The Power of Authenticity
I believe in the power of authenticity. Arthur Caliandro, now-retired minister of New York’s Marble Church, embodies authenticity and affirms that quality in me.
Against his black-robed body, Arthur’s hands look big when he comes to the front of the altar on the day I visit in October. He’s lost some ground in the last year or so. One thing he hasn’t lost is his sense of humor. When he mistakes the name of the minister who will soon replace him, calling him “David Brown” instead of Michael Brown—twice—the congregation laughs. Arthur laughs back. “You do remember David Brown, don’t you?” he jokes. Everyone is with him. What does he tell us about the new minister? “He’s a good man.” Arthur knows a good man when he sees one.
Arthur Caliandro stepped into the ministry at Marble Church 42 years ago when Norman Vincent Peale retired. Who ever dreamed this quiet, unassuming man could fill the shoes of the bold preacher who trumpeted The Power of Positive Thinking? Caliandro has. With his personal, unpretentious style—the opposite of Peale’s—he introduces himself simply as “Arthur.” Forgoing the pulpit to meet you face to face, he looks you in the eye. With Arthur, there are no platitudes to set distance. When he shakes your hand, he offers who he is and, with his full attention, takes in who you are. He welcomes you with authenticity. That authenticity makes Arthur the real deal.
Arthur’s sermon on this cold, sunny day is about how faith makes miracles happen. He gives as an example a recent appointment on the West Side. The street address is 438. But when he walks up the block, there is no 438—only 436 and 440. From the sidewalk, he stands looking up at the numbers on the building fronts, bewildered. Then a woman starts pulling a suitcase up the stairs. He asks if those stairs lead to 438. She tells him they do. He follows her to the top of the staircase, but is stymied again: with failing eyesight, he cannot read the tenants’ names. The woman finds what he’s looking for and rings the bell. Arthur calls her his angel.
Arthur next tells a biblical story about a woman who wanted to meet Jesus so that he might heal her hemorrhages. But when she got to Jesus, He was surrounded by supplicants. “So she did what any trained New Yorker on the subway would do,” he chuckles. “She fought her way through the throng and touched the hem of his robe. And Jesus felt that touch.”
That is straight Arthur Caliandro. By casting concrete feelings and concrete experiences against the concrete landscape of New York, he draws us into the meanings of life. Authenticity makes him real. It makes us real. It powers the Word: When Arthur Caliandro gives a sermon, the streets of New York pulsate beneath my feet.
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