Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 4, 2007


Must I explain all my secrets until no mystery remains?  


          Basically I prefer openness to secrecy. I like honesty. It wears well on the people who will tell you, without rancor, what they really think. I like them more than the folks who simply smile and leave you wondering what they think.

          The impersonal nature of our culture troubles me. The “super” stores sell us stuff for less money but they have robbed us of something valuable. In the Mom and Pop stores we could ask Pop how a certain gadget might work. We knew Pop and Pop knew us. But no more. The “super” store clerks have no desire to know who you are; they just want your money. If what you bought does not work, do not come back crying about it to us; contact the manufacturer in Hong Kong.

          I gave up on the big chain drug stores for that reason. I pay a little more for my medicine at a small independent store but I am willing to do that because Barney knows my name. I want the person who sells me drugs that can kill me to know who I am. I want to be more than a customer. I want to be on a first-name basis with my druggist.

          But I must admit I do like a little anonymity. There are times when I rather enjoy being just another man in the crowd. Obscurity is not all bad. Obviously no one wishes to be “known” all the time. Famous people must cherish moments of solitude when they are free from public scrutiny.

          This raises the question in my own mind: just how personal am I willing to become? An old story comes to mind. One Sunday only one man showed up for church. The pastor preached his full sermon, all 30 minutes of it. Afterward he asked the one man in the audience what he thought about his message. The man replied, “Well, it was not bad, preacher, but it did seem a bit personal.”

          Any preacher worth his salt wants his hearers to feel he is talking directly to them. A pastor knows he was on target when a parishioner says to him after church, “Preacher, you have been reading my mail.” One man said to me recently, “How about preaching about somebody else’s sins one Sunday? You have been stepping on my toes for three weeks now!”

          Actually secrecy is less and less possible in our society. There is a website now that has collected a lot of information about many of us. I entered my name and was surprised to see how accurately the site listed the addresses of places I lived years ago. I understand you can request that they remove information about you from the site. I chose to ignore doing that out of indifference. Who cares?

          After all, Big Brother in Washington knows almost everything there is to know about most of us. Few people are able to fly under the government’s radar. Then there are at least three credit bureaus that are ready and willing to reveal your credit history to banks and businesses. And you never know, unless you ask, that they have done it.

          All of us have secrets and there is a certain freedom gained from exposing our secrets to the light of day. I found as a pastor that it helps people identify with you if you will admit your own sins. Some preachers are reluctant to admit their humanity. They want people to think that clergy are above sin.

          On my last Sunday in a church I was leaving, a woman said to me, “I am going to miss you. You are the only preacher I have ever known who was a sinner.” That may have been so, but I think she meant that I was the only preacher she had ever heard admit being a sinner.

          To become a truly authentic person, must I share all my secrets? To be honest, I would rather not. I am not sure I am ready for total exposure. I want to cling to a little mystery a while longer.

          But I reckon it is a losing battle. Finally mystery will yield to openness and truth. I might as well accept it. That is the only way I can explain what Jesus meant when he said, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight.” That means, in the end daylight wins. + + +