Friday, June 28, 2013

Coffee Shop Diversity

I had a surprising experience the other day.

Before you read about that, though, you should know this.

In most of the places I go, I tend to be surrounded by people like me – people who are either urban professionals or suburban-family-types (I may or may not qualify for either, but I could pass as both) – at any rate, the defining characteristic might be middle-class and middle-American (whatever that really means). By and large we speak with the same accent, we are familiar with the same cultural references, and we can come to understand the other's perspective even if we have different political views.

So when I go to a coffee shop, particularly the ubiquitous green one with the trademark goddess on the awning, I expect a certain atmosphere. I expect that people will be typing on laptop computers (much as I am as I write this). If people are talking to one another, I expect volumes and tones hushed to such a level that I could only eavesdrop on the table immediately adjacent to me, or that I could dismiss as white noise. I expect most people to not make eye contact, and for the baristas to only be friendly enough to get my drink order right.

Then, the other day when I went into a coffee shop I hadn't been to before, I was surprised by a little bit of culture shock … which was really pleasant.
To a person, the staff seemed genuinely joyful. I first noticed this when I ordered. 

But then I watched as I sat there, and they had the same attitude with each customer, and with each other when there was no one ordering.

The mix of people who came in for coffee was almost as diverse as you'll see in the Denver metro area. In the space of about 15 minutes, I heard Spanish and French and Arabic. I heard (what I believe is) Urdu and I heard heavily-accented English. I saw about eight different varieties of skin tone.  And the buzz of conversation was much more lively (and felt more fully alive) than what I'm accustomed to.

It was truly a joyful coffee experience for me.

It seems to be the case that if there's one person in a groups who's different, our tendency is to focus on that difference. And if there is a great deal of diversity in a group, we tend to look for and discover what we have in common.

I like the second option better.

I wonder how our outlook on the world would change is we more frequently and more intentionally surrounded ourselves with people who are different from us.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Team Culture

A couple of my ten readers may know that I'm a fan of basketball.  I played basketball in high school and in college (on an intramural team - Go, Sewer Boys!).  And I've been a fan of the San Antonio Spurs since George Gervin was playing.

So, if you're even aware that the NBA finals are happening right now, you might guess that I'm spending some time watching the series between the Spurs and the Miami Heat. 

It's fun for me to watch the games, but I'm more interested in writing about something I've noticed about these two teams.  I'm obviously a Spurs fan, so what I'm writing may be biased, so please read what I write with a grain of salt.

As I watch the post-game interviews, I notice a difference between the Spurs players and many players from other teams. 

What I noticed the other day, after game two (when the Heat destroyed the Spurs), Heat star Lebron James was talking continually about himself.  He talked about his own performance in the game - and even when he talked about his teammates, he referred to them as his players, and as his guys.

In contrast, whenever I listen to Spurs players, they talk very little about themselves and a great deal about the contributions their teammates made.  And they compliment the play of their opponents.  I don't hear that from most other professional athletes, especially basketball players. 

It's a relief, in our culture that's so wrapped up in self-centeredness, to hear rich and famous people humbly focusing on others.

It seems that there's a different kind of culture in the Spurs organization - a culture where individuals support one another for the sake of the team.

I wonder what church would be like if we were more focused on our neighbor more than on ourselves.  Wait ... didn't someone with the initials J.C. mention something about that?


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Children in Worship, once more

Today at church there were quite a few kids.  Many of those who often show up were there at the same time.  Plus, there were a number of others who were visiting to celebrate a baptism. 

And there was life.

I think we all felt it. 

There was an atmosphere of vibrancy at worship, as if the energy of the young people was contagious.  Now you must know that there was a time or two when someone in the congregation might have though that one or two of the children was momentarily too loud ... but by and large, even when a child made some noise, the atmosphere carried life rather than annoyance.

And what I believe the community experienced during the liturgy, in addition to our own worship, was the worship of those young people. 

By the simple fact of being in the midst of the whole rest of the congregation, they allowed the rest of us (who are normally relatively quiet during the liturgy) to catch a glimpse of their own experience of the divine. 

Which got me to thinking ... who are we (who prefer it quiet) to say that (we're right and) the children are wrong to make noise when they worship?

Why is it that we act like we believe that the only way to worship is by sitting still and being quiet?  What if they, with their squirmy selves, are worshipping more fully than we with our minds that get so distracted by grocery lists and family concerns and whether we'll get out of here in under an hour this week?

For the little beautiful one who was baptized today, I heard the noises of the other kids calling to her.  I heard, "Come and join us here - we're in a place where we are welcomed as we are."

She was welcomed into community by young and old alike this morning.  But what if she had been the only non-adult present this morning?  What if the entire congregation had been adult?  She would have certianly received a welcome. 

But it wouldn't have been enough.  She would have only been welcomed in an adult way, into an adult community, where the expectation would be that she should worship like an adult. 

Thanks be to God there was diversity of ages joined together in worship this morning, so that the newly baptized could be welcomed, exactly as she is, by the whole people of God. 

And thanks be to God for children who have not yet put away childish things ... for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Children in Worship, Again

In the congregation where I serve as pastor, we've been thinking and talking (and struggling just a little bit) with the place and role of children and parents in worship. 

In our June newsletter (we publish a monthly newsletter designed to connect folks to our life together as church), the article I wrote was focused on this topic. 

I'd love to hear any feedback that my seven (ten?) readers might have.  Since it's written to a particular congregation, I'll edit the article so that, hopefully, it makes sense here in this context.

... many of you have noticed that "children in worship" has become a topic of conversation in this congregation.

From what I’ve heard, the conversation has typically been focused on how children behave in worship.  I think that, for the most part, we all agree that it’s good for children to be in worship.  I think most of us agree that there’s a certain amount of noise a child can make, and a certain amount of moving around that a child can do before that child becomes an inappropriate distraction to folks around her or him.  And I think most of us agree that if children can’t behave well, if they move around too much or make too much noise, it’s best for them to be taken into the narthex (foyer/lobby) until they’re calmed down.

The trouble that we identified the other day at the church council (governing body in the congregation) meeting is that each one of us has a different definition of “too much”.

We are a varied and diverse group of people ~ I question whether we’ll be able to come up with a radius of movement or a decibel level that everyone can agree to.

So I started wondering ~ what if we re-frame our conversation?  I’m sure we already think in these terms, but what if we start saying out loud to each other, “How are we raising up children in the faith?”, and “How are we fulfilling the promises we made to young people when they were baptized?”

To that end, I’d like to think for a moment about we do well as a congregation, rather than worrying about what any particular individual or household does poorly.

1) Among other things, this congregation has a tradition of inviting young people to a front-row seat to watch baptisms, which allows them to be surrounded by a whole congregation confessing their faith and praying for each other. 

2) This congregation has a tradition of welcoming children to hear a message geared to them during the worship service. 

3) This congregation has a tradition of pairing confirmation students with adult mentors for conversation and worship during the season of Lent. 

4) This congregation has a tradition of providing children a safe place to make friends with other children and with caring adults.

I wonder how our conversation would be different if our concern was less about what other people are doing during worship and more about how we as a congregation can best raise up children of faith.  I’m excited to continue to hear from you, and to continue to have this conversation. 
My hope for the congregation I serve, and for this forum as well, is that this can be a start to conversation about who we are and how we are as children of G-d.