Tag Archives: welcome

Under the Dome and Other Closed Systems

oxpecker on zebra

I only saw two episodes of the TV series.  But I had read the book:  Stephen King’s Under the Dome.

It’s a crazy story about an impenetrable and transparent semi-sphere that appears in the sky and surrounds a New England town–the bubble (funny typing moment: spell check turned my initial attempt at “bubble” to “Buble” as in singer of songs–my spell check is likely on some controlled substance) is quickly labeled, “The Dome.”

As the Dome materializes, it carves cattle in half (giving new meaning to the phrase, “thinly sliced roast beef”); planes abruptly disintegrate in the sky and the air is filled with a blood-and-body-parts kind of rain.  Birds splat and slide to the ground.  Trucks experience full-powered disintegration as they encounter the Dome at highway speed.

Then, as the Dome is completely formed, the people inside realize they are trapped.  They hammer and they pound and they scream and they pound some more, but they cannot get out.

Outside the Dome, emergency crews bring explosive and military might to bear as they attempt to bust in.  They can’t and they don’t–not for lack of trying, but for lack of ability to break into this completely closed system.

Interested in the story’s end?  Read the book…binge watch the series…ask someone…Google away…I am not a spoiler…you have no need of an alert about me (at least not for this)…

Meanwhile…

I was at someone else’s family celebration in the not-too-distant past.  The celebration was both well-deserved and well-attended.  And…most of the people attending were Christians (in the they’ve-told-me-so-and-I’m-taking-their-word-for-it kind of way).  I attended for two reasons: (1) I genuinely appreciated those being celebrated (they are loveable and huggable and kind and laden with been-around-a-long-time wisdom) and (2) their life achievement was a rarity in our day.  I also sort of “had to” attend by virtue of my connection with those being celebrated.

In the military we used to call that kind of attendance requirement, “mandatory fun.”  In this case, the sweet nature of those being celebrated genuinely made seeing them fun–even if it was semi-mandatory.

But, since I wasn’t part of the main family group that comprised this celebration, I was able to (read, again: had to) stand to the side.  From my vantage point, I got to see an extended family system at work.  It was the sort of observational opportunity that makes family systems theorists salivate.

Now, these family members seemed to enjoy each other very much; they seemed to extend genuine welcome and affection toward each other.  There were lots of smiles and hugs and pats on the back and bantering remarks tossed about.  Many “How have you beens?” peppered the conversation.

But one thing was very, very, very (yes, three “verys”) clear from the outset: this was a tightly closed system.  The Dome had nothing on this group.  I don’t think the folks inside were concerned about getting out.  But those on the outside could not get in…at all…in any way…for any reason… (again) at all.

Because, not only was this system tightly closed, those inside seemed oblivious to the presence of those outside…maybe it wasn’t actual obliviousness…maybe it was obliviousness’s more informed cousin: indifference.

Like yellow-billed oxpeckers riding the backs of indifferent zebras, the outsiders were barely noticed by the insiders.  The outsiders’ presence was tolerated but they were not taken in.

Another non-family system member, also consigned to outlier land, leaned toward me and said, “Now I know what a church visitor feels like.”  I sighed internally (in my position you must master the internal sigh) and thought, “He’s absolutely, heartbreakingly, incontrovertibly, right.”

We need to do something about the reality of “insider” versus “outsider”–we need to realize that, except for God’s grace through Christ, we are all “outsiders” and we’d best cast our loving embrace toward all the outsiders who come our way.

“I was a stranger and you did not invite me in” (Matthew 25:43).

© 2015, All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV.


On the Mat

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They were all so very glad to see me; it kind of took me by surprise.  Normally my “Hug Block” is fully operational (I have a list of those who can get through…and it’s a very, very small list).  I remember one time, years ago, an adorable little girl ran my way, arms outstretched in the classic “I love you a lot and I want you to pick me up” posture, only to hit the hug block protective shield about five feet away from me, come to a (yes, literal) screeching halt, look up at me with bewilderment dripping from her face, turn and slink away.

But this day the entire Hug Block mechanism experienced an epic fail.  People were breaking through left and right.  For a moment I thought I had transmogrified into some Brad Pitt lookalike, but then I caught my reflection in a car window and it was the same old lumpy, dumpy, baldy, blobby me.  One person (I am not making this up) genuflected and kissed my hand.  They were all truly happy to see me!

I am a bit of a self-deprecator.  I tend to minimize me, myself, and I.  The simple truth is that I am on the inner edge of the introvert spectrometer and will usually downplay and just “aw shucks” the congratulatory moments that come my way.  It’s simply how I am wired (or, I guess, not wired?).

Anyway, this bunch was genuinely happy to see me (if not, they deserve a group Oscar for “Best Performance by a Cast Doing Pretense”).

Wow!  What church is that?  I am going to drop everything and make my way there so that I can feel welcomed and valued too.  They really have the Welcome Mat out at that place!  Jesus must be tickled to hang out with that gang!  The Holy Spirit must be dancing His way through hearts and minds!  Get me that address, website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or whatever…just get me to that place! 

Not so fast…it wasn’t a church…wasn’t even church-like.  It was a group of folks connected to a place of secular employment.  It was…hold your breath…a place in “The World” (cue dark, suspenseful music).  And yet I walked away from that place more affirmed in my spirit than I often feel in the Body of Christ.

Now…I know what you’re thinking…I’ve been stopping in the wrong highways and bi-ways in the Body of Christ.  Maybe my Google Maps have been set to the wrong destinations.  Maybe Siri took my request for a, “Church that loves,” and heard “chokes and shoves” and sent me to those places.  Siri is a little off like that sometimes.

But, to be honest (By the way, does that phrase “to be honest” bother anyone else?  Does that mean everything said up to that point is suspect?  Somehow less than honest?), most churches struggle with the Welcome Mat.  We get used to each other or critical of each other for wearing plaid (or some other character flaw) and we let go of the enthusiasm that should mark our times together.  We are submerged in the mire of our struggles and we forget that others struggle too.  Or we let five minutes of chit chat about the baseball team (though they do need to get their act together) substitute for genuine connection in the Body of Christ…the Church Family.  Or we hand off the notion of Welcome to those “gifted in the area of hospitality” who have signed up to be Greeters or operate the Information Booth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are always pockets of saints in every place of worship who have the aroma of encouragement about them–people in every congregation who see past the facades and into the souls of men and women and boys and girls–people who can always run past the Hug Block.  I am blessed to know many of them and “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!”  But most of the rest of us can’t seem to find the Welcome Mat–at least not regularly.  It’s a shame, really.

“When you see him again, hale and hearty, how you’ll rejoice and how relieved I’ll be. Give him a grand welcome, a joyful embrace! People like him deserve the best you can give” (Philippians 2:28-29).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotation from The Message.

 


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