Recently I was in the elevator with a neighbor. She had on a PWOC shirt and was carrying a PWOC tumbler. This was when I was still optimistic about leaving Little Brother in childcare and attending Protestant Women of the Chapel. Smiling, I said, “Oh, are you going to PWOC today?” She said, “Uh, yeah. I kind of have to. I’m on the board.” OK then. She looked at Little Brother and said, “He must hate it here as much as I do. I hear him screaming all the time.”
I mumbled an, “I’m sorry,” but wasn’t really sure what else to say on the crowded elevator, the wind taken out of my trying-to-be-friendly sails. After a few moments she said, “It’s at a different chapel today.” I replied, “I know. I’m trying to trick this one into going. He hates going to childcare.”
After I walked Big Brother to school I came back home and told my husband about the interaction. He started laughing. A few days earlier he’d preached a sermon on Mark 8:27-38, where Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”. In the sermon, he said that if someone asks why you do what you do, it’s important to have a short answer that you could deliver during an elevator ride- an elevator pitch. I’ve failed at the elevator pitch before. I’ve had golden opportunities to share a sentence or two about my faith and I ran away from it. I’ve had people ask me who sent me, why I did what I did and I didn’t have an answer. It felt too complicated, too big to explain. It wasn’t one thing. It was everything and so I said something lame or nothing at all. My husband’s sermon encouraged us to think about it ahead of time, to have a simple summary of the gospel.
My husband laughed when I told him about my interaction with our neighbor because we’d been on a literal elevator. This woman identified herself as a Christian with her shirt and her coffee cup. She even identified herself as someone on the PWOC board, a person in a leadership position. I was simply trying to make friendly conversation and she returned everything I said with rudeness.
This is not to say that Christians aren’t allowed to have bad days or grumpy moods. It was 7:20 am and maybe she was just starting to drink her coffee. However, if you are going to identify as Christian, get ready to act like one in public. It was a missed opportunity to say, “Are you going today? It’s a great group of ladies.”
“Do you need a ride?”
“I haven’t seen you there. Will this be your first week?”
Something. Anything. Instead I got, “He must hate it here as much as I do. I hear him screaming all the time.” (Through the solid concrete walls? All the time?)
I had no idea what to say to that. “I’m sorry you hate it here. I’m sorry my kid is loud. Is there anything I can do to make it less horrible?” Instead I stood there frozen in shock that these were the first words my neighbor, literal and figurative neighbor, ever spoke to me.
I’m still bothered by this interaction. I really wanted to fix it. Last week I decided I was going to get her a little plant, bring it by and say what I didn’t say. But then I ended up buying a cooler on that trip to the PX and the plant wouldn’t have fit in my shopping cart. I would have had to take that load to the car and then go back into the store to buy a plant. Then once I parked the car in the parking garage, I would have had to take a load of things up the elevator to our apartment, then go back down to the car to get another load. All with Little Brother. And it suddenly felt too hard. Even harder than ringing a rude neighbor’s door bell to give her a plant so I could write in my blog that I’m a better person, better neighbor, better Christian than she is.
So I guess I’m not really any of those things.
Who do you say that I am?
The God of forever chances. The God who says you haven’t failed at the Christian life if you’re rude to your neighbor and miss your elevator pitch. The God who says you haven’t failed if you didn’t buy your neighbor a plant and apologize again. The God who loves both of these people as beloved children. The God who encourages us not to sneer at our neighbor the next time we see her.
My husband referenced a Christian Century article, The Gospel in Seven Words, in his sermon. For the article they asked 23 authors to boil Christianity down to seven words. My husband asked his friends on Facebook for their answers, too. He shared some of the responses as an example of an elevator pitch. My favorite was:
God in Christ is fixing all this.- Dr. Chris Corbin
All of this. All the messiness. All the screaming kids, sleepy rudeness, and voluntary muteness.
All. Of. This.
You. Me. Everything.