So.....Last month, we attended a beer festival here in northern Michigan--an event for a myriad of microbreweries to team up and showcase their specialty brews for the brew-loving public. My husband is a budding connoisseur of malted beverages, so it was natural for us to go (and good business contacts were made, might I add!).
I wasn't much into the beer tasting (there were other things that suited my tastes better), but the experience struck me in a different way, having never been to such a thing before. What struck me the most, from the minute we got in line to be let through the gate, was how friendly and non-judgmental and rather community-minded everyone was. Of course, at an event such as this where the object is to taste various alcoholic beverages, people are going to develop more animated personalities. However, the phenomenon I'm talking about started at the very beginning, before anyone had had even a sip to drink.
|(This obviously is not a picture from our winter festival, but it shows the atmosphere inside the tent)|
Everyone acted like everyone was their friend. Strangers were merely best friends yet to be met. Everyone smiled and greeted everyone upon passing by, not unlike the first few freshman weeks on a college campus. And standing by the open fire to warm my hands, I got to know several people and became deeply immersed in conversations about the Middle East, its troubles, possible remedies, and other politics (disclaimer: Owen is the political one in our family, but I do have my own ideas on some things). I'm not one who's energized by socializing, and so I usually feel overwhelmed and lonely in large crowds; but on this night, even at times when surrounded by no one I knew, I felt befriended and belonging, and never alone.
I was really quite shocked...because, in my experience, out in public people tend to keep to themselves (maybe this is my experience because it's how I tend to be?), and the rare occasions when you do meet friendly people, conversation usually stays pretty light and short. In the instance above, though, three sentences in we were already knee-deep in Middle-East issues, and talking about things that matter in the world. It was refreshing, and inspiring.
Not to sound dramatic, but the whole night I just felt valued, appreciated, understood, and free to be myself. (I even danced! Not well, but who cared?!) Not because people were lavishing compliments on me or paying any special attention to me, but just because everyone was so warm and welcoming and non-judgmental to everyone. It was like all worldly criticisms and character judgments got checked at the gate, and everyone was equal, and everyone appreciated that everyone was equal, and everyone appreciated each person for who they were. It was like what I expect the Church should be like. And yet, I found it at a beer festival.
Okay, I know it probably sounds really silly to be painting this glorified picture of a bunch of tipsies at a beer celebration. But, my spirit was legitimately encouraged and instructed. Even amongst (maybe) non-believing strangers (oops--now I'm being judgmental!), I encountered God in a special way.
I don't know. I feel like sometimes we as Christians get so concerned about living right--and making sure others live right--legalistically working out our own salvation, if you will--that we forget about Jesus' commands to love and forgive and not judge others, and other simple but basic truths. May we, the Church--believers in our daily lives--have arms so open and hearts so forgiving, and may we find God in the most unexpected places.