ReligionJune 12, 2024
A minister reflects on a disheartening encounter with a church official, contrasting the soft, unmarked hands of leadership with the rugged, service-oriented hands of true commitment and faith.
Rod Parchman
Rod Parchman
Rod Parchman

He didn’t know me. I knew him only by reputation — an administrative official in our church denomination. I was in his office not asking for anything, merely making myself available for service. Aloof, he didn’t seem to care. He had lots of people at his disposal who did want something from him. He didn’t know me, didn’t care to — the feeling becoming mutual.

I could go on, but let’s just say my dentist’s office is a good hang compared to those administrative offices. But then, my dentist and her staff know their office exists to serve, not to be served. I was ashamed for the denomination I’d grown up in. Were these my people? Don’t get me wrong. My denomination has some of the best people who ever put on a pair of shoes, but this visit reflected none of that.

Give him credit. As I took my leave, he shook my hand. A large man with large hands, and I was stunned. Not at the size of his hands, but at the softness. Too soft. Offensively soft. Freak show, baby-bottom soft and puffy even. Creepy soft, like they were not real hands, not human. Maybe by now they weren’t. As if he had no bones. Were all the bones in his body translucent? How was he standing? I wasn’t expecting lumberjack hands from an administrator. I expected manicure. Career admin guys grow soft, but.... What but a lifetime of leisure could produce such eerie hands?

Delicate, unmarked by use, could these hands have ever explored the bark on a tree, felt an axe handle, built a fire, mixed cement, worked a rope, pried a lever, made a child feel safe, waved off from danger, staved off attack, known injury or pointed the way? Could they at one time have caressed, aroused and traced the form of a lover?

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To me those hands represented a life too distant from the natural world, from the friction, splinters and sear that temper the average person. Hands that never strained, or popped a vein, insulated from the world he was called to serve. Like he had long ago forgotten the nature of his call and the one who called. Maybe he wasn’t a bad person. Maybe he just forgot — forgot the human hands that wrote in the dirt, touched the unclean, hurt by 9-inch nails. I do not imagine the Galilean had soft hands, vampire-pale for lack of sunlight, or that he smelled perfumy, or was aloof, or negotiated clever quid pro quo deals and favors.

Hands tell the truth. So, when the doubter Thomas wanted proof of resurrection, he demanded to see. The son of man’s hands had not been spared, but used rough, marred for not retreating from the world. Hands that could rescue, heal, warn, or hold children — hands that identified with transgressors — human hands that could bring you to faith and keep you there.

ROD PARCHMAN is a minister in Cunningham, Tennessee, with ties to Bollinger County.

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