“Who you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say.”
Those are the words of Mayor Cory Booker, who I discussed in my last post as part of my reflections on the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Today I’m going to conclude those reflections by highlighting the life and message of another speaker, but Mayor Booker’s words were so relevant that I couldn’t help but post them.
Our actions and our attitudes have tremendous power. They can either amplify our words or drown them out as irrelevant and meaningless. I’m sure you can think of an individual or two whose demeanor or conduct is so unattractive that, even if you agree with some of what they say, you can’t help distance yourself. Whatever their stance is, you don’t want to be associated with them.
On the other hand, there are those individuals whose lives are so authentically devoted to God and neighbor that their words are dripping with authority. The Leadership Summit was graced with just such a person and her name was Maggie Gobran, or “Mama Maggie.” Often described as the “Mother Teresa of Egypt,” Mama Maggie abandoned her life of comfort and success to live with the poor. That was 20 years ago, and since then she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.
I was deeply impacted by Mama Maggie’s message. In fact, I was deeply impacted by her mere presence. Earlier this week I wrote about the experience for Cultivate Her, and here is an excerpt from that post:
Throughout the Summit I heard incredible advice from some of the top leaders in the country, both inside and outside the church. Every session was packed with wisdom and insight. What distinguished Mama Maggie from the group, however, was her mere presence. This tiny, wisp of a woman was the only speaker who shook the room by simply stepping onto stage. As we applauded her she wept in humility, and I couldn’t help but weep also.
Mama Maggie shared numerous profound and important truths, but what impacted me the most was the power of her incarnational leadership. She is one of those rare individuals who is so intimately connected to God that you can literally feel it. She spoke with power and authority, not because she was an excellent communicator, but because her life and ministry gave weight to her words. Her person was her message.
I titled that particular post “Incarnational Leadership” because Mama Maggie demonstrated Jesus’ incarnational approach to leadership and ministry. Like Jesus, she embodied her beliefs totally, not simply teaching about service but serving; not simply teaching about love but loving. Mama Maggie didn’t stop at teaching about Jesus but she also lived like Jesus. I had heard preachers teach this kind of embodiment–and I’ve even written about it myself–but something about her was palpably different.
Mama Maggie’s love for Christ was breath-taking and, to be quite honest with you, it changed my life. I was devastated and humbled by her example. She also reminded me why intimacy with God is our greatest evangelistic strength. Even in this increasingly post-Christian culture of ours, the world still has a pretty good idea of how Christians should act. Non-Christians know that believers are called to be loving and kind and to advocate for the least of these. They know we are called to model Christ. So when we preach those principles but fail to live them out, when our lives are utterly out of sync with God, the world around us is smart enough to notice. The glaring dissonance between message and practice is impossible to ignore.
To be fair, no Christian will ever live perfectly this side of eternity. We will all make hypocrites of ourselves at some time or another, which is why the gospel is ultimately about Christ and not Christians. Yet Mama Maggie’s life and faith is qualitatively different from mine. She is, undeniably, a woman who has seen the face of God. Her example withers any excuse I might have for an inconsistent witness.
Which brings me to one of the chief lessons I learned from Mama Maggie: When it comes to preaching the gospel, the world won’t take our word for it. In matters of God and salvation, it is not enough simply to be right. We need to follow Christ’s example and put flesh to the Good News. Don’t just tell but show.
That is why, as my title states, your body matters. As a Christian called to reflect God’s love and plan for the world, your body is part of the equation—and not solely in terms of purity. Just as Christ’s human body was the location of love, hospitality, kindness, healing, miracles, sacrifice and redemption, our bodies, in a rather literal sense, ought to be the same.
Before encountering Mama Maggie, I think I had forgotten just how radically holistic the Christian call is. It’s easy to write about Jesus and tell others how to live, but am I embodying my message in a physical, life-altering way? Is my character undercutting my witness or bolstering it? Is my response to criticism loving or spiteful? Is my own body a tool for love and redemption, or for vanity and destruction?
I am humbled by those questions, but grateful that the answer to them all is found in Christ. Mama Maggie reflected Christ because she knew him so well. When others look at my life, do they encounter a woman who has clearly seen the face of God? Or do I conduct myself as one who has only heard about Him?
Humbling questions indeed, but I thank God for Jesus, and for His faithful servant, Mama Maggie.