Last night, I had a chance to attend a Toastmaster’s International meeting. I came as a guest, to observe a friend tackle a controversial topic that, as part of the requirements, would include three minutes of hostile questions as a follow-up.
The friend had been working for a while on the talk, and various obstacles had delayed her appointed speech. By the time the day finally arrived, I felt invested and wanted to go to support her. I was also curious how she’d do.
She’d been in touch with me on the content of the speech, which had a decidedly pro-life angle. My friend has definite convictions about the topic, but had never been to our local abortion facility. One day a few months back, she asked if she could join me as a prayer advocate, mainly to see what it was like. I was happy to introduce her to the sidewalk, and answer any questions that arose.
Her talk went very well. I was proud of how she handled such a divisive topic, and during such tumultuous times. In fact, things have become even more volatile in public discourse since she first chose her theme.
But my ultimate takeaways from the evening ended up being about more than just her well-done presentation. As a fly on the wall of the meeting, it was interesting for me to be in a group of strangers in that sort of setting. It’s rare that I’m in my own city out in public and don’t see at least someone I recognize. Besides that, during my everyday life, I’m usually with groups that are pretty clear on where they stand with things like religion and politics. Even in taking up my post on the sidewalk on Wednesdays, there’s really no question where those who gather fall on the civil discourse divide.
But this was a new group to me and so I did what most normal humans would do in such a setting. I began sizing up the room and searching for signs in the people gathered. Knowing the content of my friend’s talk, I was trying, in part, to find clues as to how things might go. Who would support her talk, and who might be offended?
At some point early on, a question was posed to all the Toastmaster’s members. They were to answer, in celebration of the recent President’s Day commemoration, Who is your favorite president? Well, if that wasn’t enough to quickly parse out the crowd, I don’t know what would!
As each member shared the country’s leader they most admired, I held my breath. This would be revealing. This would tell me a bit about what kind of reception my friend was going to get. Despite the fact that this was a Toastmaster’s meeting with rules and procedure, and not a rally, it was still a group of human beings.
But by the end of the session, I only learned what I have learned so many times before: the exterior isn’t always very indicative of the interior — the old book cover admonition. Indeed, in my human sorting, I was a dismal failure. The gal who said Trump was her favorite totally took me by surprise, and those who said Obama? There were some surprises there, too. Some played it a little safer. “Abe Lincoln.” Well, who can argue that one, right? Everybody loves Abe, it seems.
I’m still not at my biggest takeaway, though. The largest lesson of the night was how refreshing it was to learn I’d been wrong so many times. I actually delight in that error; it brings hope. When the girl who kept cracking the jokes led the hostile questions, I totally had her pegged as staunchly pro-abortion. Even though I knew hostile questions might be contrived, she seemed truly passionate about her stance. Later, when she revealed that in reality, she leads a pro-life group outside Toastmaster’s, I was stunned. She had me fooled!
Again, I’m glad I was wrong. How refreshing to be reminded that we never do know how God might be working in a heart. It challenged me to remember, too, that if I were to go even more deeply into these strangers’ lives, I’d surely discover the many commonalities we all carry.
If only we could get there. If only we could go to that deeper level more quickly, and begin to see one another as we truly are — as God sees us. I know that day will come, and it will be called Heaven. But I do yearn for the day the exterior falls away, and all we see is each others’ hearts.
For now, we’re stuck with here, where we will continue to sort at times — and sometimes unfairly. And if you think you don’t judge, you’re not being honest. All humans do. You can bet the regulars were scoping me out, wondering about the guest in the back of the room, just as I was wondering about them.
It’s not so much the fact that we sort and discern, but what we do with it, and how we try to see through it to the heart, even in these days when we don’t have access to heavenly vision. Moments like these can teach us to go beyond our natural capacities.
Now then, Q4U: Who is your favorite president, if you dare to say? And why?