Feb 072014 0 Responses

On the Greeter Who Shakes Your Hand Too Hard

Every Sunday I would get out of Sunday School and dread the walk toward Big Church. It wasn’t the busy parking lot, or the road I would have to cross. I was 6 so crossing a street didn’t seem that dangerous to me. (If you are new to the blog, here is an explanation of Funny Friday.)

I knew something was coming and I was dreading it–the handshake.

We would walk to the door and he would put out his feeble hand. As I tried to shake his, he would try to break mine.

Who does that? Who shakes a 6-year-old’s hand like it deserved to be crushed? After the encounter I needed a cast and he looked as though he needed a cigarette. (See: How to Break Up a Drug Deal in the Church Parking Lot)

It’s like he was trying to squeeze masculinity into us. Maybe he saw the wimpy children crossing the street and thought “their dads have done a terrible job turning them into men so I’ll try to do it with one handshake.”

It never worked.

When our avoidance plan failed and our hands throbbed in pain well past the third worship song, I would always feel like less than a man.

Thirty years later, I look back on that experience in such a radically different way.

Having moved from the second row of the balcony into the pastor’s chair, I now look at church people differently.

I understand they aren’t as perfect as they would appear. (See: On Faking Communion and a Prescription to Drink)

The faithful Sunday School teacher might be struggling with doubt.

The old saintly church lady could be one of the most lost people in the joint, convinced that salvation comes by works instead of grace.

The pastor believes what he is preaching, but he also realized midway through the sermon that he forgot to change his fantasy football team and is working hard to wrap up the service before the noon kickoff.

Having now pastored for over a decade, I realize not everything is as it appears. It’s much like when you grow up and suddenly realize that not every clown is good. Most are, but a few are not.

So it is with church—not all the clowns who attend are good clowns. (See: What Goes On When Every Head Is Bowed and Every Eye Is Closed)

That’s my aged perspective of the hard-handshaker of old. I look back and wonder if maybe there was a manhood issue at play as he tried to break my hand. I don’t look back questioning my manhood; I question his.

What was he hiding?

Who feels so bad about their own masculinity that they try to prove themselves manly by crushing the hands of a 6–year-old? Why couldn’t he try to prove his manhood the way every other man at church did: by trying to hit a golf ball farther, bragging about his High School football achievements, or getting a louder truck?

I now realize the man with the strongest handshake is probably trying to cover up some horrible shame. Maybe he is the man most likely to have a hankering for wearing women’s underwear. It’s probably not true, but good luck keeping a straight face the next time a rotund man with a short tie tries to squeeze your hand too tight.

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