Billy No Mates
When my children were young, I used to take them to the playgroup at the Methodist church in Bakewell. I was the only bloke there and the only person who would speak to me was the leader of the group. Perhaps it was also about my own social inadequacy in being able to strike up conversations, as I sometimes feel equally out of place as often the only bloke at the fostering support groups I now go to once a month.
So, when I go to funeral wakes’ I usually pick out someone sitting by themselves, or if it’s too crowded, I head out to the social outcasts in the smokers’ area. I almost always end up in an interesting conversation about something. The other week at Tean I got chatting to a chap who moved to Sweden to be near his family and has now built a life there and learnt Swedish by asking what things were called. It can go wrong at times, of course. A few years ago, I took a funeral and at the wake ambled across to a lady with a pint of Ringwood Boon Doggle in my hand and asked how her Dad was, forgetting that I had buried him three weeks earlier. There is also the risk that the last thing someone wants is for a do-gooding Christian-type to strike up a meaningless conversation with them. However, my overwhelming experience is that I have appreciated it when people make the effort with me, and when I make the effort with other people.
Some of Jesus’ most poignant encounters are when he has been alone with people or talked with people who are alone. The Samaritan at the well, the woman about to be stoned (who Jesus is left alone with), the thief on the cross in a sense was alone and fearful, Zacchaeus is in a crowd but alone up a tree. All of those encounters were uplifting in some way.
I was coming back from Chesterfield last week, having seen the Spireites achieve a glorious 4-1 victory over plucky Maidstone United. On the way back we pulled over at Sainsbury’s in Matlock and as I waited in the van I watched as a hippy-ish looking lady struck up a conversation with a chap in a sleeping bag sitting outside the store. To be fair, I don’t know whether she was having a pop at him or whether he was telling her to leave him be, but the conversation looked amicable enough and he certainly made no attempt to leap up and whack her with a big stick. Fear and embarrassment is something we have to deal with in these kind of encounters. Fear of the serial killer we may be thinking of being nice to, or anxiety about the weirdo who is ambling across to us with a pint of beer in his hand. ‘Treat your neighbour as you would want to be treated’ may well translate for some as ‘leave each other well alone’, but actually the commandment (and it is a commandment, not a recommendation) uses the word ‘love’, not ‘treat’.
It is not always straightforward and for some people – like me – it goes against our natural persona. Neither am I going to be going to get holier-than-thou and say I am going to go and have a chat with everybody I see who is by themselves. However, I believe that it is worth the effort.
Deuteronomy 31:6 New Living Translation (NLT)
“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”