Respect is defined as, “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” Respect is a reverence that we hold toward the nature, character or accomplishments of an honored person or institution that has a very positive effect upon us. There is really no down side to being a respectful person. It is a virtue as marketable as it is beautiful. It has been my observation that respectful people are happy people who do well in life and disrespectful people are unhappy people who do not. So let’s drill down into respect.
1) Respect begins with a respect for God (God as creator)
2) Respect for God creates a respect for self (Created in the image of God)
3) Respect for self extends to others (Brothers and sisters in God’s creation)
We have serious problems, divisions and challenges in America today. Someone asked me last month if I thought things were as bad as they have ever been in America. I reminded them that 600,000 Americans killed each other in the Civil War. Things have been way worse but that does not mean things are not bad now. American inner conflict is not historically new. Being a democratic melting pot has always been hard particularly when you factor in the long term ramifications of grave national mistakes like slavery and the de-facto genocide of Native Americans. What concerns me is that since our current culture lacks respect for anyone or anything, I fear we do not have the relational currency to navigate our challenges. A culture without respect is a culture unraveling.
If you look up the word respect in the Bible, you will found the Greek word ana-paus-is. It is used in relation to concepts like, “Respect the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” It literally means “cessation, refreshment or rest.” When we show reverence for God, for ourselves and for each other, the strife and conflict both within us and outside us ceases, bringing a spirit of refreshment and rest. The Hebrews wrapped it up in the word SHALOM or peace. SHALOM is not the absence of conflict, you will never have that in a fallen world, it is the presence of God. I don’t know about you but I am often weary these days. The American presidential campaign, the unacceptable violence in our nation, the terrorism plaguing our world and the battles within the American Mainline church all wear me out. The Bible teaches that there is one way to revive our weary bodies, souls and minds. LEARN RESPECT.
Let me share with you how I learned respect. One of the great honors of my twenty years at Christ Church has been officiating the funerals of the World War II veterans. For many of you, these men and women were your grandparents, great grandparents, fathers and mothers. All these young men and woman did in the 1940’s was travel across the world, put their lives and futures on the line, won a terrible world war and came back home without enough energy left to start a baby boom and make America great. Bam! That greatest generation is almost completely gone now but I cannot tell you how humbled and honored I am to have served as their pastor…their sacrifice created in me the abiding sense of deep respect that has defined my ministry and life.
Andy Leahy was the custodian at Christ United Methodist Church when I arrived here in 1997. He had white hair, a light complexion, a closely trimmed beard and piercing blue eyes; he was about five foot ten and couldn’t have weighted a hundred and forty pounds. By the time I came along, he was an extremely old man with poor eyesight and limited energy, but Andy had a quality I really admire in a person; he liked me. As the church grew as we approached the roaring 2000’s, his workload became overwhelming and he retired to care for his ailing wife before finally moving to the east coast with his children.
On occasion, Andy and I would go out for lunch. He liked to go for fried fish at the Dandy Inn. He always ordered a beer and I ordered a Coke (this was in my pre-Diet Coke days). He reminded me each time we went to lunch that the beer was okay; he was a Lutheran. I would eat and Andy would sip his beer and talk about World War II, his life as a Seabee, the things he had done, the pain he had encountered and the places he had been. He said he dared not speak of such things to his wife and family so by my reckoning, he had about sixty years of conversation pent up inside him. As he spoke, he would sometimes be overcome by emotion and stop talking; eat for a moment with a shaking right hand, wipe a tear from his eye, take a sip and resume. I really liked having lunch with Andy.
On our final lunch before Andy retired, I noticed two rough-hewn men sitting in the next booth were listening to every word Andy spoke about his time in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. We were getting ready to leave when one of the men got out of his seat and literally blocked Andy’s path to the door. I was frankly unsure of his intentions and stood at full alert with a wary eye. He looked Andy square on, extended his calloused hand and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but overhear what you were saying. I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you for what you did for us over there.” Andy was literally dazed. It was clear he was in new territory. As if called to attention on a ship deck in the Pacific, Andy stood up straight and tall and extended a trembling hand. Tears began to roll down his cheeks as he grasped the stranger’s hand. It was one of the most awesome displays of respect I have ever encountered. It was beautiful. It was the last time I ever saw Andy but I will never forget that moment.
I don’t think there is a more attractive and more needed virtue in this fractured, wounded and divided world than respect. People have always told me that “respect must be earned” but frankly, I disagree. I only know a couple of hundred people well enough to “earn” my respect, so if everyone has to earn it, I am not going to respect most of the people on the planet. So I decided long ago that I would offer everyone respect and make people earn disrespect. What if we all did that? What if we treated everyone, I mean everyone, really, really well? What if we determined to be reverent, honoring and respectful in what we say, how we act, what we post. And what if we taught our children these things? What if we rolled out some old fashion virtues like saying grace with our kids before we eat and saying bedtime prayers? What if we recovered “please” and “thank you?” “Yes sir” and “No mam?” “Excuse me” and “have a great day?” It would take so little. It would change so much.
Respect has to begin somewhere. Let it begin with you and me, our children and our grandchildren. When any one of us opens the door for someone else, simply because we sense the spark of God in another human being, we quickly discover the door…swings both ways!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois