It started out as a good thing to do, but it quickly became a personal mission.
On a recent Friday morning, members of the Cabinet (which includes district superintendents, the bishop and a couple of us director types) were volunteer bell ringers for the Salvation Army. Our post was in the downtown Minneapolis skyways, and we rang from 7 to 9 a.m.
It took me about 30 seconds to notice all the people. I started my bell ringing, greeting passersby with “Good morning,” “Happy Friday,” or “Merry Christmas.” And . . . they just walked by. More than that, they tried to not see me. They walked fast, headphones in their ears, focused on getting to work, and giving me wide berth as I wandered the area, trying to catch their eye. But nothing doing. They would not look.
I am not sure what the reasons were . . . They did not want feel obligated to make a donation? They did not want to be witnessed to about Jesus? They simply had their urban survival mojo going? I get all that. I don’t like my space being invaded either. I am not crazy about the mall kiosk folks who want you to try their lotion, let alone people who want five minutes for you to take a survey or those who approach you on the street asking for some change. You look, and you are hooked.
In big cities, especially as a woman walking alone, one of the coping skills is to move purposely and not let those who might seek to take advantage of you get any sort of edge. But in my experience, our Minnesota nice eventually wins out. We just don’t have it in us to rudely ignore someone who is directly looking at us and saying, “Good morning.”
It took me all of two minutes to change my mission. I was not going to ask people for anything. If they wanted to give, great, but I was not going to ask. I wasn’t going to try to convert anyone to Jesus. That never was my mission. I was wearing a stole, but that was simply as a witness. I wasn’t hiding who I was and what I was about, but my new personal mission was far simpler, and in many ways, much bigger. I wanted to see how many people I could get to smile. I wanted to see if I could give something to people: a blessing. Could a simple “Good morning,” a smile, a wish for a happy Friday be something that connected us, one human to another? In the end, quite a few people did return a smile—and some even returned a greeting too.
Brené Brown, in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, describes courage, compassion, and connection as key practices for living a “wholehearted life.” She defines connection as“the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”And she says one of the biggest barriers to connection is our cultural emphasis on “going it alone.”
What happens to a society, a community, when we don’t know each other anymore? What happens when we stop acknowledging each other as other humans on the journey . . . beautiful, imperfect, struggling, learning fellow travelers in this time and space? What happens when we don’t see each other, hear each other, value each other? Is that when riots erupt? Is that when we go to war? Is that when our hearts get hardened to the plight of those we consider not “us?” Do we circle the wagons and focus on taking care of our own?
Charles Dickens wrote a little parable that has become a classic. You know the story. A man named Ebenezer Scrooge lives a life that is focused on himself and one pursuit: making money. He has no time or patience for what he considers the foibles of humankind. His deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, visits him on Christmas Eve, doomed to wander earth, weighed down in chains, hoping to spare Scrooge this fate. Scrooge doesn’t understand . . . Jacob was a good man of business. How could that bring Jacob to such a bad end? And Jacob responds, “Business! Mankind was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”
In the gospel of John, we are told that God so loved—so loved—the world . . . not some, not just me, but all the world . . . that God sent the Son . . . not so we would perish, but that we might live. Loving is the way to life. And this Son, Jesus, tells us that we too are sent—we are sent to be salt and light to a world in need of love, of a little blessing, of a reminder that it is a good morning indeed.
So, I have a new personal mission. It wasn’t just for that Friday morning; it has become my everyday mission: to say hello to whomever I meet in my day; to walk more slowly and look around and really see people; to offer a blessing, however small, that might bring a smile. This is how we build community—when we feel like we are seen and heard and valued, when we make a connection, when we stop and say, “Good morning!”
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church