The Signals We Send

for the week of June 4, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

All right, I'm not making this up. The Associated Press carried the story, and its victim is receiving rabies shots in its aftermath. Here's the scoop . . .

A man was hunting turkeys in upstate New York last month. He was wearing camouflage and giving off his best turkey calls. He was apparently too good at imitating a turkey so good, in fact, that he fooled two coyotes! A state wildlife expert conjectured they were foraging for food for their pups and moved in for the kill on a man doing his best to sound like a turkey. They must have mistaken him for the real thing. So they did what comes naturally to coyotes.

I don't mean to add insult to the fellow's injuries or to make light of what could have been a fatal attack on him, but the story reminds me of some people and situations I've experienced. See if any of them sound familiar to you.

* He drinks like a fish at every company social event and routinely winds up making a fool of himself. Yet he is incensed that his boss has told him he has a problem with alcohol and needs to get help.

* She habitually wears provocative outfits to the workplace and flirts with every co-worker and customer. But she thought it was outrageous last week when one of them made a blatant pass at her.

* His mouth is raunchy with sexist jokes, racist put-downs, and really foul language when he gets angry. His latest tirade came today. Someone laughed at him when he mentioned the Sunday School class he teaches.
All of us want people to think well of us. We want them to see us in our Sunday-morning personas. We want them to know "the inner me" that is our most virtuous, decent, and admirable self. But people know us through our actions.

People take you into their confidence only if you have behaved as a person of principle. They ask your advice about really personal issues only when you have displayed genuine character before them. They will seek out your help in their spiritual struggles only if they discern your honest devotion to Jesus.

The best case for Christianity is a joyful, sensitive, and sincere Christian. The strongest argument against it is a petulant, self-righteous, and hypocritical one. Unbelievers don't demand perfection of us, but they do expect authenticity.

So the moral of this story seems clear: When you're acting like a turkey, don't be surprised by the unpleasant responses you get.

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