Do you remember the classic childhood game ‘Telephone’? You know the one. It stars one speaker, a message, and a room full of eager recipients. The rules are simple. The recipients stand together in a single line and the speaker whispers the message to the first individual. Communication of the message can only occur in a whisper, and can only be whispered once by each individual. One by one the message is transmitted down the line where it emerges at the end confused and distorted.
I have long been suspect of this game. I am suspect of this game because I feel that somewhere along that line there is always one individual who willfully distorts the message. There is always one joker in the mix who believes it funny to twist the message into something completely unrelated to the original. This coupled with people’s mumbled whispers and inability to repeat themselves renders the full communication of the message impossible from the start.
I am much more of a fan of the childhood classic ‘Pass it on.’ On the surface it seems to be exactly like ‘Telephone.’ There is a speaker, a message, and a room full of recipients. Yet the differences are great. For one, the message is not whispered in secret, but spoken in public. It is declared boldly by the speaker to the recipient, and it is repeated for as many times as it takes for the individual to fully engage with the message. The message is then concluded with the instructions: ‘Pass it on.’
And you know what? People do. People pass on the message to another. The message, in complete authenticity, works itself around an entire room because that’s what we do when we have news to share. Whether it is information or an experience, we share important matters with the people who are close to us. And it’s not just the grand things either. It’s not just birthdays and anniversaries, weddings and baptisms. We pass on the news of our favorite movies and television shows. We encourage others to experience the restaurants we like, the stores we frequent, the products we use. We counsel our loved ones to avoid the things that bring less than positive results or experiences. When something, someone, or some experience impacts our life, we share that news with others.
In fact, social media show us that sometimes we share even the most mundane and trivial things. How curious it is then, that we have developed this belief that it is rude to express our faith. We invite people to meet our acquaintances, our romances, and friends and our family, but inviting someone to meet our savior is deemed rude, inappropriate and wrong. Why is it that we can actively tell people that they simply must watch the latest season of “Walking Dead”, or post that we just bought a new pare of sunglasses online, yet speaking about our faith is a beyond the scope of polite conversation.
I wonder if this is why the mainline church is experiencing numerical decline. Maybe it’s not because of soccer on Sunday’s, or the shopping malls being open, or any other host of factors we cite as rationale for dwindling attendance. Maybe we have just stopped passing on the news? Maybe the church is facing decline because we have made the communication of our faith more about where we stand on certain social controversies, rather than the simple declaration that the Lord risen, and we are forgiven.
After all, this is the message the disciples were given. As Jesus came upon them in their locked room, it was with this message, along with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that he sent them out. Yesterday’s reading reminds us that we stand in that same line, and as so, we have that same mission. We are called to go out of our locked rooms of communicate the message of resurrection and forgiveness. Furthermore, we are called do so continuously, boldly, and publically.
See, that is the difference between ‘Telephone’ and ‘Pass it on.” ‘Telephone’ is all about the hearer. The speaker whispers the message once, and then moves on. If the hearer doesn’t receive the full message, well that’s their problem; we have done our part. In this game there is no care, no relationship, no love. But in “Pass it on”, the speaker cares for the hearer’s receptivity. The speaker speaks boldly, publically, and plainly. The speaker stands with the hearer and repeats the message for as long as it takes for them to understand it and enter into it. Then the speaker and the hearer together join in communicating the message to more and more people. It’s not just the message passed on, but relationship as well.
We have all been given a message, and it is the best message that anyone can hear. “The Lord is Risen! We are forgiven!” What game will you play?