With all that is in me I would have loved to have started this post with the name of the guy at Indiana University in Bloomington who used to stand in the middle of campus “preaching the Gospel.” However, it simply escapes me. It was something like Crazy Dan the Bible Man. For conversational purposes we will go with…Dan. He was the stereotypical bible thumping, stand alone, scream and yell, tell them they’re going to hell street preacher. There would always be a few folks around him, mostly to mock (the frat guys liked to egg him on). He would stand, read from the bible (mostly Leviticus), and tell people why they are going to hell. As a Christian I would so very often see him and just bury my head and walk in the other direction. **side note, the picture above isn’t Dan, well, much as I know**
One day however, I stopped within ear shot and listened. Yes, there was all that I listed above but I also heard something very interesting. It was the Gospel. Amidst all of the anger, the yelling, the damnation, was the Good News about the loving payment for all of our sins that is Jesus dying on the cross. “How about that?” I thought to myself. I moved on and just kind of shook my head. It was a shame that most people only ever heard the “…you horrific students of satan will all burn in hell.” part. Some of his message was quite lovely.
Flash forward almost ten years, I am working for YoungLife and I learn a phrase that would change my life. “Earn the right to be heard.” If you are going to tell someone (in this case high school students) something, you need to have built a relationship with them to the point were they might entertain the thought of listening to you. So we would hang out in “their world” and show up where they were. Rather than sit with the parents at football and basketball games we would sit on the perimeter of and, as time went on, IN the student section. We got involved in class plays or sports teams. We entered their world so they knew that we cared about them.
Flash forward again to present day. I am no longer with YoungLife but certainly support the mission and all that it represents. I don’t just reach out to and love HS students but all ages. One thing hasn’t changed, I try hard to always earn the right to be heard. I love to take a minute or two and talk with the folks at Giant Eagle and talk about their job or what kind of day they are having. I make sure to tell people who work at convenience stores that I’m sure it drives them crazy when people come and in and tell them about the weather (as if they don’t have a huge window and actually don’t live in a cave inside the store and have probably already experienced the weather that day). I will slowly pull up next to a Police car, put down my window and simply say thank you for doing what they do. I overtip (great advice from the movie “My Blue Heaven“) whenever possible. I still coach, I no longer sit in the student section but then again I am now announcing the games. I try to help out in the community wherever I can (without doing much manual labor, I mean, we have to be who we are am I wrong?).
Lastly, there is social media. There is an entire world of people that are available right through your keyboard. My “friends” and “contacts” are a huge hodgepodge of many different relationship stratifications. One thing is true of all of them, I try to earn the right to be heard. I try not to post what I wouldn’t say to your face, or anyone’s face. If I wouldn’t say it to a crowd in public, I’m not posting it online either. The one exception might be comfort. If I see that someone is really hurting, even if I don’t know them well, there is a good chance that I will drop them an “I am so sorry that you are going through this” or “my heart is heavy for you” because, well, it is. Further, if I were that person I would imagine that I would receive it well.
No, Angry Dan the Bible Man (hey! That very well may have been what they called him. No, I’m confusing him with a character that I made up for YL years ago) did not “earn the right”. He just made sure that he was heard. Could, would, did God use him in the lives of others? Perhaps, “probably” might even be the answer. As it is, I live my life by following the example Jesus set forth. He hung out with, “the people.” He lived with and near, “the people.” He surrounded Himself with “the people.” He loved and served, “the people.” Yes, for those of you locked and loaded with this next point, John the Baptist did stand out and preach to all the people all the time. However, he told them that…Jesus was coming. I follow Jesus’ lead. I’m not saying that if you stand on the street corner handing out fliers or only post scripture on social media that you are wrong. I’m just saying that I think that we are to give people more, in fact, give them our very self.
Relationships. It all comes down to relationships. Recognize them, start them, build them, cherish them, and certainly, don’t run from them. Do your best though, to earn the right to be heard.