More Changes, Part 2

Last week when the kids and I were up on Mt. Rubidoux, I chatted for a little while with an artist guy who was up there shooting video of the Friendship Tower. He was going to use it in a Christmas greeting on YouTube this year instead of mailing out cards. I thought it was a wonderful idea, and it brought into clearer focus a conviction that’s been forming in my heart over the past few weeks. (But that’s another post.) As he handed me his business card and we went our separate ways, I got to thinking about a series of Sunday night services Pastor Bill gave recently on the subject of how the modern church could be doing a better job of reaching out to post-modern cultures. I’ve never been able to attend the Sunday night services, but I like to download the mp3s online and listen to them at home, and this particular series was very enlightening for me.

It was intended to help church people who may have a hard time understanding post-modern perspectives, but as a fairly post-modern type myself (can one be a post-modern cave-dweller?) I found it to be a fascinating look into the social perspectives of church people.

In the first sermon of this series, the Pastor gave his listeners an assignment for the following week: to make friendly eye contact with strangers that they passed in public, and smile if they felt up to it. The second week’s assignment was to actually offer a hello or some other verbal greeting to at least one or two passing strangers. By the third week he’d given up on these kinds of assignments, because…hardly anyone in his Sunday evening congregation could bring themselves to even manage the eye contact part, much less SPEAK to people they didn’t know. It was simply beyond them.

I was astonished. This was a huge revelation to me, and the first real insight I had into the Church Person Perspective. I’ve always thought that smiling at folks in stores or wherever was a basic part of how people interact. They almost always smile back at me, and occasionally there are friendly greetings exchanged, or even a chat if we happen to be standing in the same space, so I can’t be the only one who thinks this way.

One of my warmest memories from the Road Trip Of ’07 is of an evening in Shreveport, Louisiana, in a little Creole cafΓ©. We’d checked into our hotel very late and should have eaten quickly and gone straight to bed, but the waiter was so much fun to talk to that we ended up stretching the conversation out until the cafΓ© closed for the night. We were the only customers in there that late, so the waiter and the hostess basically hung out at our table and regaled us with stories, observations, questions and Southern mythology. It was wonderful. (Weeks later when I was back home in Anza, I got a card in the mail from the chef there, discounting my next meal at Guillaumes’ if I should ever find myself back in Shreveport.)

These are the intersections that connect us to one another. I can’t imagine not seeking out these moments of genuine human contact wherever I find the opportunity. I may be solitary in my day-to-day habits, but that’s mostly because I haven’t found my tribe yet; these chance interactions with friendly strangers always leave me feeling energized and optimistic and connected to something much bigger than my own small life.

Pastor Bill’s “Post-Modern Man” series gave me my first big flash of insight into why the average church person doesn’t feel comfortable around someone of my personality type. I LIKE people. I treat strangers — Louisiana waiters, wandering artists, fellow grocery shoppers — the way I like to be treated: as if we were friends who just haven’t met yet. This is, I believe, a very basic tenet of the teachings of Jesus. And yet somewhere along the way the modern church culture has apparently become disconnected from the actual daily practice of social love for mankind in general.

Once I understood that, it didn’t take me long to figure out the rest of it.

More to come!

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Categories: Christianity, Friends, Life, Road trip | 21 Comments

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21 thoughts on “More Changes, Part 2

  1. Brooke

    Did it occur to you that a lot of the people that live in Anza do so because they have been mistreated by those people they thought were ‘friends’ and now they are gunshy? I have a very outgoing personality that is sometimes way too bold for some, so bold, in fact, that after years of knowing a person, they forget we are friends and send another person to ask questions for clarification of my actions or words, rather than just asking me directly. Is this love? Is my being upright and straightforward a bad thing? Is NOT communicating directly but sending someones else a bad thing? What causes a person to withdraw from society in the smallest simplest sense and send someone else to do the dirty work? Fear. Who killed Goliath? The one who was not afraid, right?

    When I am friendly to people, they usually think I want something or I am flirting with them (men and women!) so being friendly to strangers can be a difficult thing. What if you are kind and that person turns out to be very needy–a person that you truly can not help or spend the necessary time with to get past the neediness? So we then fake friendship, something that can be seen through by most, and let the facade come crashing to the ground causing hurt and dismay? Why not be honest with ourselves and separate from the stress and redirect a person to another being (or group) that would be more suitable to accomodate their needs?

