It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

I forced myself not to fidget as I waited my turn to present my college senior thesis project.  As a biomedical engineering student, I was required to do a capstone and thesis project.  Believe it or not, I was actually looking forward to this.  While I worked in a tissue engineering lab and could have done my thesis based on my scientific research, I decided to spread my wings and actually build something.  So I signed up to rebuild a braille typewriter for a student in North Carolina who had lost the ability to use one of his hands.  The typewriter needed to be reconfigured to allow easy usage for his needs. 

For many of my peers, this would have been a cake walk, but for me it was a major challenge and one I accepted.  Research was my forte, not mechanics but I felt drawn to the project.  I truly didn't want to leave the University without actually building something tangible.

After months of stress testing and prototypes, I came up with my first real design.  It was time to present our "round one" thesis projects, or "rough drafts", or "first attempts", and I was extremely nervous.  Many people in my graduating class were ahead of me in skill level.  They were building specialized medical instruments that had never been created.  And everyone else worked in a team of three.  I was by myself.

The people who presented in front of me had a prototype of an ear thermometer.  I don't really remember what they modified, but I do remember that all they did was add something to a pre-existing ear thermometer.  I relaxed a bit.  Afterall, all I was really doing was adding something to a pre-existing braille typewriter.  We were practically doing the same sort of thing and they got a great response from our professor.

When I got up to present, I was shaking.  I felt intimidated by my peers and my professor, an ultra feminist who held the girls to a high standard.  She also happened to be my faculty adviser.  I talked a bit about Dominik, the student I was making the typewriter for, showed everyone my prototype then sat down thinking I'd done a decent job.  My voice was a bit shaky, and I only lightly brushed on my previous stress tests.  It was the prototype I was most proud of, and it's what I showed off the most.

About a week later I got my grade and review.  It was the most discouraging, seething, mean, demeaning critique I've ever gotten about anything in my life.  It brought me to tears.  Basically, it said that I was slow and stupid because I should have been done with the project in a month and that my peers are far superior to me and my presentation was terrible. 

I looked at the review of those who presented before me, the ones with the ear instrument that basically did the same sort of thing I was doing, and they got an A grade and a raving review.

Where had I gone wrong?

That's when I learned a valuable lesson.  It's not what you say, it's how you say it.

The guys before me showed graphs, had visual aids, talked with extreme confidence.  They owned their project and even though they were no more advanced or further along in their research then me, they got an amazing review.

This lesson has stuck with me throughout my adulthood.  Even now, as I write this post, I wonder if I'm presenting it well.  When I published my book, A Light in the Darkness, I wondered if I conveyed the message of love in a compelling fashion without turning people off to God.

Sometimes, the way religious people present themselves or their message turns people off.  Have you ever seen someone standing on the side of the street with a sign that says, "The end is near.  Repent!"  If you saw it, would that entice you to turn to God or would you just say, "Look at that crazy person", and go about your day.

The church is notorious for presenting themselves poorly.  When religious leaders go on social media or television and use a word like "abomination" when speaking of a specific group of people, this turns people off.  When someone who looks different, or acts different, than the "typical" christian enters the church and people stare and whisper instead of smiling and introducing themselves, this turns people off.  When church going people protest loudly, violently, using hateful language, this turns people off.

It's how you say it that is turning people off.  And it needs to change.

The foundation of the church is Christ.  The foundation of Christ is love.

LOVE.

This means welcoming ALL, talking to ALL, helping ALL.  It means being able to speak about your differences with respect for the other person's point-of-view.  It means listening with compassion and sympathy.  It means admitting that you're wrong, or confused, or simply uncertain. 

Let's go back to Kirk Cameron's interview with Pierce Morgan.  I didn't see it when it aired but have since watched it on youtube.  Cameron got a lot of heat for his comments about homosexuals being "unnatural."  I don't agree with Cameron, but I respected the way he spoke.  He didn't talk about fire and brimstone.  He didn't raise his voice or become a religious crazy person.  He answered the questions based on his beliefs.  Simple.  Respectable.  A lot of people, including myself, don't agree with his ideas on the subject but I have to say that I respected the way he said his message.

People aren't always going to agree on religion but BOTH SIDES need to be more respectful when listening to each other.

I wonder if we, as church goers, universally changed our approach we'd be able to help more people come to Christ.  If we changed the way we spoke, the way we delivered our message, would more people be willing to listen?

I believe so.