Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mrs. Judson flunks biker etiquette

The church I attend is hosting a three-day motorcycle ministry program aimed primarily at people living in the biker subculture. This is, in case you don't know me, not one of my areas of expertise (/understatement). But the organizers stressed that it was for more than bikers and they'd appreciate nonbikers showing up, so last night I went to the kick-off dinner and service.

At dinner, I sat across from a grey-haired biker riding herd on a bunch of teens. I'd heard that people had converged from various places in the Pacific Northwest for this event, and so I turned to the girl to my immediate right and asked her where she was from. I didn't care where she was from, you understand. It's just standard small talk, a way of getting one's bearings, of searching for common ground, and also of finding out if you're sitting next to a fellow townsman you haven't met yet, or a kid you don't recognize because you haven't seen her in a while, or somebody who has gone to great lengths (literally) to attend. It's always such a safe, not really personal, question to lead with. Right?


Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The girl flinched and then she cowered, appealing mutely for help from her friends. I sat there utterly clueless as to what I'd done wrong.

The man riding herd on the group got the girl's attention, and said "Hey! Listen to me. When you're in town you live with us, and we live in [name withheld by me for privacy reasons], and that's your home when you're there. It's your home anytime. You're family. You know that, right?"

I don't know which of us was more relieved and grateful for his rescue, the girl or me.

I just wasn't thinking. If I had stopped to think, I like to think it would have occurred to me that a goodly percentage of the people present might not have a particular place to live. Or a place they really come from. Or family. Or that they might have disowned a place or a family. Or that for some of them it might be flat dangerous to name where they come from.

Anyway, I know better now. (And so do you.)

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