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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Appropriate Roles, Appropriate Times and Places

We try to convey God's message through words and deeds. Which is easier for you? In what ways might one without the other confuse people? How can you share God's message more clearly and openly? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 1079).

God has blessed me with a boss that is almost the perfect example of integrity, honesty, compassion, patience, and diligence. Yet, over the years, I have seldom if ever heard him use any of these terms. I will have to say that it would almost be a disappointment at this point to come work one day and suddenly to have him effusively giving lectures on any of these qualities – inevitably there would seem to be a color of self self-aggrandizement involved. Mark does not consider any of these qualities as medals to be proudly worn. It is experiences like this that make me greatly biased for the appreciation of words over deeds.

But something more is at play here. What if instead of a systems systems analysts Mark were a priest? Somehow I expect a priest to clearly enunciate in words what Mark lives in deeds. Much the same way I would expect President Obama to be a great president, not to tell me historically (as a history professor would do) the qualities of a great president. That is, I have a rather neat distinction between the roles people play. Now say that I were Catholic and attended the same Sunday school class as Mark. Now in class we have a new social situation and in this context I would expect Mark to assume a different role – a role in which a clear statement of the principles and values important to him could be expressed in words. Thus, it becomes clearer why I sometimes cringe when people "witness for Christ" in what I take to be inappropriate ways. It would make me uncomfortable to go to the doctor's office with a medical problem and have the doctor address me concerning it like my preacher would do. This is all probably deeply unfair, but for some inexplicable reason that's the way it is for me.

I would like to make one major caveat, however. I can easily imagine a situation in which Mark could comfortably play the role of priest at work – and in fact he has done so when my wife was deathly ill. He walked outside with me and we sat on a bench. He talked to me quietly, and if I could imagine the ideal priest, it would certainly have been Mark at that place and time. Thus, it's clear that context matters and there's no hard and fast rules that apply--as humans we are always free to do the helpful thing.

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