I am not much of a scientist. I enjoyed science classes well enough, but I am nothing like my husband or son whom just thrive when engaging in anything science related. However, I did study the subject enough to understand the dynamics of a hypothesis, an experiment, an anaylsis, and a conclusion. And while I was not meaning to create an impromptu science experiment during intermission at a ska concert, that is exactly what happened.
I have always enjoyed all types of music. This chilly evening in the mid-nineties, I happened to be at a concert for one of my favorite ska bands, The O.C. Supertones. The concert was on the second floor in a packed room and with so many people skanking and moshing, it was creating stress on the support beams which lead to an unexpected intermission so the band could restage on the ground floor. This lead to a large mass of people standing outside the venue in the parking lot trying to stay warm with a few hundred people they did not know.
It was here that the experiment began.
The words a youth leader had spoken to me began to creep into my mind as I looked around at all my friends standing in a circle. This youth leader had explained to me the power of standing in a U-shape as opposed to a circle like we were currently doing. Questions he had challenged me with began to nudge my conscience. “How would any one new ever join our group if we always stood in a close-looped circle? How is this shape inviting? Is there space or room for anyone outside the circle to engage or join in?”
I briefly shared this idea with my friends and we all agreed to experiment. Two people slid apart until we were standing in the lose shape of a U. I was skeptical about the results. While it sounded nice in theory, in reality it felt awkward and a bit lame. However, what did we have to lose? So, there we stood, in U-formation, talking, laughing a bit awkwardly, and waiting to get back to the concert.
Within a few minutes a random stranger came up to us and, no joke, proclaimed, “I am here to complete your circle.” It was as if the shape was so outside a cultural norm that this stranger felt he had to fix it. We explained to the stranger what we were doing and our small group (now with one new face), reformed the U. Oddly enough, during the thirty minutes it took to reset everything at the venue, our small group of 5 grew into a group of approximately 15. Every time we created a U one or two new people came and “fixed” our circle only to catch the vision of what we were doing and break back into the welcoming U-shape.
Wondering if this was only successful because we were a crazy group of teenagers bored while waiting for a ska concert, I decided to try this again at a youth retreat months later. Much to my surprise, it worked again. As we waited outside the dining hall our U-shape continued to grow until it was time to go in and eat.
I have thought about this U concept many times as I have grown older. I haven’t tried the experiment now in my thirties, but I have kept the idea in my mind. When I am at church, at work, picking my kids up from school, or at swim team meets, I find myself thinking, “Am I engaging with a U-Shaped mindset”?
If I am honest, there are times when I don’t want to include others. There are times when I just want to be in my own little closed circle. There are times when I don’t want to reach beyond what is known and comfortable. I want to have my own group and not have to put in effort to reach beyond it. But, as a Christian, that is not what I am called to. Yes, I have my closest, deepest friends (even Jesus had John, Peter, and James), but that doesn’t mean those should be the only people I care about.
As Christians, we are not to love only those in our circle. No, we are challenged to engage with the lonely kid at school or parent at pick-up. We called us to be in-tune to the single person in church who doesn’t have anyone to sit with. We are called to see the person on the fringes, those too shy to reach out and make friends. We are call to welcome those who are on the outside of the circle, to live a U-shaped life.
Photos by: Nick Moore, rawpixel, and Dani Vivanco on Unsplash