Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 10-3

Faith Works 10-3-09

Jeff Gill


The Power of a Beckoning Finger



Across a crowded room, a single crooked finger, a shrug of a shoulder, or a raised eyebrow, can communicate all you need to know, while pretending to listen to someone speaking much but saying nothing.


These non-verbal signals are called "gestures." In an average day, we communicate perhaps as much through them as we do with spoken words, if you consider communication to be the act of sharing information effectively between persons.


In the post-modern world, a "gesture" is almost any act that symbolizes a larger meaning in a small action, often somewhat insincerely: a gesture indicates an action that you probably will never undertake in full.


A dollar into an offering plate is a "gesture" in this respect. You put a fairly insignificant amount towards the work of the church, which symbolizes that all of your assets are in the hands of God. Right? They are, except . . .


Or in terms of the environment, you keep a couple of re-useable grocery bags in the back of your oversized SUV. You want to be seen as concerned about things related to the future of resource use and consumption, but please don't think through the relative impacts too closely.


You can see where "gesture" picked up the "scare quotes." That's a pretty post-modern phenomenon, too, the practice of using quotes to "signal" a sense of irony or presumed insincerity.


Are gestures a problem? How hard should we be on partial indications of commitment, on half-hearted motions towards a full bodied engagement with real situations?


That buck in the bucket is certainly a problem if your giving never moves beyond that level. A life of gestures is like never speaking up, just winking and nodding your way through life. But a kiss blown at the window for someone driving off to work isn't insincere, just an index of love to be more fully shared when the day rounds off to an end.


Religious behavior can be gestural, and as such can be debated for relative sincerity, on each act's comparable significance. A bowed head can be a sign of humility not really felt, but of social conformity alone.  When we cross ourselves, or put on a crucifix, are we really meaning to take on the sign of Christ as the pattern for our lives?


Then some suggest that work trips and short term mission projects are as gestural as a recycled sack in the cargo bay of an Escalade. They don't really change the world, and may get in the way of "real change."


Whoops, I just used the scare quotes.


The thing about gestures, for me, is that we are always needing to be more self-conscious about them, but we can't live without them. And we shouldn't. Every act of volition can't change the world, and every farewell can't be a Hollywood clinch and dip kiss goodbye.


Gestures, thoughtfully used, are a sign also of humility. Even if I give all that I have, and offer my body to be burned, and have not love, I have nothing. (Wait, that should have had quotes, not "scare quotes," right?)


Sometimes, we can only do the small thing. Doing the small thing is a crucial reminder that often the small thing is all that we can do, but we should still do it. ("Do not grow weary in well-doing.") A gesture signals that we are aware that the biggest changes come from God, and our part is almost always going to be a "gesture," nothing more – but so much more.


So a tip of the hat, a wry smile, and a cheerful shrug of the shoulders for gestures. The CROP Walk for hunger next weekend, the Coalition of Care Gospel Concert in a month, your pledge card for the church stewardship campaign. Think about what you mean when you make them, and they (with God) can change the world.


Or maybe just "change the world."


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he likes changing the world in his "spare time." Tell him about your gestures of faith at, or follow Knapsack

No comments:

Post a Comment