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 café. 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 café 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!