The Great Power in Hallway Conversations

Sometimes (often - always) God works despite our best efforts. I can remember vividly my conversation with Tom, around 20 years ago. I was not long out of a Christian college, and I had left that college more confused than clear about God. And now, in Tom’s living room, I asked him about some questions I had about how to interpret the book of Genesis. His essential answer: I fear that, just by asking that question, you show that you are not a Christian. 

Can you guess the effect that that answer had on me, a newcomer to the church? No, I did not rise up and call him blessed and thank him for pointing out the dark falsity in my wayward thinking. I shut up. I didn’t learn anything about Genesis then, but I did “learn” that certain questions could be landmines that could blow you out of acceptance of that church. 

We stayed in that church - God had moved in me to lead us to commit there. But that brief interaction, lasting only two minutes, had great effect. It would be much later that I would feel the freedom to revisit my questions, and to come to a settled and restful conclusion. 

There is great power in how we receive other people, especially in their “not yet doneness”. There is great power, in the smallest little moments, to build a bridge, upon the other side of which another traveler might receive further light. 

Yet too often we are like Gandalf, standing astride the bridge in "Lord of the Rings": “Thou shalt not pass!!!!” 

But much more subtle: 

When in talking to a newcomer, we correct their baker, banker or basketmaker-way of describing a spiritual truth, by quoting a verse, or using our church’s chosen vernacular. We correct for precision, because we hold precision to be more dear than the person across from us. 

Or when we ask newcomers questions that subtly convey a small-town, outsider status to them. The questions we ask can subtly convey that the other possesses a lack, simply by virtue of not being “in” here yet.

These moments have great power, because they can subtly shut down that “outsider”, and cause her to look elsewhere for spiritual nourishment. But what nourishment would be missed? From just last Sunday’s message?!

My friend Tom had no idea of the effect he was having on me; otherwise, I’m sure he would have asked me, “How did you come to ask that question? Let’s talk - tell me more.”