article by Paul Lipe
I REMEMBER standing outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, with my wife Linda, my sister and her husband – it was a beautiful Friday morning in April of 2001. We had just come from inside the cathedral where we had heard a concert presented by a high school choir from San Francisco and were commenting on how well we thought they had done, when a man approached me and asked, “Are you a Presbyterian?”
Now I shall readily acknowledge that we Presbyterians can look a little different, but I was not aware that we were that easy to spot. How could this man, almost half way around the world, know that I was a Christian, much less know what particular brand of Christianity I embraced. So, I asked him, “What makes you think that I am a Presbyterian?”
When he answered me, it was clear that one did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to make such an assumption. You see, even though it was a beautiful day, the weather was a bit nippy, and I was wearing a light jacket to ward off the chill. It was a red jacket with the name of my alma mater, Davidson College, emblazoned in black letters across my heart. As many of you may well know, Davidson was founded by and is governed by Presbyterians. Hence, his deduction – elementary, my dear Watson!
When I confessed that he was right, that I was, indeed, a Presbyterian, he told me that he, too, was a Presbyterian and that he had been converted by a minister from that denomination. I asked the name of that pastor, and when he revealed the name, I was surprised to note that I had attended graduate school with that same preacher. What a small, small world! And was I glad that my meeting with this stranger took place outside a church and not at some less reputable spot in Paris! It would not have been good for a Presbyterian, and a preacher, to boot, to have been seen in an unseemly location.
Well, are there lessons to be learned from this experience? A thing or two come to mind.
What would one think of a minister whose auto has a clergy parking sticker on his rear window, but who drives like he is at the Darlington Speedway? His behavior is not consistent with the way he had identified himself — a clergyman ought not to be driving like a madman!
And would you be positively impressed with a man whose invitation is pictured in the front license-plate holder of his automobile and reads, “Worship with us at _______ Church,” but who is parked outside an XXX video store? If we were looking for a place to worship, most of us would not be inclined to accept the offer from that individual.
And what is our opinion of the man who wears a wedding ring but who flirts with every pretty woman in the room? One who takes his marriage vows so lightly is not one for whom we hold much esteem.
As I see it, a major problem with our society, and perhaps even with many of us who are patrons of this magazine, is that what we profess is often at odds with what we practice. We may say one thing but then do just the opposite. Perhaps we wear a cross around our necks, but then our conduct does not reflect the character of the One that cross represents. The message this sends is an unclear one.
Many of us find fault with those politicians who promise so much but who produce so little. But don’t we admire and respect the person who lives in harmony with the tenets he promotes.
I am fortunate to have friends and associates whose word is reliable, people in whom I can posit my trust. And I want to be the kind of person in whom others can place their faith. Surely there will be times when we fail to measure up, but may we all endeavor to do our best to be what we say we are. May we be remembered as those who strive to practice what they profess.