The guy in front of me ordered a decaf grande sugar-free vanilla nonfat latte with extra foam and the milk heated to 140 degrees. Wow! And all I wanted was a coffee. You know, regular coffee in a cup. But then, all of a sudden, I felt totally out of my element. I looked around for a MacDonald’s … but, never mind, they too now have lattes and a wide variety of other coffee choices. It’s a whole new world out there and I realized the day of just a cup of coffee are long gone – just like I watched the passing of the $0.10 a cup – a bottomless cup with continual free refills – go the way of the dinosaurs.
So, I quickly looked at the menu to see all that they offer – (in a coffee shop – a menu) and was instantly gripped with fear as there were so many coffees to chose from – dark roast, light roast, Pike’s Peak, Breakfast blend… And, then there were the sizes to chose from. So, what ever happened to small, medium and large? Then, I could have a shot of this or that added to the coffee… I feel tired just rethinking about it. And, I was tired to start with as I was only half way home and waiting in Toronto for my flight in 5 hours.
Being a man of action I looked at the lady waiting to serve me and the long line of people waiting for me to order and get out of their way … and said I wanted lots of something that was sweet. I was quickly handed a large cup of peppermint flavoured coffee (which was really good) and moved on without looking up or back at anyone. I found a table and took out my iPad and commenced working realizing that even the Apple product I was working on also had an entirely different lingo from the personal computer world I had recently exited.
Anyone walking in to our church for the first time would most likely have a similar experience. We use words they would not be familiar with. They would have all sorts of questions and not know how to phrase them so that we would understand. They would simply want help for their problem or be looking for a sense of peace in the midst of their personal turmoil… and yet, having entered a foreign culture, they would not be comfortable and would not know how to order up what they came to receive. And, like the lady behind the Starbucks counter in the Toronto International Airport we need to be patient and help them to express what it is they are wanting and show them how to receive it.
Remember, what is to you a familiar setting and culture can be for others a frightening experience. They come wanting just a cup of coffee and are faced with a language and cultural barrier that prevents them from receiving what they are looking for. Be sensitive when we have a visitor and help them through the maze of strangeness that will confront them starting at the front door…