who has a depressive disorder, the young person who is struggling with sexuality. We can be so busy going to church meetings that we don’t hear the cry of loneliness from those in nursing homes, or half-way houses, or hospitals, or other places where people are suffering sometimes silently.
The church has a tremendous challenge in today’s world. Television, movies, internet, etc. are causing a major “value shift” on our morals, ethics and almost every aspect of human behavior. We are challenged, like never before, to uphold the values that help individuals have self-respect, to respect others and to live a life that’s helpful and decent, a life that makes a difference, a life that cares about all of God’s creation.
The people who rub off on me are not those who buttonhole me, trying to make me believe that their way is the best way, but those who live their lives unselfishly, gracefully, respectfully, and are involved in helping to make this a better world for all of us. May their tribe increase.