My favorite response from a reader is the one-word message: "Amen!!!" That is the most common response I receive. It is a wonderful word because it is an affirmative word. It is a word that has been around for a very long time and is usually associated with religion and important ideas. I believe folk are using it more and more these days. I love to hear it. I remember the first time I heard it during one of my sermons. It happened when I was a beginning preacher almost 50 years ago.
I was minister to two small, rural churches. In the town where we lived there was a small, African-American church. I had several friends in that church, so whenever their elderly minister, who lived 50 miles away, was prevented by sickness or bad weather from coming the long distance to preach at their service, they invited me to come and preach on Sunday afternoon.
The first time I did this, I had hardly begun my sermon when I heard a booming "Amen!" from the congregation. It caught me by such surprise I became completely discombobulated. I totally forgot what I was saying. Then, as I regained my composure, other folk began to talk back to me. Somebody would shout, "Preach!" Then somebody else would shout, "Tell it, preacher!" One lady on the front pew would shout, "Say it again, preacher!"
So, I would say it again. My sermon which I had already given to my white congregations that day and had lasted 15 minutes now became a 45-minute sermon. I learned right then that if I had my preference, I'd be the preacher in an African-American church. I loved those folk. They made a preacher out of me. It was their "amens," their receptiveness and their hospitality that did it.
There's another word I love to hear: "Brother." Ann Smith from Arkansas wrote to me, "Amen, Brother Bales. I am 78 years old, and back when I was a child in a Methodist family in West Helena, Arkansas, we called our preacher 'brother.' Hence the title I gave you." It doesn't get much better for me than to hear both "amen" and "brother" in a single communication.
I've never had an editor tell me that I use too many exclamation marks in my writing. I'm sure I overdo it because it has become habitual for me through many years of writing. A good writer doesn't overuse anything. I'm bad about using the phrase, "I love ...," too much, too. I'd like to be a better writer, but I love to let the stuff just tumble out. It's a kind of stream of consciousness thing for me. If you ever notice that I'm not speaking with exclamation marks and "I love ..." please check my pulse and lift my eyelids. I may be dead!
Next time you go to church, say a hearty "Amen!" Try to add a few extra exclamation points, too. It may cause your minister or priest or rabbi or Sunday school class teacher to experience cardiac arrest. But he or she will die with a smile on his or her face. For all you white folk, I recommend you don't say, "Say it again, preacher!" If you do, you may find your preacher keeping you past noon. As for me, I'd love to be over at the African-American church saying it again and again!