My father is a common man; simple, intelligent and honest. A lot of the world is like him. I meet them all the time in my day-to-day romp around New York City, strangers at first, but friends when we part. Dad reminds me to keep my message a common man’s language, and so does the apostle Paul; “We preach Christ, warning people not to add to the Message. We teach in a spirit of profound common sense so that we can bring each person to maturity. To be mature is to be basic. Christ! No more, no less.” (Colossians 1:28-29 Msg) When I am embedded with common sense, and trusting God for wisdom, I am better able to tell the simple story of Jesus, the love God has for all men everywhere. I sacrifice the desire I feel sometimes to make the message complex, the flowery dialogues that eventually confuse hearers, and stick with the old, old story of a cross of blood, where death died, and love was born.
In the afternoons on the subway in NYC, I often sit next to men in work clothes. They are dusty from head to foot and heading home. Most of them have that good tired look in their eyes. These are some of my favorite new friends. I find a simple expression breaks the ice. “Now here’s someone who knows what a days work is all about.” I say it because I deeply understand its truth. After 18 years in the trenches with my own father, and feeling that tiredness deep into the bones of physical labor, I know they are sitting down, and feeling the full weight of their muscles relax for the first time all day. It never fails to bring a smile. “I know how it feels,” I explain. “My father was a mason, and I labored for him for many years.” Not long after, comfortable in each other’s space, our shared experience has put a human face to a universal law: a man grows tired from an honest day’s work.
How about you, have you discovered your unique platform of humanity that you can share with those still without Christ?
Living in a dense population area like New York City offers a lot of chances to reach out. Business execs heading down town for power lunches, lawyers heading to city hall for trials, artists meandering the city for appointments, or simple inspiration. Teachers, construction workers, retailers and Olympic champion marksmen, all have found their way across my line of sight. All of them seemed a little intimidating at first, because that’s how a city like New York trains you. You keep the street look, to earn street cred, and then no one messes with you. But after only a few moments of interest, their exterior brightens. A study was done with strap-hangers, and found that the happiest ones were willing to talk with others. It’s the human contact that brightens their day. I love when God allows our paths to cross, and I figure that the least that will happen is that someone else’s day will be brought up a notch. To be honest, I haven’t met one person who wants to immediately dive into the deep waters of philosophy, or the existential. They’re on their way somewhere, or heading home, and on their mind are day-to-day concerns, and relationships that mean the world to them. When I know this, I find questions that allow them to express what’s already closest to their heart. I listen, and probe, and discover alchemy has occurred; the stiff put off feeling now leans into my voice.
Do you find joy in finding common connection with perfect strangers?
The art of turning the topic of conversation from the day to day to spiritual truth is not an easy one. Almost every time I do, I feel like it’s an awkward dance move, as though my feet just got mixed up, and I’m about to fall. Yesterday I was sitting next to a guy who was holding a poodle. This poodle was old and ugly, not much there to compliment. But I could tell this guy adored the pooch. After some small talk, which included his dog Astella’s 14 years of life (the train was very late), the conversation turned on this hinge: “So tell me, do you think others your age are into religious things these days?” Yea, I know, pretty squeaky. Pretty out from left field. While I was kicking myself for not thinking of something clever, he responded with a long answer, and we were soon deep into discussing a relationship with Christ. Why did that happen? During our initial minutes of conversation, I noted in my spirit that my new friend was an open book, a wise and humble kind of person, who I judged would not be offended by a query into the inner motivations of his generation. Wisdom sees openings in the armor, and finds a way to put a wedge there. Wisdom keeps the tongue from saying the wrong things, and emboldens it to say the hard. Wisdom comes from the spirit of Jesus, who is concrete love sitting between you and the person you are trying to show Him to. Awkward questions clothed in love will not be judged, but overlooked because they come from a human being, formed in the voice of a common man, and wisely offered at the right time.
Paul said, “Christ, no more, no less!” Good advice for the common man, don’t you think?