    Just because a person does not look another in the eye and smile does not mean they do not have the love of Jesus in them. It might just mean that they are afraid of what could happen based on previous experiences–how human is that? Never mind the aspect of social responsibility–the more people there are in a group, the less responsibilty a person seems to claim in any given situation. A year ago there were maybe 80 people total at our church and there was never a shortage of Sunday school help. Now, our numbers are doubled and the same 7 people are mentoring our children all of the time. What is wrong with that picture? “Aw, they don’t need me…there are so many other people that can volunteer to do that, I don’t need to.” It is the same philosophy with the non-smilers and non-eyecontact folks. There are ‘so many others that can do that, I don’t need to/I am afraid to (people like you!) so I just won’t.”

    It is a sad tale to tell, for sure. I empathize with your disillusionment as well as your clarity. Do we lead by example or do we let others wither by the wayside? Kind of sounds like the good Samaritan story, doesn’t it?

    Blessings to you and your kids~ I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season and that whatever you have found and are still looking for land right in your lap! God has a way of making some of our searches easy like that!

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  2. Debora

    I can answer one of your questions with absolute certainty: the reason you are suddenly so short on Sunday School help is because you were not very nice to the people who were there helping.

    Glad I could clear that one up for you.

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  3. Brooke

    So what you are saying is, if I do not help with Sunday school, more people will volunteer? That just seems so silly, your comment, I mean, since we had very little, if any contact when you actually were participating. Hmmm…too bad it isn’t as clear to me as you hoped it would be. It would be nice to have a really good example of how I was “not very nice” so that I don’t make that same mistake again, sending potential help fleeing in the opposite direction…

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  4. Mia

    I want to flee as I read this. Brooke, your tone is rather confrontational. Your first response was preachy, your second was condescending. And I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t meet my eye. It is a natural habit to avoid eye contact with others when they do not want to be social, dropped eyes, sunglasses, ‘reading’ books, etc. If one wants to be social then they must be open to contact. If your not there, then so be it…but don’t put another down for trying. A better response would have been…if the church environment is making you feel unwelcome, why don’t we meet somewhere else for coffee and a nice chat. That is friendly and constructive… And now I’ll get off my soapbox, (at least I know it when I’m on one πŸ˜‰ )

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  5. Debora

    Brooke — I’m saying that there WERE a lot more people volunteering there before you took it over. People don’t leave a ministry that they feel welcome and useful in, they leave because they’ve been alienated in one way or another.

    This isn’t something we really need to debate, though. I’m not the only person who feels this way — I’m not even the only one who has left the church over it. You are not unaware of this issue, you’re just unhappy about having it openly discussed.

    Mia — Have I told you lately that I love you? πŸ™‚

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  6. Mia

    Love you too hun πŸ˜‰ We’ll have to get together sometime…over coffee and have a nice chat!

    Keep the Faith! – Mia

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  7. Debora

    Sounds great! Has the Duck ever been to Fairmount Park? I was just there for the first time in, like, 20 years, and they’ve really got it looking nice. Maybe we could meet up there one of these days?

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  8. Pastor Bill

    Well having been the one who taught the Postmodern Series I can truely say that this is not a discussion about that series of teachings. Trying to encourage people to stop communicating in propositional phrases to others and really listen to the heart of the other person was the point of the teaching. To try to see the image of God in the other person and respecting their relative truth because after all most of yours is pretty realitive as well. To try to move away from the socratic method of questions followed by the answers we can’t wait to say. Just maybe God is in the questions and the differences but then we tend not to celebrate “Differance” as the fench would say.
    P.S. I love you both

    Pastor Bill

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  9. In the immortal words of Adam Ant, “You don’t drink, you don’t smoke, what do you do?” πŸ˜‰

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  10. Michelle

    You two make me a little sad…

    Michelle

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  11. Debora

    Pastor — It’s not the difference between people that’s the difficulty, it’s the indifference. (I think FDR said that originally.)

    Aron — I garden, of course!

    Michelle — Aron makes everybody sad; that’s his thing. Who’s the other one? πŸ˜‰

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  12. Brooke

    Bill, if the heart was not so full of unreal expectations, the series would probably be even more effective. That said, since you teach such great ideas, how is it that this Postmodern Series had driven some away? Are they just not ready for something new and different?

    Aron, that explains a lot, don’t you think?

    Deborah, you give me way too much power! I did not make any one leave the church; it had to have been their choice. I did not take anything over–I chose to serve to the best of my ability. I have constantly asked for help and very little has come. Whether it is helping hands or constructive criticism, I have only done my best. Whether unaware or unhappy, the bottom line is that you have NEVER talked to me about any issue you may have had with my attitude/behavior within the children’s ministry. So, we really don’t need to debate this, do we?

