The first time I went to Disneyland with people to whom I wasn’t related was when we went with The Princess’s dance team. It was a fun trip, but it was the first time many of those families had seen me in full Disney mode. Now, I don’t consider myself to be over the top. I do not dress in costume. I am not Disney from head to toe, but I am enthusiastic. I wear my ears (that year they were sparkly), I wear my lanyard, and I wear my pins. I may have possibly have been wearing a Disney t-shirt as well. To me, I just looked like I was on vacation. To others I apparently looked excessive. I still remember one mother’s shock that I dressed this way. She would later suggest that I do all the talking to cast members because ‘looking like that’ they wouldn’t tell me no. It was five years ago and I’m still not sure if I should have been offended.
I like that Disneyland is a place where I am allowed to wear a funny hat. I am not normally a hat person, but at Disneyland I don’t care if I look (pardon the pun) goofy. But on that day, that comment made me question myself. Did I look foolish? Was it too much? Did I make other people uncomfortable? I don’t recall making a conscious decision about it, but I cannot find a photo from that trip after that day where I am wearing my sparkly ears or a Disney shirt. I still had a wonderful time. The photos prove that I am tan and happy. But, consciously or unconsciously, I allowed someone else to determine how I should look.
I have worked in the church for a lot of years now. I have seen this kind of pressure applied to people not just about how they dress, but about how they parent, what they like to sing, where they want to sit, why they come to church, and who they believe should be part of the fellowship. It is rarely overt, but subtly people are given to know that their choices are somehow wrong or less than they should be. Comments include things like:
- What’s so important that you can’t keep your phone put away for an hour?
- You must be very hungry if you have to have a snack during worship.
- I miss the days when people’s whole families came to church not just one or two of them.
- It’s so much easier being a parent now. I had to make sure my children stayed still and quiet in church.
Yes, I have heard all of these things and many more. And while they are couched as friendly comments, they are in fact condemnations of people behaviors and attitudes. They are ways of saying ‘You are doing this wrong and you need to change.”
What happens to people who hear these comments? They can, like me, adapt their behavior (consciously or unconsciously) or they leave for someplace more welcoming, like perhaps their own living room where they can wear pajamas, check Twitter, and eat granola bars while the kids play and no one will make them feel bad about it.
I have a very simple rule about church attendance. If someone is here, it is good. Other than that, I’m not very particular. Need a snack? Fine. Pick up your crumbs when you’re done. Want to quote me on Twitter? I’m honored. Want to check in on Facebook? Tell all your followers you’re excited to be at church. Munchkin needs to stretch their legs down the center aisle? If I can’t preach through that it is my problem not yours.
When we come to church we need to be our authentic selves, not some false creation to please the people around us. We need to wear our silly hats and feel like church is a place where that is safe. We need to know that we are loved and welcomed for who we really are. Perhaps the people who are uncomfortable with how others differ from themselves are the ones who really need to rethink how and where they worship.