A legacy of encouragement and praise


 A little while back I was visiting the Cherokee County home of Jack Pilger and his wife, Joan. We were at the breakfast table, looking through some old photographs from the stacks of papers that Jack keeps threatening, not very convincingly, to organize one day.
     Then Jack, who retired in 2007 after serving as pastor of Ebenezer UMC in Roswell for 21 years, came across an old group photo of himself and his peers from the Candler School of Theology. Slowly, carefully, Jack’s eyes moved from face to face, studying each one. About three dozen men, called into God’s service, stood shoulder to shoulder, facing the camera.
A little grin spread across Jack’s face as the memories, and names, came flooding back. Moving his finger across the photo, pointing to each recognizable face, Jack eventually shared what had been slowly welling up inside.
      “What a wonderful group of Godly men,” he said, nodding his head to emphasize the point. “Each and every one, a fine man.”
       Huh? Every one a fine man? Really?
       Surely, in a group that large there had to be one malcontent, one annoying adversary, one self-serving egotist, a cynic, an unrepentant complainer. At least one.
     Not in Jack’s eyes. Never in Jack’s eyes.
     In all the conversations I have had with Jack Pilger, including those involving the disappointments and frustrations he has faced over the years, I have never heard him utter a negative word about another person. In fact, it goes deeper than that. Jack is always ready to share a good word about virtually everyone he has ever met.
        Perhaps, as his mind works to make reconnections to a name or face from years past, it takes Jack a minute to remember something positive. I can’t say for sure, but I do know this: Until he finds something good to say about a person, he doesn’t say anything at all.
         In a post-modern culture that has become increasingly coarse, Jack Pilger is an anomaly.
     Recently, an increasing chorus of voices has been decrying the level of personal attacks and character assassination during the current election cycle. And for good reason. Just pick up a paper, turn on the TV, or check Internet news sites to see the cheap shot of the day. But fuss all you want, the ugly, bitterly negative messages will continue for one reason: they work.
       Whether in the entertainment industry, news media, blogosphere, or political centers of power, no one seems safe from the tide of unrelenting, personal attacks. Of course, not many people can attract an audience on TV, radio or the Internet by talking nice. As a result, personal attacks, insults, gossip and character assassination have become more commonplace, the common language of the day.     We are increasingly numb to it.
Most of us know people who became discouraged and left church because of petty bickering or overtly negative comments. I can’t recall anyone quitting a church because people were too kind or friendly or encouraging.
      James 3:9-12 says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”
       Is the church in danger of being washed away in the “salt water” flooding our culture?
     How good are we, as the Body of Christ, at taming our tongues? Better yet, how good are we at talking in a positive tone and being encouragers?
     I don’t think Jack Pilger would have much of a chance of getting elected to national office or hosting a syndicated radio show. He is too kind and too gentle. Of course, I don’t think either career would add much to his life anyway.
     He is already surrounded by people he loves and admires, and who love him back.
      That makes for a nice picture, doesn’t it?
     Glenn Hannigan is editor of the North Georgia Advocate. You can e-mail him at glenn@advocate.org.