    Mia, sorry if this whole thing is rubbing the wrong way, but if you ask any person that truly knows me, they would tell you that I am very much like Deborah in the extending of love by eye contact, greetings, conversations, etc. did Deborah ever tell you how we met or anything that I did to extend a helping hand to her. She may have forgotten. And that is okay.

    Good day to all–not running away, just politely excusing myself from a conversation that I am now done with! Ciao!

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  13. Debora

    Brooke, stop twisting my words. The Pastor’s series didn’t drive me away, it just helped me to understand why I was failing to connect on a personal level with the ministry leaders.

    That said…you’re right. I left because it was my choice, not because you “made me.” I don’t fit into the new regime, it’s as simple as that.

    There’s a lot more that I’d like to add here, but it’s nothing you and I don’t already know, and it’s nothing that anyone else here really needs to read about.

    Good luck on your journey.

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  14. LYNN

    I do volunteer at church, and I don’t remember there ever being many more people ready to help, with the kids. I’m not very out-going by nature, and because of nature (?), and nobody has ever been anything but kind to me at this church, especially regarding volunteering. Also, I didn’t feel Brook was preachy, in her response.I thought it really explained how “another view” of the original BLOG might be discussed, I actually thought it was a great response. Isn’t that why you all do this public discussion stuff? So that you can interact (with out making eye contact), and have intelligent discussions? Isn’t it “REALLY” about “what’s in your heart”, WHILE you, live, think, act, react,respond,worship,volunteer,share,love,BLOG, etc……….? This is just my very personal “OPINION”!!! no offense is meant to anyone πŸ™‚

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  15. Debora

    Lynn, no offense taken, and I’m glad you’ve had a positive experience there. Mine has been different, but I solved that problem by stepping out of the situation. I tried to do that with as little drama as possible in the church itself.

    But this blog is my own forum; this is where I speak my mind and share my experiences. Most of my experiences with Brooke have not been positive, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise just for the sake of false “harmony.” She did choose to bring herself into this discussion, and I’ve responded to her comments as simply and honestly as I know how.

    I wish you well, and I hope things keep going happily for you there.

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  16. Michelle

    Deborah,
    I wasn’t referring to Aron and someone else. I was referring to you and Brooke.

    Michelle

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  17. Christy Foster

    Dear All.

    All of us have different gifts and talents. God made us all so unique. We all work differently and that okay. Debra as for me you will be missed greatly by me. Your kids will leave a empty whole in Kid’s Wild Kingdom not being there. They have grown so much in the last year. I have seen it. Make sure girlfriend that it is God the one who is telling you to go and not your emotions or thinking. I came from a church that I served in various ways for 21 years and had spats. quarels, and didn’t always agree with my Pastor BUT I learned so much more growing in the dark times, staying put, and letting God burn out the imperfections in my life. Don’t miss out! You have a place where ever you plant yourself. Grow baby Grow!
    Love to you and your family.

    Christy

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  18. Aaron

    “Make sure girlfriend that it is God the one who is telling you to go and not your emotions or thinking.” – Christy

    “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” – Genesis 1:27

    I’ve always found it ironic that the Bible talks about how man (and woman) was created in his image, which many biblical commentaries discuss as not only being his physical likeness, but also in the presense of a soul (spirit, intelligence, emotion, etc.). However, when we, as a people and his creation, utilize these traits in coming to a potentially life-defining decision, we are not listening to God.

    Hmmmm…. Ironic…

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  19. Debora

    Christy — this wasn’t a decision I came to lightly or impulsively. I know how good Back Country has been for the kids, especially Elizabeth. I deeply appreciate that, and I’m very thankful for all (or, well, most) of the things they’ve learned there. But I feel very strongly that our time there is done, at least for now. Maybe at some point in the future that’ll change, but right now I have no doubts about my choice. Thank you for the kind words, though.

    AARON! Been WAY too long since we’ve seen your pretty face around here! Thanks for the support, and don’t be such a stranger! πŸ™‚

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  20. Aaron

    She thinks I’m purdy! πŸ˜‰

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  21. Mia

    From my dark cave…

    It seems that quite a few people paint with a broad brush. We of the tech are not fish belly pale, anti social cave dwellers. As for the ones, that I know of personally, that have replied to this blog; we get out…often…sometimes more than once a day! And please…please…do not claim that no offense is meant. When that phrase is used, the writer knows full well, that their comment was incendiary. I do not shrink from conflict. Just own what you say without apology. It’s your opinion; you’re entitled to it.

    And Aron…I think you’re purdy too πŸ˜‰

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