~By Alden Groves~
I travel for work.
Not excessively, but enough that I often find myself walking up to buildings I’ve never been in before. Sometimes it’s just a coffee shop—the weary millennial’s safe haven in any unfamiliar city. But most often it’s a house of worship of one form or another.
Despite the different faith groups behind each door I approach, one thing is usually the same: when I walk up for the first time, I feel my nerves heighten ever-so-slightly as I knock, or buzz, or slide my fingers through the handle and give a soft tug.
Because there’s no guarantee I’ll gain entry. No promise it will swing wide and admit me to a handshake, a smile, a cup of coffee, and a “right this way.” It might just remain fast.
Rejection or acceptance—a matter of mere inches.
Come Right In
I get the same feeling at just about every door the first time.
But recently I experienced something new. I was hurrying toward a church I’d never visited for a meeting I was late to, and, when I grabbed the handle and gave a pull, I was startled out of my stress to feel the door swing open.
Then I was surprised by my own surprise.
Why should an unlocked door catch me off-guard?
Growing up, I’d been to more churches than I could count. Sometimes they were locked, and sometimes they weren’t. It depended on which door it was, what time of day/week/year it was, how forgetful the custodian was, and a hundred other things. It was enough of a toss-up that I could hardly develop a clear expectation.
So why had I become so certain the door would be locked?
What I realized sobered me.
I’m walking up to different doors now. Not just different wood or glass, but doors to different groups. In my youth, I was mostly among white churches. And even now, when I approach such churches—evangelical or mainline—it seems like there’s about a 50/50 shot the door will be unlocked.
And if the door is locked, it often unlocks with a Fort-Knox-like CHUNK while I’m still approaching. The receptionist must see me coming and, after deciding I look like I belong, simply unlock it to save us both time.
The Other Doors
But as you’ve no doubt already guessed, there’s a different group of doors I can practically bank on staying locked as I approach. When I walk up to a predominantly black church, or a synagogue, or a mosque for the first time, the smiles are no less prevalent, but I have to prove my purpose before I get to see and return them.
Are these groups less welcoming? No. It’s just that, I imagine in the back of the receptionist’s mind is:
And the fear: What if we’re next?
It’s strange now for me to pause as I approach and realize I’m likely not the only one with a butterfly or two in my stomach.
Better butterflies than bullets.
Opening the Door.
Certainly, in this day of frequent mass shootings, I could be struck down anywhere I go. But I don’t live with a regular fear that I’ll face a physical attack for what I look like or where I worship. I am growing daily in my understanding of what that fear is like for others. And it’s affected the way I open doors—literal and figurative.
A person’s deepest fears say a great deal about them. Our fears surround the things we hold dear, and they intensify proportionally with the degree of importance the thing under threat holds in our hearts. I believe that, to truly know someone, you must know something of their fears and their hurts and be willing to share your own. I suppose this is a fancy way of suggesting we need to learn to be vulnerable with each other—especially where we are divided.
I recognize my experiences with these doors are anecdotal. I don’t mean this as a sweeping moral lesson or a means to browbeat one group or another. I simply share it as an example of how entering into new spaces continues to open my eyes to experiences and perspectives different from my own.
How about you?
Are there “doors” in your life you can open to encounter a different perspective, a challenge to your expectations, an opportunity to enter into the life of a neighbor with whom you may seem to share very little in common? If so, let me encourage you to step through, to step into the difficult work of crossing a divide in pursuit of love, casting out fear and inviting others to do the same.
Otherwise, I believe fear is crouching at our own doors, eager to control us and set us against each other.