From the time I was a young boy my Dad was a preacher. Two services on Sunday, one on Wednesday night, prayer meeting in someone’s home on another weeknight. There were the men’s breakfast meetings, choir practice; youth group meetings, and bible study. Then there were phone calls, prayer requests, ‘visitation’ at the flocks’ homes, checking in at hospitals on the sick and dying, and church board meetings. I am sure if Dad were standing here over my shoulder, the list would be longer. In reflection, I realize how similar his job is and was to my work. I have found some interesting parallels and realized that perhaps by observation as a child, I learned to be an activist as an adult. While the analogy of church, religion and activism might make some uncomfortable, this isn’t a religious post, it’s a life lesson post.
Three particularly important lessons stand out.
On Saturdays, two or three members of the church, dressed in suits and armed with KJV bibles and pamphlets would go door to door in the neighborhoods seeking to take their message to those that otherwise would never hear it. Saving souls guerilla style. Refusal to answer the door, polite nos or slammed doors were commonplace. But every once in a while they would get in to a kitchen table or living room and have the chance to relay their message. At this point the conversation could be well received, it could be argued, or it could be rejected in whole. A bowed head, held hands, and a plea for forgiveness of sin measured success. The key was to get out of the church where you were “Preaching to the Choir” and into the homes, and minds of a new audience.
Activism has many parallels. On Social Media, websites and blogs, we are often talking amongst ourselves. We are in a virtual church of like-minded people sharing ideas, stimulating our souls and reinforcing our beliefs. We exchange ideas and decide on direction. We discuss theology and comfort each other through painful experiences. We share joy, sorrow, pain and loss collectively. As evangelists, we also seek to convert. Through demonstrations with handheld signs and loud speakers, through mainstream media mentions and celebrity shout-outs, we constantly try to engage new audiences outside the ‘church’ and bring the message to the people.
Each week a preacher must try and find a new angle to interpret the scripture in a way that is relevant to the lives of his flock. Dad spent hours researching, writing and honing his sermon to have meaningful impact and influence change. Too technical and people dozed off, too controversial and people rejected, too long and people squirmed in the pews. Too far of a leap, and people are leery.
The importance of messaging that activist’s use is much the same. In most cases as evangelists we are speaking to someone that is unaware of the issue, not in possession of the facts, or simply ambivalent to the cause. How to deliver a succinct, powerful and ultimately convincing message is the question. Graphic images, superfluous rhetoric, angry tone and indignation in many cases are met with refusal to acknowledge the message. Accuracy is also important. Credible information about the issues that can be tied to factual sources is key. In the world of activism slogans, catch phrases, and anthems are great for choir practice, but may not have any impact on unsuspecting parties. Choosing messaging that ‘hits them where they live’ may be the most important element of evangelic outreach.
Even with the amazingly powerful resource of the internet to reach far-reaching audiences, it seems at times that penetration into the homes, families and minds of the ‘lost’ is difficult. We may have a blog post that sees 40,000 page views, but how many of them are members of the church, and how few might be a casual observer? Certainly the film “Blackfish” has brought more people than ever before to the doors of the church timidly peeking inside. Nearly every day new mentions from unique authors appear on timelines of people who have seen the movie, and were touched by it in a deep and meaningful way. Two very powerful people in Greg Ball and Richard Bloom were in effect new apostles of the message, carrying the conversation into realms it had never been before. Thirty-eight celebrities (and counting) with huge followings spoke out and either condemned SeaWorld or voiced support for the movie. The timing is ripe to save some souls, and in turn save some orcas from captivity.
It wasn’t easy being a ‘PK’. I didn’t particularly enjoy all of those required attendances in the church. But it turns out that by observation of an evangelist, I might have learned some things about being an activist. I think the lesson I was meant to learn was, that if dad could convince people to give up sex, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes, I might be able to sway some folks to stop keeping cetaceans in tanks for our selfish entertainment pleasure.
I would be happy to have you in my ‘flock’ on Twitter. You can find me HERE.
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