The front page of the local paper announced today that a fellow named Todd Weir had been selected to head up the First Churches of Northampton, an entity that exists as a single building but has seen consolidations in the past. The article was bright and peppy and made Weir sound like an affable and capable choice, but of course once a selection has been made -- whether within or without -- there is a tendency not to provide a more-nuanced story line.
I read the story idly and then found my mind wandering ....
Religion puts out the welcome mat. All are welcome ... that's the usual pitch. Of course, there is some fine print, but the over-arching invitation is warm and smiling and not-yet nuanced.
But after the guests arrive and the party gains momentum, it seems to me that those guests are much like guests who arrive and then over-stay their welcome.
As religion puts out the welcome mat for visitors, so those visitors put out the welcome mat for religion. Each walks through the other's door simultaneously. You invite me to a party, I arrive and contribute what I can towards being the party. Welcome! Welcome!
But guests need to go home -- to return to their own true dwellings -- at the end of the night. To stay longer is impolite and, finally, annoying and cloying, self-destructive and stupid. The fact that Uncle John had too much to drink is no excuse. When it's time to go home, it's time to go home. What was welcomed in needs to be welcomed -- or possibly ushered -- out. No party -- or god -- is forever. Mind your manners.
What would be the corollary or mirror image of a welcome mat? All I can think of is a welcome mat placed outside the hallowed ground and a welcome mat directing the visitor to the wide-open world of an unknown future.
Welcome to the party. Dance the dance of the spiritually-inclined dancers. Find solace and delight and perhaps have a little too much to eat or drink. Flirt or scowl as circumstances seem to warrant. Laugh or throw up. Party on!
And then recognize that there is a time to go home, a time to head back to the front door through which you entered across the "welcome" mat, to say your thank-you's and then cross the welcome mat that leads out into the fresh air and twinkly skies. "G'night! Thanks very much! See you tomorrow maybe! Thanks again! G'night!"