Many years ago when I lived up north, in the summertime I'd often take a Sunday morning drive to Interlochen to take advantage of its discounted weekend arts schedule -- you could spend the entire day there, starting out with an interfaith Sunday service mit Musik in the open-air auditorium and then flitting from venue to venue on campus for various recitals and plays.
Every time I drove to Interlochen, I'd pass through the tiny, blinking-caution-light village of Karlin. Near the light was a quaint, "full homely"-looking little restaurant called the Karlin Inn, whose sign promised "Family Dining." It seemed so cozy from the outside -- a hot-meatloaf-sandwich kind of establishment -- that, on passing, I'd always think, "I'm going to stop there for supper one day."
One Sunday I did just that. I walked up the sidewalk, opened the door -- and found a biker bar. A couple of grizzled men in Harley leathers looked up from their smokes and eyed me suspiciously. An elderly waitress -- I guess she was elderly; in retrospect, in that neighborhood she may have been 40 or so -- whose arms were covered with tats literally threw a set of eating utensils on the table in front of me. "Whaddya want?" she rasped.
As memory serves, I ordered a burger to go and got the hell out of Dodge. I later told my friends, "When they say 'Family Dining' I didn't think they meant the Manson family."
I have to say that's been my experience in the last couple of weeks exploring the Christian world beyond my mainline neighborhood; specifically the realm of Evangelical Christianity. It's not just about The Troubles or about women's issues -- I've just come back from reading a rather disquieting discussion about the concept of enforcing marital rape laws in Islamic countries that left me thinking that some of the good Christians weighing in think "marital rape" is an oxymoron -- it's an entire theological and social point of view that I find precludes much in the way of meaningful dialog.
It reminds me of a few years back when my congregation tried engaging in what one Lutheran wit has termed promiscuous ecumenism. We attempted to organize Lenten worship with the Missionary Alliance church down the road -- people who think we're heathenish reprobates -- and even fundraised for them to bring their rickety building up to code. After a few such hands-across-the-picket-fence we were disinvited from further engagement with them. My pastor went over to the SDA church, which at the time was sending regular evangelists to his doorstep pleading with him to repent from crypto-Papism and desecration of the Sabbath, and invited the congregation to a "no preaching" picnic at our place; his invitation was declined. We entered full-tilt boogie into a local ministry coalition originally intended to both promote ecumenism in general and coordinate good works on behalf of the communities served by the member churches, that's since seemed to lose its reason for being. We've wound up pretty much where we started, with the local Roman Catholic parish -- half of whose congregation are in-laws with half our our congregation -- our primary ecumenical partner in the 'hood.
So I guess a moral of this story story may be to better appreciate the Gemuetlichkeit of "Family Dining" closer to home, with my mainline and RC peeps, and not attempt to crash the meals of coattail relation who seem to resent the thought of adding another plate to the table.