One of my favorite movies of all time is “Welcome to the Dollhouse.” It is the dark comedy about a little girl played excellently by the actress Heather Matarazzo. This girl doesn’t seem to fit into her school, is frustrated by her family and is in love with the school bully. In particular I have loved and watched the opening scene over and over again on youtube.
It starts with the opening credits showing a pretty standard picture of a family shot in a picture frame. A mother on the side, father in the center, the older brother stands behind the father, the youngest sister is in front of her mother and then there is the main character that is homely and awkward being slowly focused on as the final credits come across the screen. In the end her toothy, smiling face is the only person in the shot.
Immediately the first scene begins, cut to a noisy middle school cafeteria with clanging dishes and one hundred conversations. The camera slowly circles the room of fully filled tables until it comes upon that same girl in the opening picture standing with a tray filled with food surveying her options. With a deep sigh, I bite on her lips she looks to her left and then turns to her right to hesitantly begin walking toward an open seat. At the last second someone rushes to the seat she was pursuing. Turning toward the next table that seat that seat is filled as well. Then she sees a seat across from someone eating alone.
“Can I sit here?” she asks.
After a long suspicious look the girl says, “If you feel like it.”
Quickly she sits down and immediately begins nibbling on her food.
After staring at her the girl across from her says, “Someone barfed there fourth period.”
In response her back stiffens, but finally in resignation her shoulders drop and without saying a word she begins eating her food again.
That is our introduction to the main character not so affectionately called “Weiner dog” by her classmates.
For some reason I have found this image to be emblematic of the church. We claim we want growth, we think we are friendly enough, why wouldn’t everyone want to be around us, but we are not able to see things from wiener dog’s perspective.
Insecure, self-conscious, without a friend, unsure of what they will encounter when they walk through the door is how it feels when you walk into a new house of faith alone, vulnerable and without the benefit of someone whom you know. I wish that you could have my perspective from up here. It is much like wiener dog. People inevitably stop and hesitate for just a second at those back doors. Where can they sit, without getting too close to someone else, but not being so isolated that in this small space they don’t draw attention to themselves. It is interesting watching their confused faces as we turn gregariously giving each other handshakes as we pass the peace.
There are so many things that we take for granted after a while that someone not used to our religious culture might feel like a anthropologist coming upon a rare Amazonian village. How do I follow this bulletin someone just handed me? Who is this nice lady at the door? What is the purpose of standing for that song and not others? How do I sing these songs? What do I do with this fidgeting child, I’m not sure I trust a church with my young child? Wow, I’ve never heard an organ live before.
Maybe it has not been so long since you first entered a church, so you can relate. For some of us it has been a lifetime inside the walls of churches. It is easy to forget what it is like to be the wiener dog at church.
“Is there any reason why these should not be baptized?” Peter asks of the Gentiles who obviously are filled with the same Holy Spirit that the circumcised experience while he is preaching. It is easy for us to forget the central controversy with us Gentiles. We are interlockers to the Jesus following party. Paul has to defend us Gentiles as ones who are graphed into an existing plant. We are not part of the original contract, but have been written in later.
I think that it is hard to imagine being a religious outsider in a country where there is a church in every neighborhood filled with Gentiles, but this was not the case for the earliest church. Peter himself was very reluctant to accept any Gentile Christ follower that did not conform to Jewish law as well. This meant that many in the first church believed that for a gentile adult man to be a true follower of Christ they must be circumcised. Yikes! That is not a very good evangelism tool.
“Welcome to The Palisades Community Church. Here is the bulletin. There is childcare provided in the nursery. Would you please sign the guest book? We have a lovely coffee hour in the basement. By the way, have you ever been circumcised?”
So, when these Gentiles walked into this worship service of the earliest church as nervous outsiders and obviously exhibited the Holy Spirit what could Peter do but recognize that they were worshipping the same God.
Acceptance is when we humbly acknowledge our own insecurities, problems and gifts given us by a good God. We may stumble onto faith in an awkward way, but acceptance by God is already secured. Acceptance of others is when we humbly realize that what faith we have been given by God in grace is extraordinary and shared by everyone else that comes through those doors.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment