Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What's Your Sign?

No, not your astrological sign (I guess I showed my age by even making the reference?). I am referring to something much more important than the position of the stars on your birth date. Each one of us gives off a certain "atmosphere" or "mood" by our personality, and it is usually noticeable as soon as we enter a room. Yes, it is sometimes quite vague, and hard to determine by others, but that does not mean that we are not giving off a particular "vibe" to people. Sometimes there is no word to describe the particular "feeling", but it can still be recognized by most.

So, I ask: what is your "sign"? Presuming that our "vibe" can be seen by others, there is a "sign" that goes along with that vibe and though not all can decipher it, it is there for all to see. Imagine someone walking into a room and he glances around the room at the people who are there, scowling and breathing slowly and deeply. We would presume intense anger, and that he is likely looking for someone who made him angry. The sign he is "wearing" says "beware of dog" (for lack of a kinder euphemism).

Think of it this way: it is like we are all wearing a street sign around our neck and it says something to others (it could be warning signs, or it could be something more encouraging). "Falling rocks ahead", "uneven surface", or even "slippery roadway" are a few that we might see on some who are unpleasant to be around. So what is your "sign" that you present to others? When you enter a room, how do people feel inside? Most often others will not tell you how they feel, but they can give it away by subtle body language.

How do others behave around you? Do they strike up a conversation, or avoid you? Maybe some are drawn to you, while others seem to squirm uncomfortably? If you have been thinking that it is their fault, then it may be time to reconsider. People are naturally drawn to be around those who exude a pleasant disposition; and they are also naturally deterred from being around those who seem like a human version of a Tasmanian devil.

We could also describe this "sign" as a "cloud". It is an entirely different metaphor, but it helps us to see the same subject from an alternate perspective. What kind of a cloud hovers over you? Is it a white puffy cloud that shows you have a "sunny" personality and which encourages others to want to speak to you? Is it that type of cloud that makes people want to lay down on a hill and stare up at the sky? Or, is it a dark gray cloud that makes people run for shelter?

Whether you think of a cloud or a sign (or both), you are telling others something about you. Sometimes these "clouds" or "signs" that we bring with us are unknown to us. We go about our daily lives completely unaware that we are driving others away, or sometimes even making our own lives difficult because of an "aura" that we carry with us everywhere. It can be the tone of voice you use, or an expression of the eyes, or even the way you hunch your shoulders. There is a language behind it, and it impacts how we are able to interact with others.

I knew someone a while back who always complained that people did not like him. He seemed ignorant of the fact that his own manner of speaking to others made people uncomfortable around him, so most people that knew him avoided him when he came into a room. This can be caused by someone who is over-friendly or equally by someone who is anti-social. Quiet people often complain that no one will talk to them, and boisterous people often complain that everyone else is boring -- it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is truly remarkable how many people today are socially inept. The more time that people spend with blue faces (i.e. head bent down, eyes glued to their phone screen) the less ability they have to socialize properly with others. There are also those who were never taught by their parents how to interact with others so they are unable even to start up a basic conversation with anyone they do not already know. If you have someone in both of these situations, then I am sure that psychiatrists will likely find some diagnosis (and an attendant medication) to justify their lack of social grace.

In the Church we are supposed to be a social community. In other words, we are supposed to be spending time with one another. A parish family that only interacts during the Mass (which, if the rules of the Mass are obeyed, means minimal interaction with each other) is socially crippled and bound to end up dying a slow death. The Mass is where we are supposed to interact as a group with the Lord. Even the "peace" (while not wrong) is somewhat extraneous to what is going on in the Mass.

When we come together in settings outside of the Mass, then we are forced to talk to one another and that means that likely we will offend each other and have to go so far as to "forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you" (cf. Ephesians 4:32). That kind of interaction might sound like something that we want to avoid, but that is like cutting off your hand to avoid having your finger poke your eye. Those challenging interactions (that we all need to learn how to deal with) are a part of being the body of Christ and growing closer to our Lord. Jesus gave us one another in a parish community for the sake of helping each other grow closer to God (especially in the relational challenges!).

Each and every one of us needs to examine ourselves and ask whether are behaving like a part of "the body" or whether we are behaving more like a parasite on the body (i.e. something that everyone wants to get rid of). Social involvement in the community may not be essential for our eternal salvation, but it is essential for a healthy parish community to thrive. It is not just for what we can get out of it, but also for what we can put into it. Remember, Christ did not just call "you" to salvation, He called "us"!