The Power of a Word

On a recent trip, I completed reading Miz Lil & the Chronicles of Grace by Walter Wangerin, Jr. and Rise of a Dynasty: The ’57 Celtics by Bill Reynolds. (I usually have a couple of books going.)

What does a memoir of a pastor in the early days of ministry and a book about the first championship won by the Boston Celtics have in common? The power of a word.

In Miz Lil, we are introduced to Robert – a person who is just above living on the street. In response to the kindness of Pastor Wangerin, Robert seeks to give a gift, but the Pastor declines. In the next scene, Robert comes to church and not just to church, but to the front of church. Robert doesn’t know the Lutheran way. He claps. He speaks out loud and he gets up to pray. It is in this fragile moment of faith that Pastor Wangerin shouts “Robert, NO – you can’t pray!”

Robert asks, “Why not?” The pious pastor answers, “Because we have a time to pray.” This piety does not satisfy Robert. He shuffles out of church and as he goes the silence of the stunned congregation hears Robert mutter – “Naw, I ain’ gome pray for you no more.” The word of a pastor stills a prayer.

In Rise of a Dynasty, we are introduced to the struggles of a black man, Bill Russell, in a prejudiced society and a divided city. This story is documented along with the building of team chemistry by Coach Red Auerbach. This Jewish outsider connects with the young black man and the key was a word of encouragement. Coach Auerbach coached individuals in building a team.

Red Auerbach knew that Bill Russell was a proud man who needed a psychological comfort zone. How did he do this? He told Russell he didn’t care if he scored, that he essentially would count his rebounds as points. He told him to just do what he felt comfortable doing on a basketball court and forget about anything else.

“I heard you can’t shoot,” Auerbach said. You worried about shooting?” “Not much, Russell answered, “but it’s been on my mind.”

“Well, tell you what,” Auerbach countered. “Let’s make a deal today, right now. When we talk down the line, I will never discuss statistics. All I’ll discuss is if we won and how you played. That’s all I care about.”

A coach speaks a word and nine championships will follow. A preacher speaks a word and a prayer is stifled. Words are important.

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