No really, how are you doing?

It's a question that I am asked every day. Small talk is a form of art in the south. The patterns are easily identifiable and the conversational genre has rules that aren't written down anywhere but we all know them by heart. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • If someone is holding keys in one hand and holding a doorknob with the other, keep it short. They either have somewhere to go, or they don't want to talk to you.
  • If the conversation starts with an observation about the weather, the probability of the conversation leading to an epiphany, a startling realization, or a meaningful exchange is slim.
  • If one party in small talk starts whistling the final Jeopardy tune it's time to go.
  • Don't try to make small talk with kids below the age of four in the same room. The ankle biters haven't yet learned the art of acting like you care about what someone else is saying.
  • Listen closely to the introduction which will likely be "How are you doing?". If the question is presented with a slight tilt of the head, Renee Zellweger eyes, and a tone that is reserved for the family of the deceased at a funeral, what they are really asking is "No really, how are you doing?".
Since I started this new work planting a church, I get the Zellweger eyes almost every day. It's an expression of concern but it took me several months to realize what exactly people were concerned about. Now I know. "No really, how are you doing?" is an indication that they are worried we might not make it. The possibility of failure is real. New churches are susceptible to all kinds of evil and many of them fail because of human error. I'm the personification of that possibility. Since I realized what the Zellweger eyes were indicating, the pleasure of sharing the good news that God's work at Downtown Church is making a fool of our meager expectations more than makes up for the labor of small talk.