Go ahead, leave your shoes on!

Dear Holy Hosts and Hostesses:

It was the early 1970s, and my big brother was getting married in August in Houston, TX. To save on lodging, my father suggested we rent a big RV and make the drive from Omaha in a single vehicle; according to the pamphlet, the Winnebago Chieftain comfortably slept six. There were indeed six places in the land-behemoth to be horizontal, but they lied about comfortably sleeping. 

My dad’s brother, Uncle Ken, had moved his family to Dallas a few years before. Uncle Ken had left his position as partner with Peat Marwick and Mitchell and had started his own consulting firm. He was doing well, and he and my Aunt Judy had just built their dream house and were anxious to show it off. Dallas was on the way to Houston, so we decided to visit for a few days before the wedding. The house was impressive, with an in-ground swimming pool, stone fireplace and bedrooms with closets bigger than the entire Winnebago. There was a family room, a living room, a basement rumpus room and a front room. After a brief tour, my mom and aunt went to the kitchen to prepare lunch and I ran back to the RV to dig through my suitcase and find my swimsuit. My father and uncle retired to the front room.

Coming back into the house through the massive front door, I passed my dad and Uncle Ken in the front room, a space decorated in white—all white. We weren’t allowed in the front room during the tour; we were only permitted to gaze at the dazzling furniture and carpet from the doorway. My oldest sister’s husband quietly suggested they install a velvet rope across the entry to keep out the tourists. As I passed, I could hear Aunt Judy admonishing Uncle Ken for using the front room; she explained that it was reserved for special occasions. She also reminded him that they were supposed to remove their shoes. I remember Uncle Ken responding in a rather sharp tone that his brother visiting was a special occasion and he really didn’t understand why there was a room in his house he could never use. Aunt Judy wasn’t pleased. Uncle Ken apologized to Dad and told him to leave his shoes on and stay put!

We all have forbidden spaces, front rooms, you might say, that exist only for show; and while most of us do not have one physically constructed in our homes, we all have areas of our lives available only for display. They convey our most aspirational selves. We invite others to look but not make themselves comfortable. These are the expressions of who we want to be, unstained, untrampled, clean and orderly, exempt from living, walled off from familying, void of rumpus; they exist only as fronts, sometimes even protected from our own brothers.

It’s a problem with church. Not the existence of rooms reserved for special or occasional use—there’s a practical side to not having to clean the Parlor after every pizza party, but the existence of spaces in our lives we do not wish to expose, and our carefulness not to trample those spaces in others. It’s a church problem because the message of the Gospel pertains to every area of our lives. We are called to care deeply for one another and invite others into spaces of purpose and meaning; but instead we keep our invitation cautious, limited, because we want to respect others’ space and fear they may disrespect ours.

This past Wednesday, our Session had a deep discussion regarding invitations. It started with the observation that worship attendance has dropped over the past several months. They agreed that the concern wasn’t for lack of quality; both services are celebratory, joyful, beautiful and meaningful. Still, folks who were attending last year aren’t there this year, and we’re not sure why. Our discussion then entered the difficult territory of invitation.  Many, it was surmised, are busy with living, with family, with rumpus, and our front room experience doesn’t fit into busy lives. We also discussed our own awkwardness when people arrive with problems bigger than our capacity to solve and distractions greater than our methods to engage even though they are our brothers and sisters.

I felt that Session members left with a new resolve, a commitment to move beyond those awkward moments and invite folks anyway—an invitation to purpose and meaning, an invitation to the front room with shoes on, an open invitation to share our special occasion and stay put.

Risking mud on the carpet, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh,
Your Pastor