Monday, August 01, 2011

I help people talk to God

Photo by Steve Todey

"What do you do?"

Notice that when people ask you what you do, they are asking about an action, not an identity statement.

We all know this awkward conversation:

"So, what do you do?"
"I'm an accountant."
"Oh, ummmm. What do accountants do?"

Claiming an identity in response to a question about activity can shut down a conversation. Conversations are like a friendly match of volleyball. Both sides take turns hitting the ball back and forth over the net. They're not trying to score points, just spending time together. In the situation above, responding with "I'm an accountant" interrupts this friendly game with a surprise spike. It leaves your conversation partner diving and scrambling to return the ball.

In the book, How to Talk to Anyone, the author Leil Lowndes suggests a course of action for this dinner party stock question. She calls it the "Nutshell résumé."

A nutshell résumé is designed to answer the "What do you do?" question straight-on while giving your conversation partner something to latch onto. It deposits information into the conversation and gives the other person a lot of time, space, and options in returning the ball.

"I’m an accountant" could become "I help individuals survive tax day," or "I keep my company financially honest," or even, "I help people hide their money." Any of these are better for small talk than "I'm an accountant."

Turning now to the priesthood. If "I'm an accountant" can maim a conversation, then "I'm a priest" shoves it out an airlock into the cold heart of space. What are some options for nutshell résumés for priests?

Here's a list of possibilities:
  • I help people find God
  • I introduce people to God
  • I help people thrive
  • I help people find who they really are
  • I help people live in tune with the earth
  • I help people live in tune with the world
  • I help people live in tune with God
  • I introduce people to Jesus Christ
  • I'm a spiritual midwife
  • I lead people to the throne of God
  • I help people discover the secret of the world

Each of these has its own resonances. All of them are true in their own way, and they each provide different options for expanding the conversation.

But, I finally alighted upon something else entirely: "I help people talk to God."

Priests help people talk to God. We do. It's wrongheaded to think that people have to come to us to talk to God. We're coaches. We come alongside our parishioners to equip them to be the royal priests that God has called them to be in their secular vocations.

And think of the ways that a stranger might take that answer. "Oh, how do you do that?" "Which God is that?" "What kind of people can talk to God?" "What set you on that course?" "Can you help me talk to God?" Any direction the conversation goes from there is evangelism of one sort or another. Any conversation that follows is an opportunity to invite a new acquaintance further into your life, which is hidden with Christ in God.

I can hardly wait until my next cocktail party so that I can try it out.

Are you a minister? How do you introduce yourself at parties?

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