While we were in Georgia, the family took us out to eat at a local sushi bar that they liked. Jamie and I had never eaten sushi before. We arrived at the hole-in-the-wall sushi joint to greetings from the owners and employees who recognized my family members from their frequent visits. The ushers led us to our spot in the restaurant—the seats right in front of the sushi chefs.
What’s that green stuff?
The service began with a prelude. The waitresses took our drink orders, equipped us with chopsticks (without instructions), set out a few saucers (also without instruction), and then left us to the merriment of our hosts. Jamie and I had no clue what to do.
On some plates in front us we found a glob of green stuff and some pinkish stuff that looked like ham. I began to taste the green stuff (wasabi), which turned out to be incredibly piquant and tasted horrible on its own. I then reached over to the hammy substance (ginger) and found a very sharp, contrasting taste to the wasabi. I spat it out as quickly as I put it in my mouth, recognizing immediately that it didn’t taste anything like ham.
After this, a chef placed a few platters in front of us with an assorted variety of sushi – some cooked, some not so cooked, some completely raw. Jamie and I had no clue what we were eating or even how we should eat it. We didn’t know what would and would not taste good. After several attempts to force the sushi down with water and sheer willpower, we eventually survived our first sushi experience, but left with a very negative opinion of this peculiar cuisine.
Of course, the regular attendees (my family) knew exactly what was going on. And, thankfully, our visit with them turned out to be an enjoyable experience despite the food.
But sushi wasn’t something my wife and I craved after that night. That is…not until my wife was reintroduced to it and was made aware of what she was eating and how to eat it. Only then, did she begin to enjoy sushi. With our first experience, it was like eating blindfolded and being asked to guess what we were eating. However, as my wife was made aware of everything she was eating the second time, she found it much more enjoyable.
So what does sushi have to do with churches? Well, not much. But a comparison can be made between someone eating sushi for the first time and someone entering the doors of a church for the first time.
If you think about it, it must be an odd thing for people who have never been a part of a worship service to enter a church building with a table in the middle of a room that says “Do This in Remembrance of Me,” or to see a water basin filled with water or a tub behind the stage with a scenic view painted on the wall. And it must be frustrating for people to be expected to enter such an environment and immediately understand all the “religiosity” that surrounds them.
It is easy for us to assume that those we invite to worship with us will recognize and understand all the symbols and practices of our particular church, but that assumption is simply naive. Yet, many of the “regulars” who attend weekly worship services do not understand the symbols or practices of the church or why they are significant.
And though some churches attempt to remove the rituals and symbols from their buildings and services in an effort to be more palatable to those who are not accustomed to religion, they still can’t circumvent practices that stand in need of explanation.
The answer is not trying to eliminate the “religiosity” of our traditions. The answer is teaching people, both new-comers and hardened church-attenders, the purposes and meanings of the traditions. Here are a few tips that can go a long way in doing this:
- Make available to members and non-members a brief guide to the basic beliefs and practices of your church.
- Teach regularly on the significance of the doctrines that your church affirms.
- Explain regularly the reasons for the practices of your particular church and why they matter.