Vanda and I have gotten into the practice of walking together for exercise. We didn’t want to stop during the winter, so we decided to give mall-walking a shot from time to time. The doors open at 9am and lots of people are already there when we arrive at around 10. On our initial visit we were immediately overwhelmed with the feeling that we were intruding on the established mall-walkers. We’ve stumbled across a place that is open to all, but it’s obvious that we don’t belong.
The first thing we noticed is how young we are; early 40-somethings in a group of mostly retired people. We don’t look like them. We don’t dress like them. Vanda and I occasionally indulge in a discrete game of “spot the toupee.” Their conversations are about grandchildren, trips to Florida and the latest in cataract surgery technology. The regulars group tables together in the coffee area at the center of the mall. They reserve their spots with coats as they disperse and move in smaller groups for their daily exercise that is yet another thing that separates us from the crowd.
There are advanced mall walkers who move at a very fast pace. I have to say, life will be good if I can move like them at their age. There’s one guy whose so speeding I’m sure he’s lapped us once or twice. They cover every crevice of the hallway, too. The particularly intense walkers hold one hand out to touch the wall as they move, partly to keep themselves accountable but partly, I think, to show the rest of us the high standards of their ritual. It makes me feel a little inadequate, but I desperately don’t want to look like a mall-walking fanatic so I entice Vanda into turning sooner than the end of the hallway, a major no-no in walker-world. It’s a place that is open to everyone, but though the people have never been mean, and most likely would be accepting if we engaged them in conversation, it’s clear to us that we don’t belong there.
But it’s not their responsibility to make us feel like we belong. If it were a church it would be. Yet I’m sure that people who go to a church for the first time feel the same way Vanda and I do at the mall. People have a need for spirituality so they go to church, even though they’re nothing like people who go there. Even in churches where members look and act like people from that community it’s hard for the members to see church from a new person’s perspective. But we’ve got to try. I’ve been to a few churches with great music and great teaching but have felt left out because nobody came to interact with me.
Jesus did his best to let people know they were accepted by him: children, women, the uneducated, the poor and the rich. So let’s be intentional about accepting those who have had the courage to see what Jesus is all about through our Christian communities. They may not be wearing sweat suits and running shoes to our mall walk, but at least they’ve taken the first step.