August 13, 2009

First Impressions

2009 1523 page6 capirst impressions are long-lasting and inclined to stick around. They tend to have a staying capacity that any world-class boxer would love to have. First impressions color our relationships and often influence major decisions. Yes, a closer look is desirable and even imperative. But, nonetheless, first impressions are powerful guides that shape our take on events, institutions, and, yes, even people.

As a family we have experienced many first impressions over the past three months as we moved from the Philippines to the U.S.A., from the shelter of a university campus to the suburbs of Silver Spring, from the more quiet foundational work of academia to the hustle-bustle of weekly publishing, reaching millions of people globally.

2009 1523 page6My first impressions of my fellow Adventist Review/Adventist World team members have been very positive (and, no, I do not have to write this in order to get it published!). This is truly a group of talented, committed, generous, humorous, and hardworking people who labor diligently to provide spiritual food that is thought-provoking, Scripture-based, up-to-date, and mission-driven. Some of them do not generally write editorials, so you may not have met them through the pages of the magazines. However, their quiet and careful contributions keep the office afloat. They hold the fort while the editor(s) are out preaching, writing, in committees, or serving in any other capacity. Here is one wish for this great team: continue to look over the top of your cubicle and keep discovering in community the larger world church.

That brings me to my next first impression: people in my neighborhood here in Silver Spring seem to live only inside their homes. As my wife and I walk early in the morning or take a leisurely stroll in the evening, we seldom meet people in our subdivision. Those of our neighbors whom we have been able to meet were friendly, interesting, and pleasant people. However, after having lived for nearly 20 years in cultures that value community, where life happens outside the front door, this is a significant difference. Now some of this may be a result of the heat and humidity that hit Maryland now and again (and are really nothing compared to the heat and humidity of Manila). Yet it seems that the bigger underlying reason for the empty streets of my neighborhood is a society that values individuality over community. I wish that somehow we as a family will be able to reach out to these people around us.

Here is my final first impression—church. The last three months have been a good learning experience in this regard. In the past we have never looked for the “ideal church.” We just went to the university’s church—whether we liked it or not. Around the offices of the General Conference one can find dozens of different churches: small churches, large churches, ethnic churches, more innovative churches, traditional churches. We visited some of them (even though after we counted three it was enough!), and it was the first impression that attracted us (or made us look further). The friendliness, warm welcome, and open arms drew us to the smallish church that we decided to join. No, it may not have all the bells and whistles of a large church, but there was warmth and community—two ingredients that make a church inviting and effective.

First impressions are powerful and longlasting. As we were driving home from church the other day one of my girls chirped from the back of our car: “I really like our new church!” Now that was music to my ears. I wonder what first impressions people have who meet you for the first time or wander into your church?

Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.