16 Aug 2015

Distractions and dress code

We are creating a culture of distraction (Joe Kraus)

Unless I'm at the beach or away with work I pretty much live in denim. My jeans are assigned their very own drawer and I wear them in rotation to prevent jealousy in the ranks and maintain an evenness of wear and tear. Slouch, boyfriend, bootleg.... I love them all - jeans are comfy, can be accessorised up or down (mostly down) and don't show the dirt.

Like all things denim, churches come in different varieties too. And like my oldest, comfiest jeans with the hole in the left knee and enough give in the waist to be pulled on / off without undoing the zip, you get comfortable with what you know. There's an expectation and familiarity with favourite jeans. I know how they fit and find comfort in the way my phone fits in the back pocket without either digging into my bum when I sit down or threatning to tumble onto a tiled bathroom floor when I pull them below my knees.

Jeans just work, you know?

But, like wearing a bikini at the beach or a trouser suit while on conference, it's appropriate to wear something different on occasion. And it's probably good to NOT go to your own church on occasion too. Different can be good. Different can teach you what familiarity can't. Having been away from home for 5 weekends in a row and mixing with a wider selection of God-type people than I normally do, I have (re) discovered the following:

• Worship is about glorifying God, not about my preferences

• Lack of responsibility for any part of the meeting is quite liberating

• Even when most elements of a church service are not familiar, the unchanging nature and goodness of God is

• It's quite hard to offend genuine followers of Jesus who welcome honest enquiry

• If God's family can be so diverse within the limited expression of church that I can experience in my teeny tiny lifetime within a finite cross-section of Christendom, then heaven will be indescribably eclectic. (I can just about get my head around people from every tribe, tongue and nation, but talking / singing lifeforms with wings and lots of eyeballs may be a bit distracting for a while).

• I am too easily distracted

Expanding further on this final point (because it's an increasingly prevalent first world problem, plus 5 weeks away gave me lots of material), here are some of the distractions that might get in the way. There are lots more. Please feel free to add your own. The sharing of knowledge is power and all that.

• Unfamiliarity with whole thing
Stupid stuff that regular attenders take for granted can make a visitor feel like an observer rather than a participant. Is there a dress code? What's the order of the service? What expectations or limitations are there that are different to what I'm used to - not because God is limiting or expecting anything necessarily, but the culture within a church is shaped by encouraging / normalising certain things. Or not. Also, under normal circumstances I can plan a sneaky coffee / pee break according to what's coming up next, but as a newbie this is not possible. 

• Feeling conspicuous as a visitor
Especially as several members of our extended family belong here and as such, lots of people already know who I am and some want to speak to me afterwards and I can't remember ANY of their names. That's a fair bit of pressure if you think about it too much. So I don't.

• Arrive late and end up sitting at the front
Rookie mistake. Visiting AND sitting at the front? Forget the bikini- you might as well be naked.

• Worship songs are from a bygone era
This awakens childhood memories, both good and bad, of services dominated by counting the ceiling tiles, doodling flower patterns on the notice sheet and trying to make one packet of wine gums last the whole sermon.

• The worship material contains lyrics which raise theological ponderings
Hmmm - Do I believe in singing to Mary? And if not then is the polite response to sing anyway, not sing at all or just mouth the words? That last one seems like a lie really, so I don't.

• Songs presented in a different style than whe one I am accustomed to 
I shall build my church and it shall involve drum and bass or one of those little church karaoke machines or an 80's electric organ or re-worded Abba lyrics or one man and his acoustic guitar. Oh yes.

• Songs presented by the tone deaf a musician of lower ability
But that's Ok - Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Even if you're at the front. With a mic. And singing in a different key to everyone else in the room. That's absolutely fine.

• No words on the screen for whole songs at a time
Did Windows decide to update just before we got started? Or was this one chosen at the last minute and the techie can't type it in fast enough? Or maybe he's asleep, slumped over the desk at the back. Sometimes it's because the song actually finished a while ago, but the musicians are engaged in free worship between themselves and the first 3 rows. Either way, regular guys here know what's going on but newbie's mind is wandering now...

• And I'm feeling anxious that all the roller blinds down one wall are at different lengths. And the one behind the speaker is squint...
I am not obsessive. I am not obsessive. I am not obsessive.

• Working / hovering at back of big top with radio and ear piece so I can instruct the stewards on when to open which doors or help the medics reach anyone having a panic attack, if required.
So now I'm being paid to be distracted. How do pastors get through a Sunday morning with all these balls in the air?

• Those nearby messing around / not singing / chatting to each other
OK - this affects both home and away games. Rightly or wrongly I am distracted by the behaviour of others. We can help each other to connect with God or make it more difficult for them. Our willingness / unwillingness to engage with what's going on impacts those around us.

• There are no kids in this church and therefore no kids session. And I've brought 2 of mine today. Including the fidgeter.
Oh dear. As the minutes tick by they are increasingly bored and restless. One of them is blowing spit bubbles. I can't work out if it's more distracting to allow this to continue or to ask her to stop. I let it continue as I'm kind of mesmerised by them. Some take ages to pop.

• There IS a kids session (Yay!!) and even though it happens next door, there's colouring in and games at the back of the room from the start.
And kids can access it whenever they want. And they are. No one has to sit with a parent if they don't want to. Kids older than mine are chattering loudly and colouring in and my youngest is distracted herself as she wants to join them. So now I'm distracted because she is.

Missing my church family. I've been in unfamiliar clothes too long and need my jeans with the hole in the knee. (But good to know the bikini still fits).

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