Saturday, May 25, 2013

Practice what you preach

Last night I attended a meeting of Christian women (of all religious denominations) as a guest of one of my friends. She and I have often attended such meetings once or twice a year when I first moved to Norway, but our attendance has been more infrequent during the past decade. The format of the meeting is simple—a few inspirational lectures, a light dinner, some songs, and a main lecture usually given by a person who has a specific message to share. Last night that message was the importance of love in the arena of relationships; how reaching out with love dispels the fear in ourselves and perhaps in those to whom we reach out. It was a very good talk and it brought to mind the message of Mother Theresa, who always talked about the importance of love and starting with those around you—loving your family and those closest to you before trying to make a difference in the world.

What struck me however last night, was the experience we had on the way into the hotel ballroom where the meeting was held. My friend, who is a retiree and a woman who works tirelessly helping the downtrodden and less fortunate in our society, had made reservations for the two of us several weeks ago. She had sent a text message as instructed by the newspaper announcement for the meeting; she had the text message on her phone as proof. When we got to the entrance door, the receptionist did not find her name on the list of registered attendees; she told us that she had to ‘speak to a leader’ about whether we could be allowed to enter or not. I found this behavior rather odd, but said nothing, until 'the leader' came over to us, a small woman with a bloated sense of her own importance, who reiterated not once, but at least five times, the necessity of having received a reply text message as confirmation for registering for the meeting. The confirmation text message apparently allowed you to enter. I could feel my annoyance starting to rear its head; my friend is not a person who will defend or assert herself unnecessarily. She patiently showed the text message she had sent, to the leader, but she had not received a confirmation text message. The leader obviously did not like this at all, but rather begrudgingly allowed us to pay for and gain entrance to the meeting. The explanation for her hesitation was that there might not be enough food to go around for all the attendees. I’ll come back to that. We found two places to sit at a table with several other women and sat down. Wouldn’t you know, but the little leader appeared yet again to inform us yet again of the necessity of having received a text message as confirmation for our registration. At which point, I essentially told her to back off. Told her that we had now heard her say this close to ten times, and that if we were not welcome, we could get our money back and leave. It wasn’t that important for us to be there. At which point she backed off, and extended a welcome greeting to us. But that was only because I got mad and spoke up.

Why do I bring this up today? It struck me last night that there was very little Christian spirit in this little leader’s behavior. She was stuck on the ‘rules’, on following them to the letter, and she obviously needed to appear important to us. No confirmation text message, no entrance. She was worried about there not being enough food; you would have thought she was talking about a full dinner plate per person, which I might have had more understanding for. Not the case. When dinner time came, it was a simple buffet table—egg salads, bread, cold cuts, some fruit and a few cakes—nothing fancy and certainly enough to go around. As it was, there was more than enough food to go around; there were in fact enough leftovers that could have been given to the homeless and the poor who sat right outside the door of the hotel last night, in one of the richest countries in the world. I wonder what happened to the leftovers.

Here’s how the scenario should have played out. This is a Christian organization whose membership decreases for each year that passes, since it mostly consists of middle-aged and elderly women. They are not attracting younger women into the organization. They should be welcoming attendees with open arms, not pushing them away. They should have said immediately at the door, when they saw my friend's text message to them, 'Welcome'. And if there had not been enough food, they should just have said, ‘we’ll manage’, or ‘we can share’. Christ would have done that; he wouldn’t denied people entrance for lack of food. But what struck me the most was the utter lack of hospitality in this little leader; a less hospitable person I have yet to meet. It was disappointing, and it reminds me of how many times I have been disappointed when I have met people who call themselves Christians, yet who do not behave like Christ at all. I don’t care how many times you stand up and talk about the importance of loving others, of being kind to others. If you don’t practice what you preach, your message is not worth a dime in my book. Luckily, the rest of the evening turned out to be enjoyable and more in the spirit of Christianity, so that made up for their little pharisee of a leader. And that was a good thing, because I was moving toward a non-forgiving state of mind after our encounter with her. That’s certainly not the goal of attending such a meeting. 

No comments:

Post a Comment