Sunday, January 8, 2012

It Seems Like It Should Be So Simple.... So Why Isn't It?

Looking Ahead to the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany:
 Some thoughts on Philip, Nathanael, Jesus, my hairdresser, and invitations...
“And Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see.” (John 1:43-51)
Who knew it could be that easy?
I got a glimpse of what that can look like in the middle of my life yesterday….
I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair where she was doing all she could to tame my unruly hair. We were making small talk… talking about the weather, about her son’s newly painted truck, about her daughter’s forensics competition that day.  I don’t know how we got talking about exercise, but Carolyn saw an opening and invited me to join her exercise class.
If you know me at all you know that I’m an early morning walker.  I walk for my physical health, to be sure, but it is critical for my emotional and spiritual health as well.  It never fails.  As my body finds the rhythm of walking my mind is somehow set free.  It’s when I work things out, make connections, ask big questions.  It is good for me, and yet I have known for some time it is not enough.
And so it was Carolyn saw an opening and began to tell me about her early morning exercise class. “It’s called “A.M. Workout Warriors,” she said, “but don’t let that scare you.  It’s a bunch of women about our age.”  She went on to describe the other participants in the class, the patience of the instructor, the fact that you don’t need to bring anything with you as it’s all provided. She assured me that I could fit the workout in and still be home in plenty of time to get ready for work.  She told me this would be a perfect time to start as a new class begins this week.  When I began to ask questions she told me where the class is held and how to get there. She even offered to pick me up on Monday morning as she said, “I know how hard it is to sometime walk into a place not knowing anyone.”
I didn’t quite have the courage to ask what I should wear as that seemed like something I should know. 
After I left her house I drove to where she said the class is held --- just to be sure I could find it should I decide to go.  When I was out shopping later that afternoon, I picked up a new pair of sweat pants.  My old ones are well, old, and fine for walking alone in the dark, but I really don’t want to be embarrassed by something so basic should I decide to go.
As I took my usual walk today I got to thinking about how like Philip Carolyn was as she invited me to join her class.  She knows enough about me to know I might be interested… just as Philip must have known Nathanael would be interested in the fulfilling of God’s promises and so told him about Jesus.  She wasn’t pushy.  She answered my questions as I asked them.  And when it came right down to it, she knew that anything she would say would not be enough.  She simply invited me to come and see, to come and experience it for myself.
It was a simple, straightforward conversation. There was no judgment offered about my flabby middle aged arms or the struggle I’ve had with weight ever since I became a pastor and was introduced to the constant caloric temptations of the role.  She told me enough so that I could find my way on my own should I decide to go and she offered to come and pick me up if that would help.
And yet, I am deeply aware that the kind of invitation Carolyn extended to me yesterday all too often doesn’t happen like it did with Philip and Nathanael in our own journeys of faith.  Still, it seems like it should be so simple.  To care enough to ask. To watch for an opening to invite.  To speak a simple, entirely nonjudgmental invitation.  To not get defensive in the face of another’s skepticism.  To offer to give a ride if that would help. And to let it go, trusting, believing that, in the end, it’s not about you at all, but that, in the end, it’s about Jesus. And Jesus will do the convincing.
And so I’m wondering now….
1)       Who was your Philip?  Who invited you to ‘come and see’ Jesus --- the first time and the many times since?  And what are your ‘Nathanael’ moments --- those times Jesus connected with you so profoundly you’ve never forgotten it?
2)       Consider my conversation with Carolyn about her exercise class.  What about her invitation made me consider responding positively?  What might she have said (or not said) that would have made me dismiss her invitation and forget it as soon as I got out of her chair?  What can that teach us about how we talk about our faith with others?
3)      Why is it that it’s easier to invite someone to an exercise class than to invite them to join us in worship?  I’ve got some pretty good ideas, but I’d really be curious about what you think. Offer your comment below or drop a note to and maybe we can have a larger conversation together about this.
4)      If you haven’t found a home in a congregational community for some time and you’ve dropped into this page and have actually gotten this far into this with me, thank you for bearing with what must seem like a terribly ‘insider’ conversation.  I would be especially curious about your experience.  Has anyone ever invited you?  Did you wind up joining them?  Why or why not?  Again, drop me a note and tell me about it.
5)      A few years back a friend described her experience of moving new into a community.  She said she received a warmer welcome among ‘soccer families’ on the sidelines of her daughter’s games than she did in local congregations.  I still ache to remember the pain she experienced in that time. And I wonder why that was so.  What do you think?
6)      There are a whole lot of questions swimming around in my mind as I think about joining that exercise class tomorrow ---- what should I wear?  Where will I enter the building and how will I find the right room?  Who will be there?  Will I fit in?  What will they think of me?  Will I be glad I went?---  I’m pretty sure those folks thinking about dropping into worship are wondering the same things.  What can we do to alleviate some of those fears that may well keep our neighbors and friends from ‘coming to see Jesus’ for themselves?


