From the last post (Step One-Retake), there are two important points I want to reiterate. I think these are important for us if we are going to ever discover what it might look like for us to truly mean…we welcome all. The first of those points is that it begins with us…you and me. It would be easy to sit around and theorize about what “the church” might do or how “they” aren’t getting it right or what “those people” fail to see. It would likely make us feel better to talk about how others are the problem in the church becoming open to all. It is always like that…easier to point out the faults of others. But if anything is ever going to change, it begins with me. That is one of the reasons I wanted to do this blog series. I want to dig deep on how Brad might change…and pray that in the process you do the same…that you seek what might need to change about you. But, my concern is with me. I can only change me…and if I begin to change, things around me begin to change. I only have control of me…and that really is more than enough.
Second, I believe that fear is a big factor in what can hold us back…from being welcoming and loving…to anything else you might imagine. Fear can stop us in our tracks…and sometimes we need to be stopped. But at other times, fear comes on irrationally. We don’t really take the time to consider why we are afraid. What is it about this person that makes me uncomfortable? What is it deep within me that makes me have some level of comfort with people like me? To fear what we do not understand is natural but doesn’t mean it is right or we should just accept it. If we fear what we do not understand, that should lead us to gain understanding…to grow in our knowledge of different cultures and backgrounds.
If I am uncomfortable sitting next to someone that is not like me, then that says to me I need to know more about others…different people groups and cultures. To dig a little deeper still…I want to look at how this might show up based on my experiences and what I have heard others express – note: this is hypothetical and not a real experience.
I am sitting in church on Sunday. All is as normal. I am sitting in the same spot I have sat in since the day I arrived in the church, or close to it. I am not opposed to moving seats, it is just that my friends sit near me and I feel at home where I am. It is more out of habit than necessity. This particular Sunday, a new couple come sit next to me. They seem nice and I introduce myself. I notice they have sat in the place where the Jones family normally sits. They aren’t dressed quite like everyone else and they don’t look like everyone else. I can hear them speak to each other and they are not speaking English. What might be my thoughts?
First, they have thrown off my normal vibe because now the Jones family will have to sit somewhere else. That is awkward, and I like having the Jones family near me. And, I may wonder if they speak English well and why they would have chosen this church to come to…surely there are churches in ‘their’ language. In the current political environment, I may wonder if they are here legally, even though that has nothing to do with them sitting in a house of worship. And, I may wonder if they have an agenda for being here…what do they want?
All those feelings are fear based in some way, shape or form. I don’t want my normal way of worship to be interrupted. I like the Jones family sitting with me and I don’t want to open myself up to anyone else because it takes effort and I don’t know them. I am worried about their language because I don’t know the language…and it is different. It really isn’t that they speak 2 or more languages…it is that I barely speak 1. I want them to speak English because English is what I know. I want to know if they are here legally because somehow if they are, it makes me feel better about things…Even though it really doesn’t matter their status in the country…because in worship, we are called Children of God…we are of the same family. And just because they are different doesn’t mean that they have any agenda except to come to a place of worship to…I don’t know…WORSHIP.
But you know what might change all this? If I knew a family or a few families just like this couple…If I had spent time with people from their culture and understood more about that. That would likely change me. Let me explain how.
If I spent time with people in the culture of this couple, I would understand what it meant to be welcoming…not overbearing, but hospitable. I would make sure that they knew that there was a place for them here and that they were loved…not in a sentimental way, but in a sincere, Jesus way. I would understand a bit about their language and maybe even know enough to provide some broken speech encouragement…another way to say I care and I’m trying. I wouldn’t care why they were here but would make sure they knew this was a place they were accepted, just as they are. I could do this because I would know people who were like them…and I would find that they are not so different from me. I would realize that they are people just like me deep down…people that want to be loved and accepted and welcomed. I would find that they have families and lives and seek to become a part of something bigger than themselves…yep, just like me. I would find that they are not “them” but one of us…not that they need to act like me or dress like me or talk like me, but that they have the capacity to love just like me…because of Jesus. I might just see them…like Jesus does. And suddenly, I’m not so fearful anymore.
What might it take for you to get to know a family from a different culture or background?