Conan O’Brien has a hilarious sketch he performs based on Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” site. Basically, people who feel they’ve missed an opportunity to meet someone interesting can leave a message, with the hopes of that person finding it. They usually go something like this:
You were the geek-chic hottie reading David Sedaris on the 4:50 train. I was the shy but sumptuous person who couldn’t stop staring…
On the shows in which Conan airs his Craigslist spoofs, he randomly selects audience members and shows the unsuspecting viewers as he reads the creepy-but-oh-so-funny posts they have supposedly written. Their reactions are as funny as the posts themselves and when the skit is finished I can’t help but wonder who in the world would actually post something like that online. Of course, what makes it so funny is that we know people do post “Missed Connections” online, many of them so strange or desperate (or creepy) that Conan’s spoof is only a mild stretch of reality. The genius of the comedy is hitting close to home.
But the other day I found myself wishing that I had some sort of “Missed Connections” site I could’ve posted on when I avoided a conversation with a waitress only to later realize that I had had the perfect opportunity to share a little bit about why I love church as much as I do.
It happened when I stopped by Pizza Hut because I was hungry, but in no mood to actually go home and cook. I was coming down with a cold and really thought something hot would hit the spot. For some reason, I couldn’t get Pizza Hut’s alfredo chicken dish out of my head.
The place wasn’t that busy, since it was after the lunch rush and I pretty much had the dining room to myself. So I sat there, reading a book on my Kindle, as I frequently do when dining alone. On this particular day I was reading Thomas E. Frank’s Polity, Practice, and the Mission of The United Methodist Church.
I was reading this book because I was preparing for a class I am to teach at an upcoming Lay Leader’s Academy in my district on United Methodist Polity. I was brushing up on my own understanding of polity and laying out a lesson plan–so there I was as the waitress brought my meal, Kindle in one hand, pen in the other as I jotted notes down in my notebook. She was polite and largely left me alone as I dined and studied…
And then, as I paid my bill, she began making some small talk.
“You look like you were reading something interesting,” she said.
Immediately I was seized with fear. If I told her what I was reading I would look like a total nerd. Okay. So I am a total nerd, but why would I want this random stranger I may never see again knowing that?
There was also the fact that I didn’t really feel all that great. I was taking cold medicine, which dulled my senses and caused me to retreat into my own head like a turtle into his shell. I didn’t want to have to talk about what polity is–because I was assuming (much to my shame) that this woman wouldn’t know anything about it.
Add in that I was worried she might ask more about it–want me to explain what the book was about or why I was reading it or why it mattered in the first place.
So I took the easy way out. I said, “Not really. It’s a book I have to read for work.”
She looked at me with sympathy. Books required for work are never as interesting as the books we choose to read.
So I left with her sympathy and climbed in my car, but as I drove home I realized I had made a mistake.
Granted, I was reading Frank’s book as a refresher so that I could teach a class. And granted, I had first read Frank’s book while I was in school learning how to be a minister. But that wasn’t the only reason I was reading this book. I had had the option of telling the director of the Lay Leaders Academy that I couldn’t teach the class–and no one would have blamed me. After all, the class was falling at a time when I was preparing an endless amount of reports for Charge Conference (our annual business meeting in the United Methodist Church) and preparing to assist in a Chrysalis Flight (a spiritual growth program for youth) on top of all my usual ministry. To say I didn’t have the time wouldn’t have been a stretch.
I accepted the invitation because I enjoy this sort of thing and feel very passionately that United Methodists today need to have a more positive outlook on the order and methods of governance in our church. I am one of the people who think United Methodists need to reclaim our tradition and heritage and wear it proudly–that we are better served if we, as members of the church, know our roots and our history… and more importantly, our doctrine.
I know that in the end Jesus doesn’t really care if we’re Methodists or Baptists or Catholics or what-ever label you want to embrace or reject. But these traditions serve a very important purpose for us as we navigate through the choppy waters of this life. They give us direction. They give us meaning. They help us keep firm and steady on a path that can sometimes be difficult to find. When we are weak, they give us something to lean on. When we are strong, they give us the chance to help others. No one path is the correct one while all others are incorrect. But the one we choose, the one we walk, should help to form us into stronger disciples with each step.
And I chose the United Methodist Church.
I was in the third grade when my family left the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana) and began attending a United Methodist Church–and from that moment forward, my spiritual life began to grow and deepen in unimaginable ways. I was a teenager when I felt the call into ministry, and I remember feeling it was a very specific call to ministry as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.
But in the ten years it took me to fully answer that calling, I explored my faith and sought out other traditions and tried to run–I had plenty of opportunities to turn to any other denomination. Some would’ve embraced my call as a woman, some would have encouraged me into another walk of life… but I could’ve chosen any one of those other traditions.
I chose the United Methodist, in short, because I thought John Wesley was really onto something with is well-developed theology of grace. I knew that the United Methodist history of social justice was one that was rooted in discipleship of Christ. And I knew that the methods of order that the United Methodists are known for–itinerancy, laity-driven congregations, and connectionalism–was the path I wanted to walk for the rest of my life.
I joined the church as a teenager, largely because it was the thing to do. My friends were being confirmed, and it just made sense that I would not rock the boat and be the one who didn’t.
I maintained my membership as an adult because I knew that it was right for me. I was passionate about it. I was excited about it. It was a path that I could clearly follow and embrace and share with others.
But when a waitress asked me about the book I was reading–a book I found very interesting–I shrugged it off. Even though I am excited about my church and even though I encourage others to be equally as excited, I hesitated when it came to sharing that excitement with someone else.
And that is a missed opportunity I will regret for a long time.
I’m afraid this reminded me of a time, years and years ago, when I was at the local pool and stopped by to say “hi” to our associate pastor. I noticed that she was reading an issue of Christian Century. Back then I had time to read each issue cover-to-cover, and so I asked her what she was reading, by which I meant: Which article? “Oh, nothing,” she said, quickly rolling up her magazine and putting it into her bag. I wasn’t sure whether she didn’t want to talk shop on her afternoon off, or was embarrassed to have been caught reading a religious magazine, or what, so I let it go. But I was really saddened by what was, indeed, a missed opportunity. The good thing about missed opportunities, though, is that we are less likely to let the next one pass.
People cross our path for a reason—there is no –COINCIDENCE. I often wonder why so often we do not answer the call that has been placed before us. You pointed out that church regardless of the shingle out front gives us stability. Unlike Jesus we are creatures of habit and comfort. Lord, help me to step out of my comfort zone and be your ambassador of PEACE.