Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
As I write this the airplane carrying Pope Francis is probably in its final approach into Rome. In the United States it is Monday, with all of the start-of-the-week chores waiting for us. The analysis of the impact of the Pope’s visit continues. It continues in the media and in the minds of the people who heard him speak or enjoyed an individual encounter. The Pope used his influence to talk about many of the important issues of the day. Immigration, climate change, and the death penalty were directly addressed, just to name a few.
Influence is something we attribute to those who are well-known. People attain status and then some use that status to influence public thinking and politics to achieve some goal. In the Old Testament, Queen Esther is approached by Mordecai through Hathak to use her new influence as Queen to spare the Jews from slaughter. To approach the king as Mordecai wished would be to risk her own life. Yet Esther does just that to use her influence to save her people.
What influence do we have to accomplish anything? Who cares what we think outside of those annoying pollsters on the phone or the endless surveys we are asked to take. I think about the widow whose two-mite gift influenced the Least Coin offering all over the world. I think about the little boy whose sack of bread and fish launched a billion sermons.
Who influences you every day? There is the woman at my dry cleaners who always asks me about my grandson. There is the staff at my coffee shop who make my coffee before I hit the counter and discuss what kind of day I am going to have. There is the attendant in the parking garage whose smile can erase any commuting troubles.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to have influence. We all influence the people around us every day. We can leave a trail of people whose day gets better because we lifted them up a little. For people of faith it can even be seen as holy work. Let our ministry begin.
We are making a generational shift in our family this year. My wife, Kathy, is not teaching school for the first time in thirty-three years. Our grandson, Dylan, started preschool. So there is at least someone in the family in a classroom this fall.
My grandson is at the age where my and mine can become rather loud. He also is very committed that whatever he is eating is shared by everyone else. If you don’t mind the sticky hand that is offering goldfish crackers to you, it can be a sweet learning moment.
As I look over the monthly columns that I have written in the past twelve months, I realize that a fourth of them have been about racism. The latest public incident is the murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church (Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina. Mother Emanuel is another in a long tragic list of African American churches that have been bombed, burned, shot up, and defaced.
People like to use numbers to measure. Your doctor wants to know your blood pressure, your dentist wants to know how many times you floss, and your spouse wants to know on what temperature the thermostat is set. In the church we tend to count two things: how many members and how much money. In some sense we are counting how much have we gathered in our fold. But what if we counted a different measurement?