Last Thursday night I sat in my favorite coffee shop listening to music. It's open mic night, and the room is filled with musicians, friends of musicians, and folks like me who just like to listen to music.
Across the room there is a painting on the wall that keeps drawing my attention, of a woman sitting alone on a chair. It's called "I'm still here."
Greeting everyone as they come in to the coffee shop is Frank. Frank is a large man, over 6' tall and several hundred pounds, and he has what is often called "special needs." He walks around, talking to everyone. He comes right up to you, gets in your face, and asks, "What's your name?" or "What are you playing tonight?" If you've been there before, Frank remembers, and will let you know he is glad to see you. To the regulars at open mic night, Frank is an important part of the vibe. Kyle, the MC, verbalizes this, and schedules Frank - who plays keyboard and sings - as the first act every Thursday night. He's always there, and communicates - by his actions, and by his very presence - that everyone is welcome.
However, newcomers often react with discomfort because of Frank. Most folks, in walking into a coffee shop, do not expect to be confronted in the way Frank does. He is physically imposing, and often not socially appropriate. He elicits nervous laughter from many first timers, and I have seen some people just turn around and walk out. But Frank is appreciated by the musicians. This coffee shop is a place, maybe for some the only place, where they feel accepted and affirmed. Most young musicians know what it feels like to be an outsider and not fit in. Like Frank, they also may have been labeled socially inappropriate. The same environment that accepts Frank accepts them.
Of course, that got me thinking about church.
We all know there is a temptation to clean up the idiosyncrasies of our church family, in order not to embarrass our guests. After all, we don't want to make anyone uncomfortable, do we?
But maybe we shouldn't try to clean it up too much. Do we really want folks to walk into our church thinking we have it all together, that our bright shining faces and sunny dispositions are illustrative of the way we are all the time? At my church, that would be false advertising that a new person would discover - if not during their first visit, then surely by the second. Maybe they need to see that we are a little messy, and that the people who populate our pews - and our pulpit - are just normal folks, who occasionally are just a little bit socially inappropriate.
They might just fit in.