So, I’m by myself in Sheboygan, Wisconsin at a bar that is waaaaaaaayyy too hip for me (and, quite frankly, I cannot believe there are places in Sheboygan that are too hip for me). Ten minutes ago, I asked the receptionist in the hotel lobby where the “cool kids” grab dinner (I, by the way, did not sound like a “cool kid” when I asked that question). She sent me here.
I’m desperately trying to fit in. The only problem is it is awkward. No, actually, I’m awkward. I want to order a beer but based on the tap handles it looks like my options are clown juice, buffalo something, or Budweiser (and I’m not ordering Budweiser).
I say, “Can I just have a pale ale?” The bartender asks if I want circus-something or bison-whatever. “Whatever most people like,” I say. He asks if I want a pint or a mug. I say, “Whichever is bigger.” A moment later he approaches with a beer in the biggest mug I have ever seen. As I take my first sip, I look like a toddler trying to drink milk from a gallon jug. I do not fit in and this is not the sort of under-the-radar evening I was hoping to have. I look around the room and I notice that most people have fancy cocktails or are drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon (which is somehow hip).Scott, I say to myself, you’re not a cool kid.
I start to wonder what it’s like to join a church. I wonder if people feel pressured to fit in. I think about what it is like to be new to an established community. And I worry that we aren’t sensitive to those early interactions.
When it comes time to order food the bartender asks me if I want “all-you-can-eat” ribs. I decline. I order the “herbivore” pizza. Apparently, he doesn’t believe me.
“Carnivore?” he asks again.
“No, vegetarian pizza,” I shout loud enough for people in Milwaukee to hear. “HERB.I.VORE.”
The restaurant is silent.
“Oh,” he says surprised, “sorry, they sound so much alike.”
When my pizza arrives, my ears turn red and melt off the side of my head. Apparently, the cook read the wrong size and they have delivered me the world’s largest vegetarian pizza (on all-you-can-eat ribs night). I am mortified. When I drink my beer, I look like Donald Trump trying to take a sip of water and the food in front of me makes me feel like Joey Chestnut.
To break the tension that has filled the restaurant, I offer some food to strangers. They decline. I try to explain what happened and how I’m “new,” but I only end up giving away how lost and out of place I am. I have forgotten how to put a sentence together. I’m embarrassed and alone.
And I continue to wonder what it is like to join a church. I wonder how effective congregations are at creating a safe and secure place in the midst of the sacred. I worry that we are not sensitive to the experience of new people.
The bartender asks me if I’d like a box to take home. I say, “No, I don’t have a home… here… that is. I have a home somewhere though and in that somewhere I also have friends and don’t seem so pathetic. Which is not to say that I’m cool, per se. I’m not, but I’m also not this big of a loser….” I keep rambling until he walks away.
I’m interrupted by a customer who has watched this whole debacle. He starts a chant that the whole bar joins in on, “Eat it. Eat it. Eat it!” I’m mortified for half a second, until I realize this is his way of saying, “Welcome.” He’s watched this whole debacle play out and breaks the tension with a joke that brings the room together.
We laugh. And then… he eats a slice of my pizza.
And I think again about what it is like to join a church. I wonder who will reach through the tension and questions to grab onto the person on the other side. And I say a prayer for the church – that we might be a place that recognizes the seeker, receives the pilgrim, and is always more than just a club for “cool kids.”