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On the Death of Small Talk

I have much to be grateful for in the past year (job, family, and health), and yet I frequently counsel people not to minimize their disappointment by comparing themselves with others so I'm going to follow my own advice. I want to share a specific disappointment regarding planting Quicksilver Church this past year. 

It is the death of small talk.

Small talk is what happens when you're standing in line at the grocery store or when you walk into a Starbucks and don't have to shout multiple times for your order to be understood through a mask. With COVID, small talk has been mostly choked out. I miss the time and space to discuss trivial topics such as clothing, sports, and weather. I miss observing elements of a shared environment - to gaze out on a majestic landscape, to take in the aroma of barbeque, and to pause together while a plane passes overhead (which seems to happen less and less frequently. 

In my twenties, I would poo-poo small talk and take pride in my ability to ask deep and probing questions upon meeting someone. And then in my thirties, people in their twenties would do the same with me and I would think, "Whoa, I need some time to warm up. I don't know if you're safe yet.” Now in my forties, I place a higher value on small talk. 

When I served at Garden City, it was a joke among the staff not to ask me to do anything on Sundays because the only thing I could stay focused on was talking to people. And since I wasn't usually teaching, I made it a point to greet as many newcomers as possible and connect with people on the periphery. Invariably this meant making small talk. Having these conversations about insignificant topics always led to significant details about a person's life or a subsequent meaningful conversation. In the days after, I might follow up with an email, phone call, or text. In other instances, a person might do the same with me. 

Small talk within the Quicksilver community hasn't happened often in the past nine months. We had three in-person Sunday gatherings in November and they were both stressful and wondrous. One benefit of in-person gatherings is to be reminded of someone's face; to encounter someone you might not otherwise go out of your way to be around. After all, no one wants to jump on a Zoom call and make small talk. And small talk itself doesn't carry enough relational horsepower to overcome the weight of initiating a virtual call. And yet these seemingly insignificant conversations pave the way for weightier topics. They create time and space for life features to gradually emerge rather than forcing them to surface. 

The result of this year's death of small talk is a disconnection from the people I'm called to shepherd. I know people are going through all kinds of pain and I feel powerless to intervene. I allow myself to feel disappointment and anger. I lower my expectations but I do not lose hope. 

I am confident that small talk will be resurrected in the coming year. It may not look exactly the same as before. I want to mourn well the death of small talk so I can be better prepared for what God has in store for us. I know He is infinitely creative and knows and provides for our needs. I have hope in Christ that the church universal and Quicksilver as a local manifestation of His kingdom will find old and new ways to connect and live out the command to love one another.


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