Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
November 7, 2009


Jokes are nothing compared to a story that touches the heart


This is the season for Alabama-Auburn jokes. You may have heard this one:

An Alabama fan walks into a travel agency in response to an ad about free river cruises. As the man described why he was there to the lady behind the desk, the woman hit a button; two men spring up behind the guy, beat him up, take his wallet, stuff him into a sack, and throw him out back into the river.

A few moments later an Auburn fan walks in and also begins to speak when the woman hits the same button. The two men spring out, beat him up, stuff him in a sack, steal his wallet, and throw him out back into the river. A few miles down river the Alabama fan and the Auburn fan catch up to one another and the Auburn fan says, "I wonder if they serve dinner on this cruise?" The Alabama fan replies, “They didn't last year."

Jokes that bash the college we love to hate are commonplace. When I hear one, I smile but quickly forget it. Most are not worth remembering.

What I truly enjoy is a story that touches the heart. I would not swap a touching story for a dozen jokes, no matter how funny.

When I began preaching, back when Harry Truman was president, I thought every sermon should begin with a good joke. You used the joke as an “ice breaker” to get folks to laugh and relax. Then you hit them with the serious stuff about sin, hell, and judgment. In those days I kept a joke file close at hand, jotting down new ones on 3x5 cards.

Then one day I had a “Eureka” moment: telling the truth is much more powerful than telling jokes!  So I discarded my joke file, began telling the truth instead of jokes, and found that my preaching was far more effective. The reason was obvious: people could identify with the real-life experiences I shared.

Soon I discovered something else that helped me. Some people are not comfortable with a pastor who tells the truth!  These people prefer a pastor on a pedestal, a pastor who is pure and holy, not a real person who struggles with the same temptations they do. It unnerves these dear souls for their pastor to admit his frailty. One woman haughtily told me how disappointed she was to learn that her pastor was a sinner.

My seminary training had not prepared me for this discovery – that some people prefer “make believe” to the real world. I realized that it would not be easy to convince these people that preachers actually cry and bleed like everyone else. Of course not all preachers are “truth-tellers.” Some insist that the pulpit is no place to share anything personal; he or she must stick to “preaching the gospel.”

So preachers come in two flavors: those who admit their shortcomings and those who do not.  Those who do not prefer the pedestal, choosing that lofty seat while hoping to hide behind a smoke screen of piety. In this matter every preacher must eventually choose between the misery of pretense and the freedom of being a real person.

As a young preacher I began to enjoy being a real human being instead of pretending to fit the stereotype that some people have created for preachers. It was refreshing to have someone say to me, “I know how you feel because I am facing that same problem in my own life.”

So I found new courage to relate to people as a fellow struggler rather than as one whose faith was so strong that there were no more problems. To my great delight this resulted in a new depth of relationships with people from all walks of life who, like me, were looking for hope and encouragement to meet the harsh realities of life.

More than once I have become lost in that self-obsessed fog known only to the workaholic. When I am in that fog I become insensitive to the needs of my wife and often make stupid comments which scramble our relationship.

Stunned by the estrangement which follows, I begin to sort out my priorities anew, realizing for the one-hundredth time that my wife’s love is infinitely more important to me than the mountain of work I have been climbing.

When I swallow my pride and admit this to her, she is graciously forgiving. That enables us to renew our relationship, often with tenderness. Once again I realize that what matter most are not things but relationships. What makes life worth living is being known and loved in spite of your weaknesses. Realizing that one more time I resolve to put first things first so that I can avoid the pain of having my heart ripped out by another torn relationship.

If reading this you are thinking,  “I’ve been there and done that,” then you are on my page;  you know what I mean. You also know the profound difference between a joke and a story that touches your heart.

Given the opportunity you and I could sit down and share our hearts with each other for hours, identifying with the hurt and hope that throbs within us, and longing to be known, understood, and loved as an authentic person. And we would never think of sharing a joke because it is so much more refreshing to share the truth about ourselves.

If all that sounds a bit too “spiritual,” I will close with this:

What do they put on the bottoms of Coke bottles at Auburn?
Please open other end.

War Eagle! + + +