Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Tale of Two Dinners

This is a tale of two dinners, one of which hasn't actually happened yet, but why let a mere timeline get in the way of a good story. The first dinner happened a couple of nights ago at the Grapevine restaurant in Short Pump. The second will happen tonight at Firebirds in Fredericksburg.

Dinner at the Grapevine...

It is now an irrefutable fact of life in the modern American church that the term Sunday School must never again be uttered in polite company. It sounds silly to 21st century ears, and what could be more of a turnoff to a budding seeker than the idea of church as...school? So, several years back, all the very bright people in the church growth game devised a new term...life groups. By way of definition, as far as I can tell, a life group is an association of 8-12 people thrown together randomly or using some sort of demographic dice roll algorithm, which seeks to serve as a mini-church. By this I mean, the people in this group meet periodically to study the Bible, talk about life's struggles, and hopefully get to know and love each other. The group serves as a connection for small groups of people who are part of the much larger and more impersonal church where it's much harder to feel such a connection. This group is supposed to function as a support mechanism, one which can be designed for people of the same age and station in life. In other words....Sunday School. Except, the meetings don't happen at church and never on Sunday...and usually there's food.

Anyway, as you all know, Pam and I have been attending Hope Church for several months now, so we have been exposed to the plaintive pleas of practically every speaker extolling the virtues of the sainted Life Group experience. They even offer the occasional life group mixer, whereby a room full of a hundred strangers gather to mingle to see if something magical might happen. It's called Group Link night. Think, speed dating only ten times more awkward. No thanks. Luckily for us, we actually know one couple at Hope and as fate would have it, that couple has been in the market for a life group, and since they have been going to Hope a lot longer than us, they know several other couples in the same boat. So he took the initiative to extend an email invitation to five couples about the possibility of forming a group. "How about we all agree to have dinner at the Grapevine?" He asked. "We can talk about it over baked spaghetti and baklava and see where it goes," he said.

So there we were Thursday night in the parking lot of the Grapevine staring at the mass-produced Michelangelo's David knockoff in all of his anatomically correct glory. I remember thinking, "Great, I already feel awkward and I'm not even out of the parking lot yet!" I can think of almost nothing more fraught with land mines than having dinner with a group of perfect strangers where the goal is to like and be liked. So many things can go wrong. First of all, your's truly is an acquired taste, which is the most polite gloss I can put on the fact that I can be hard to warm up to, even in small doses. I'm opinionated, a bit loud, and am famous for speaking before thinking, which can lead to awkward moments. This unfortunate trait has been a constant source of embarrassment to Pam over the years, bless her heart. In addition to my loose cannon lips, there's also the issue of my inability to sit still for long periods of time. So, this night had the potential for being difficult for me, but horrible for Pam. Then, there's the issue of everybody else at the table. Who were these people? Suppose they were all flaming liberals, or worse, rabid Trumpsters?? Suppose they all hated baseball, and loved soccer?? What if they were all cat people??

I'm happy to report that none of my fears were justified. Everyone couldn't possibly have been nicer. The conversation flowed naturally. I didn't say anything outlandish or controversial, and as a bonus, I made it nearly an hour and a half before I had to stand up! These were people who I could see becoming friends with, people who I really wanted to get to know. We made plans for how we wanted the group to work, agreed on some guidelines and how often we would meet. We get it all started in May. A good night.

Dinner at Firebirds...

This will be a family affair. Every once in a while, and never often enough, all of my siblings get together for dinner. To help accommodate my brother who lives in Maryland, we eat in Fredericksburg, which means that his drive home is only ten hours instead of twelve! Of course, because we are Dunnevants, the decision on where to eat required an exchange of 35 emails, gastronomical putdowns, dueling reservations etc..etc.. eight chiefs, no Indians sort of thing. But, when we get there tonight at 5:30, it will be great. Unfortunately, for the other patrons of Firebirds, we will be the loudest table, which will require very generous tipping in order to ever be allowed back. Whoever our waiter is will long remember his/her encounter with us. Someone will insist that although she wants a steak, there must absolutely, positively be no blood on the plate. At least one of us will probably try to order something that isn't on the actual menu. Somebody will order something,  but add some weird request...."yeah, I'll have a BLT, but leave the tomatoes off, oh and I'm not a big fan of lettuce."  

The conversation will be all over the place, leaving no stone unturned from issues of the day to "what the heck is wrong with cousin _______?" Of course, we will talk politics, baseball, tell stories about Mom and Dad, getting weepy while doing so. Then we will pivot to our kids...Christina, Jenny, Sean, Lauren, Becky, Kaitlin, Patrick, and Ryan. Nodody will think it weird when I stand up and walk around the table a couple of times. I won't have to worry about whether they will like me, I won't even have to worry about saying something controversial, in fact they will all worry if I don't. See, that's the great thing about family, everybody knows you, and loves you anyway. I don't have to be so guarded, I don't have to do anything except be myself.

So, I can write about tonight's dinner before it even happens, because I know it will be great. How wonderful is that?