Our church, no, more accurately, those who regularly attend our church have a common, seemingly innocuous but disturbing characteristic. Yes, I'm mentioning it on this blog site for two reasons. First, it does have to do with running; more accurately, with the type of living that running oftentimes creates. Second, I possess this common, seemingly innocuous but disturbing characteristic myself.
Two disparate events in the last 24 hours brought this concern into focus in my mind.
The second event, which I'll mention first, came to me as I listened to Samantha Power, on MPR's Midmorning, talk about Sergio Vieira de Mello, a member of a UN envoy killed in Iraq. Among other things, Samantha described Sergio as an atypical UN official and went on to say that he was the type of person who would enter a room full of people and make many people feel important. Specifically to my point, when Sergio was talking with a particular person, he made that person feel like they had his complete attention and that it pained him to leave this particular conversation. It did not matter if the person were a diplomat or a destitute refugee.
This second event reminded me of the first event which I observed last night after our church's Wednesday Night Connection service. As people were congregating, I noticed Pastor Piper talking with a young boy in the commons area. As I walked by, I watched one thing: Pastor Piper's eyes. (Now I've tipped my hat to the problem mentioned earlier) As Pastor Piper was engaged with this young boy, I noticed two teenagers beeline toward the pair. Several minutes later as I returned from the nursery, I watched Pastor Piper's eyes once again. His eyes were riveted on the person with whom he was speaking.
Now, I've noticed his intense, discriminating concentration when he talks with people at the front of the church after each service. In a sense, it would be expected. But here he was, in the middle of the commons, with at least 80 people buzzing around, and his attention was spot-lighting one young boy and then two teenagers.
So, here's the problem. We at Bethlehem have developed a bad habit, at least while we are at church. It is the habit of scanning the crowd while talking with a particular person. It really bothered me when we first attended regularly. I don't notice it much anymore, but I fear this is because I do it also. It is very difficult to believe that someone is empathizing with me if they are not looking at me. Unless we are sitting and talking, and then it's not so important to be looking right at each other. Otherwise, it feels as if the "scanner" is looking for someone more important.
So, this is where I think this problem does have something to do with the type of living running often creates. Running often makes the rest of life slow down, acquire a more vivid hue, and relationships often become a little more full. It might be endorphins, or maybe being alone out on the trail/road for too long. Whatever the reason, I find myself slowing down with people more.
I've come up with only two solutions to our scanning at church:
1. Everyone goes on a quick run right after the service but before talking in the common,
2. Set up lounge chairs all over the commons area so we can sit and talk but not necessarily look at each other.
I think #1 might work as long as we don't mind errant smells. The problem I see with #2 is that, "If you give a mouse a lounge chair, he's going to want a cocktail to go with it." And I've always taken an uncompromising position against consuming alcohol openly while at church.