  1. 1. My Philip was my confirmation pastor who taught me that Jesus loves everyone - so we should, too. I'm sure he has no idea how that one conversation we had after confirmation class some Wednesday night in the 70s has shaped my entire life.

    2. I'm sure, though you and she may not be close friends, it helped that she knew you well. It's harder (though in some ways easier) to invite those that you don't know at all.

    3. I've faced rejection in the face of an invitation before. Michael and I invited a bunch of friends to our 1st anniversary party. I made food all day and we had cleaned for days. That night, we sat and waited. No one ever came. That was painful. People don't like pain. I think it just takes one invitation-rejection-experience for people to become pretty gun-shy of ever inviting anyone to anything again.

  2. 5. The pain of rejection happens often, I think, because of the other person/group's fear of rejection! People in churches sometimes don't greet someone they don't recognize, because they are afraid that that person has been there forever, and they've just never met. Then they'd be embarrassed for assuming that person is new. Because of this (and other things), unfortunately, people cling to groups like themselves. Someone in a wheelchair, of a different race or abilities, or someone not gifted with good looks or shape or clothing is, more often than not, not welcome anywhere - a new church, the soccer sidelines, the grocery store, etc. People instantly assume things about "those kind of people" and assume that they cannot, or do not wish to, associate with them. This could be out of fear of failure - but it could also be out of laziness. A conversation with that kind of person might be a little harder to have, so maybe it's not worth it. I guess what I'm trying to say is "welcome" is fickle.

    6. I have two stories for this one...

    - My freshman year of college, I visited a local church. I went alone, hoping to sneak in the back, worship, and go back to the dorm to study. Upon entering the door, I swear that place could smell fresh meat. I had about every person in the place talk to me - ask me where I was from - what was I studying - what dorm did I live in - what church do I go to back home - who my friends were that I could bring next time - on and on. Now, I suppose, for some people, that would make them feel very special and welcome. But it made me about want to die. I did survive through the service, but couldn't get out of there fast enough. I never returned. I'm not sure what I learned from that (other than that I'm a card-carrying introvert), but though I have a rotten memory, the emotions of that event stick with me to this day.

    - Because I have a rotten memory, I know I'm rotten with faces and names, but I also know it's important to greet people that may be new at church. Now, I'm relatively new in the congregation where I worship, so I know I don't know everyone, but I've been around long enough to recognize most of the faces (though many of them still don't have names attached). But if I think someone is new - or if there's someone I haven't met before - I try to reach out with a gentle (!!) welcome. I did that in church the other day. I saw a young woman with kids a little younger than mine. I wanted to invite them to Sunday School, so I went up to her and said, "I'm not sure I've met you before, I'm ...." (This is what I decided to say to defer to those people who have probably been there longer than I have, but I just haven't met. However, it's also handy and works if the person is a visitor!) Usually people will exchange names with me (and I frantically try to think of a way to remember that name, but usually it's gone within a day...) and we start a nice conversation (during which I never pry or talk very long - in case they are introverts like me!). This time, however, this plan backfired. The young woman said, "Oh yes, we've met several times, and you introduce yourself every time." I just wanted to sink into the floor. I just tried to laugh it off and referenced my car-accident-induced-swiss-cheese memory. But I felt really really stupid. Certainly this incident will cause me to pause before the next time I introduce myself to someone. So, what will that do? What if next time the person IS new - and I walk by without a greeting? Now I'm the one making that person feel like an outsider!

  3. Karin, thanks for sharing so many wonderful and honest stories. It seems to me you really capture some of the reasons we don't invite others to join us on the journey... and yes, there is an interesting balance between being welcoming and treating someone like 'fresh meat.' At any rate, keep being 'you' as you welcome people --- even if you have met them a dozen times before and more. The next time it really could make all the difference!