Kriss: The power of a simple greeting

Aug 13, 2018 by

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One deep grateful breath,
One small step forward
Has the power to change
— from Through and Beyond by Bonnie Thurston

I live in a city of 1.6 million people, in a time of contention, in what often feels like a fragmenting country. I’m part of a faith movement that shares much of the same contention around political, ethnic and economic changes, despite our theological posture as people “in, but not of, this world.”

Stephen Kriss


Anabaptist Christians in the United States continue to be shaped, provoked and at times overwhelmed by what is happening around and within us. As a citizen and pastoral leader, these realities can at times be exhausting.

As a people with some tradition of bad choices around political alignment — particularly on the European stage at Münster in the 1530s and again in Nazi Germany — I know that future generations might judge us harshly, possibly rightfully so, by our alignment, our activism or our silence.

At the same time, I have been challenged in these days of divisiveness to find ways to live the things that the scriptural tradition reminds us are enduring: faith, hope and love.

These days, I am committed to finding ways to live an alternative story within the tension. This commitment affects who I interact with and how those interactions occur on a regular basis. What does it mean to extend the things that are eternal in all of my interactions, whether passing or persisting?

An African-American friend has challenged me to greet other African-American men on the street. “Good morning,” “How’s it going, man?” or “As-salaam alaikum” have helped me see and experience my city differently.

This action was an invitation to act in a way that is the opposite of microaggression, which diminishes the worth of someone who is different from me. Instead, it’s what Michael Hyde calls the gift of acknowledgement. It’s what Quaker tradition suggests is acknowledging that of God or the Light within everyone. In the best scenarios, it’s mutuality.

In front of the meeting space of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, after I greeted a young African-American man, he turned back around and took out his headset to greet me back.

I’ve experienced a real change through this practice. It has reshaped how I interact and engage in my city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. It has become more of a regular practice. And it continues to be somewhat surprising.

In a time when many of us feel overwhelmed by the news, by the vastness of both possibility and responsibility, I have found hope in this invitation.

It has moved me toward change, toward extending the things that I know endure. Through a simple greeting. Through acknowledgment.

It continues to transform my days, my perspective and my experience. It undergirds my confidence and gratitude for the fact that the things that endure will outlast anything.

My calling and my daily walk, as one in the Way of Jesus, is to live in a faith that trusts, a hope that endures and a love that casts out all fear. And to be faithful, both in the small things and the large things, that God unveils along the way.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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