Sep 5, 2018

In Good Faith: Learning the Ropes

In my September In Good Faith column, I write about being in unfamiliar situations and how sometimes we're the regulars and sometimes we're the extras.

Learning the Ropes

Last week I felt like an idiot. It’s not that I did anything particularly stupid, though that’s never
out of the realm of possibility. But I walked into a coffee shop in Boston I’d never been to before, to meet a friend, and I did everything wrong. I got in line at the wrong end, I went to the wrong counter to order, and I went the wrong way after picking up my coffee. I did make it to a table without spilling hot coffee on a fellow patron and getting sued. Fortunately, there’s a distinction between feeling like an idiot and acting like one.

Now, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, as anyone who knows me can attest. Most of this time is spent in my self-proclaimed “satellite office” at Redeye Roasters in Hingham, but wherever I travel I’m always seeking the best coffee in town. So generally I know what I’m doing — I even know the difference between a macchiato, cortado, and cappuccino. That’s how well I know coffee shops.

But every coffee shop does things slightly differently. Well, maybe it’s all the same at a chain like Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, but each independent coffee shop has a slightly different traffic flow, ambiance, and decor. That’s half the charm!

As I bumbled my way through the ordering experience in Boston, I could feel the regulars giving me the stink eye. “Who is this clueless fool?” I imagined them thinking to themselves, as I accidentally cut off the woman ahead of me. 

If I’m honest, I can’t blame them for thinking this way. I’ve had the same thought when I show up on a Saturday morning at Redeye, or what I like to refer to as “amateur hour,” when the place is full of interlopers on their way to Nantasket Beach and other weekend coffee warriors. “Look at that guy! He doesn’t know the line forms to the left. Hahahahaha.”

It’s embarrassing how judgmental we can be when we’re the ones in the know. It makes us feel superior to be part of the in group; to be the Norms and Cliffs at Cheers rather than the endless parade of extras. But inevitably the tables are turned and we find ourselves on the other side, needing assistance and direction, compassion and understanding.

This time of year, many among us are considering going back to church for the first time in awhile or thinking about trying out a new church. This can be a daunting experience and you can’t help but feel self-conscious about the possibility of doing things the “wrong” way. But I do hope you’ll lay those anxieties aside and dare to walk into a faith community this fall. 

Here at St. John’s, as I’m sure is the case at other local congregations, you will be welcomed without judgment. No one will roll their eyes if you can’t find the right page in the hymnal or if you’re two minutes late to the service because your toddler couldn’t find her cape. We’re all in this together and there is no wrong way to approach the God of unconditional love. And anyway, what’s the worst that can happen — standing when you’re supposed to sit or kneeling when you’re supposed to stand? If God can’t handle that, I think we all may have greater problems. 

In the end, no matter how much I may have unintentionally bucked the norms, I still ended up with a great cup of coffee that day in Boston. That’s my hope for you — that no matter the initial discomfort, you’ll find a place to nurture your soul and live out your faith.

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