Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do you see what I see?

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While sitting around in an airport or a hotel lobby, I have noticed how hard we work to avoid noticing other people or paying attention to them and what goes on around us.  We try very hard to insulate and isolate ourselves from those around us.  We listen to our own music through the privacy of our ear buds and I-pods.  If a stranger tries to pick up a conversation with us, we often let them know pretty quickly we do not wish to be bothered.  We attend to our own creature comforts but find it too hard to pay attention to the comforts of others.

On one recent full flight the airline had to bribe the passengers with free booze to exchange seats so a mother could sit with her young daughter.  What is in it for me to be kind.  On another flight where we were warned over and over again there would be no free seats, the early birds on the plane insisted upon getting the aisle seats and making it nearly impossible for people to get into the empty inside seats.  In fact, the delay in getting people into their seats and carry-ons stowed caused us to take off late.

We don't pay much attention to others -- except to complain -- and are not very tolerant of others.  For example, on Sunday morning a new family slipped in and out without being greeting but they did sit next to regular members.  When I asked the regular members if they saw or met or even passed the friendship register to them to sign in, the response was "No, we did not see or notice them."  In many respects we work very hard NOT to see or deal with strangers.  Perhaps this is a reflection of our culture but it is a problem in churches.

At the same time we are avoiding contact with strangers, we also complain loudly that churches are not friendly enough, that we are all so lonely, and that nobody seems to know us or pay attention to us.  So often we live within this seeming paradox rather than take the effort to get to know so that we are known.  There is something rather sad about this.  We want to be known and noticed by others but we do not want to take the initiative to know them.

I do not think it is simply meanness or rudeness -- at least not intentionally.  But I do think we have allowed the culture of fear to enter the nave and that we have grown as a culture and as Christians too complacent about the ordinary routines of friendliness.  Now, to be sure, some folks do not want to be noticed and prefer anonymity.  I understand that.  But most of us crave personal attention.  I like the bank branch where they know me by name and call me by name.  I don't think we are all so different here.  I think those who desire anonymity are a minority.  Most of us yearn for others to know us -- even though we tend to be naturally suspicious of strangers.  Most of the time all we need is a little encouragement -- not so much from the pulpit as from our friends and neighbors in the pews.

Most of the time I am a talker -- too much of a talker for most in my family who wish I was quieter in public.  I got in naturally -- both my mom and dad are outgoing folks.  This is a helpful trait if you are a Pastor.  I would encourage you to think of it as helpful to those who are not Pastors but folks in the pew.  Open your mouth, say hello, introduce yourself, begin a conversation, and get to know the folks around you in church (whether old timers or new folks).  This is a personal campaign to end the criticism that churches are unfriendly (which is really to say that Christians are not friendly).

4 comments:

John said...

Is it really whether a church is friendly or unfriendly?

Jim Davis said...

I visited two LCMS churches.
In one case, no one (not even the pastor!) said hello, yet it was very obvious that we were visitors. We were there for the baptism of the vicar's son and I will never go to that church again.
Note: the vicar did welcome me.

In the other case, I arrived about 5 minutes early. Either before the service or after, more than six people talked to me. (I talked to the pastor about communion as well as small talk.)

Kirk Skeptic said...

Yes, John, it is. The faith is lived out socially, and it was this sort of witness to the ancient Roman world that gave Christians credibility. My experiences track with Jim Davis'.

Janis Williams said...

Doesn't Witness, Mercy and Life Together pretty much cover it? If someone visits our parish, they probably didn't stumble in by accifdent! Even if they did, shouldn't we be concerned enough to speak to them?