The power of a smile
November 8 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

The power of a smile | Friday, Nov 8, 2002

Friday, Nov 8, 2002

The power of a smile

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

I've attended enough pastors' meetings and evangelism conferences to have heard scads of stories about how various speakers boarded airplanes, engaged reluctant seatmates in conversation, and led them to accept Christ before the plane landed.

That has never been my experience. I've had a few meaningful conversations while flying, but have also discovered that most people want to be left alone with their laptop computer, their chosen reading material, or their opportunity for a short nap. There is so much background noise in most airplanes that conversation requires an appreciable effort and considerable volume. If seatmates prefer to keep to themselves, I try to respect that.

The most deeply religious conversation I've had on an airplane took place with a Hindu gentleman named Krishnamurti Sridhar, who turned out to be a concert and recording artist widely acclaimed as the world's leading master of the sarod, a musical instrument from India. The sarod is a wickedly difficult teakwood instrument that incorporates 25 finely tuned metal strings that are plucked with the right hand while pressing them against a fretless metal fingerboard with the fingernails of the left hand.

It hurts just to think about it, but the sound is soothing and ethereal.

Sridhar also speaks with the conviction of a guru as he performs concerts and offers lectures on religious subjects around the world. I caught him last April between Chapel Hill and New York, on a connector flight going through Cincinnati.

My first hint of Sridhar's religious training came as we prepared for takeoff: he slipped out of his sandals, pulled his feet into a lotus position (try that in your typical airline seat) and began to meditate.

He held his position until we were well aloft, then turned to me with a big smile and initiated an engaging conversation. He spoke of his belief that all human spirits are part of a greater unity bound up in the divine. Music, he said, is like a universal language that helps to draw people together and make them one.

Sridhar was not the least perturbed when I shared my traditional Christian belief that people come to God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. He knows more about Christianity than many Christians.

His view, not unusual these days, is that differing religions simply offer alternate paths to the same eternal reality, and that successive reincarnations offer multiple opportunities to attain greater harmony with the divine.

He told me something about his religious training in his homeland of India. It involved many years of monastic living in a cave as he learned discipline, mastered his musical instrument and learned from his spiritual guru, he said.

And he smiled.

With every sentence, every word, he smiled with confidence and peace.

I suspect there were many Christians on the plane that day, but no one seemed as joyful and serene as my Hindu neighbor.

I was not converted through our conversation (nor was he), but I was impressed. The encounter led me to wonder if my own witness was even half as grounded and enthusiastic as that of my new friend with the contagious smile and the incredible, flexible legs.

At work and at play, at home and at church, in the office and on vacation, even at Baptist meetings, we have many opportunities to leave an impression with others.

It's worth the effort of stepping outside of ourselves to ask what kind of picture is housed within our frame: is it positive or negative, hopeful or gloomy, irenic or irate?

Though we believe our understanding of religious reality is the true path to peace and joy, our witness will ring hollow if those attributes are not written boldly in our lives.

One thing remains true, whether sitting on an airplane or standing in line at the grocery store: we get only one chance to make a first impression.

Can we make it with a smile?

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11/8/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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