The restaurant was swankier than I first realized, with shimmering candles and three forks at each place setting. The waiter had a fancy jacket and spoke in low tones that made me say, "huh?" a lot. I bolted upright when I saw the prices on the menu, more startled than when the waiter put the napkin on my lap for me. Even the soup was out of my price range.
So I slipped out when the waiter with the fancy jacket wasn't looking.
I once attended a church service where I felt the same way. The building was dark, expensive, and oppressive, with serious stain glass and stonework. The service itself was more formal than what I was accustomed to: stand, kneel, sit (play dead?). I had to sit in the in the front of the sanctuary (the back pews were taken by the regulars), so I couldn't watch what others were doing. I ended up standing when others were kneeling, sitting when others were standing, and so on. If I could have, I would have sneaked out, just like I did in the restaurant--it was just too fancy and high priced for me.
Churches and restaurants need to focus on helping people feel at home. Hospitality means a lot more than cleaning the premises and putting out the good dishes. Welcoming folks means we help them feel comfortable, accommodate their needs, and explain things enough so they don't feel awkward. We need to make an extra effort to lend dignity to those who would feel the most out of place.
Jesus had a way of making the uncomfortable feel honored. He spoke to foreigners, ate with tax collectors, healed the beggars, and touched the lepers. He also had a way of making uncomfortable those who were too satisfied with themselves. He confronted the Pharisees, embarrassed hypocrites, and defied religious convention. I wonder if he would have intentionally used the wrong fork at a fancy restaurant or stood when others sat in church!
I want to make my home and my church a place where Jesus would approve and the poorest beggar would feel at home.