The smell of horses, people walking around with giant turkey legs, and men in tights. I have no idea what happens at a Renaissance Faire. I’ve never been to one, so the only thing I can think of is people eating those giant turkey legs and mock jousting. Or, maybe Heath Ledger wooing the crowd on horseback in A Knight’s Tale. Hmm, maybe I should go to a Renaissance Faire after all.
Back when I first started working as a minister in California, I was getting to know a group of college students. I was going to be their campus minister. We were talking and I asked them what they did for fun. These students were from UCI–a great school with very intelligent students. Their answer was Renaissance Fairs. I was totally out of my element. I had a lot to learn that day about what happens at a Renaissance Faire. I also learned the term “LARP.” Live action role play” which is a group of folks who get together to act out battle scenes. Each person just like a Renaissance Faire dresses up and takes on a new character. I was in no way well versed in this section of the population. This was a different college experience than my own. I had dressed up for sorority parties but I knew that this was an entirely different level of commitment to character. I was going to have to immerse myself in the language and culture so that I could understand what made these students tick. I was in over my head, but I was able to become fluent in the language that they were speaking simply by asking questions.
Conversation can be difficult especially when the person sitting on the other side of the table is not someone you know well. Some of us are able to converse with complete strangers with the greatest of ease, but in general sparking conversations with a stranger requires some work. I think the secret is always asking lots of questions. I learned a great deal about Renaissance Faires and more importantly about these students. I was proud to discover that one of them actually became a real “Medieval Knights” Knight. When I heard he had been Knighted I couldn’t help but think about the knight in the movie “Garden State.” In “Garden State” the Knight spoke Klingon and wore his uniform out in public. But I was proud of him, and the fact that his hobby was able to turn into a career, These days he is a professional stuntman for movies and theater seems like all his role playing paid off!
I learned so much about Renaissance Faires trying to get to know these students that I even began to talk about what they entailed with my own friends. My one friend told me that if he heard about me making my own chain mill he was considering that a cry for help and was going to step in. and have an intervention. This wasn’t “my scene” but by getting to know them it was becoming a scene a deeply respected and began to understand.
As our college group grew there were less students that enjoyed Renaissance Faires and more that were into things that I had experience with, but I still remember those first students. Part of ministry is learning to relate to anyone no matter what their interests are. I never made it to a Renaissance Faire. A big part of me wishes I had risked and asked the students to take me. I think I could have learned a lot and grown closer to them had I done this. The point is, had I chosen to just talk to them about what I knew and not probed into their lives, our relationship would have been very different and I think stunted. We need to ask questions of people.
There is a deep part of me that enjoys hearing peoples stories. I like to know where someone is from, what life has been like for them, and what really matters to them. I am one of those people who can find common ground with most people and spark up a conversation with anyone. So as you can imagine you can sit me anywhere at a wedding and I will find something to talk to people about.
It has been at weddings or dinner parties where some of the strangest and most damaging things have been said to me. I think conversations with strangers is worth a discussion, because we all find ourselves unsure what to say. My mom always used to say “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.” Does that also apply to if you don’t know what to say should you not say anything at all? I don’t think so. I think the only thing more awkward than saying the wrong thing is to say nothing, and simply sit across the table from someone staring. So we must have conversations with people, but as with most things in life we have to be somewhat intentional about the conversations we have. It is possible to have conversations with people we don’t know that risk vulnerability and at the same time leave them feeling understood and heard. It just takes some effort and a willingness to get it wrong. Next blog I will share some stories of getting it wrong when talking to a singleton and what we can learn from negotiating these social land mines… so stay tuned