Terrible ideas don't seem like terrible ideas when you first think of them. Signing up on New Year's Eve to run the London Marathon. Agreeing to go on the bachelor/hen weekend in Latvia when you really don't know any of the other much younger guests. Getting attached to a character in Game of Thrones. And, of course, printing a whole mess of badges marked "Tube chat?" and handing them out on the Underground in an attempt to get commuters interacting with each other.
That last example may not be that relatable unless your name is Jonathan Dunne. Jonathan, the sweet summer child, an American, thought it would be a great idea to do just that. Bless him. He probably thought: "This will be neat!" and: "The gang are gonna love this!" and: "This will really get Londoners to talk to each other on public transport like normal human beings all over the world seem to manage – it's my best idea ever!" It wasn't, they didn't and no, no, no, why are you talking to me?
Twitter was, it's fair to say, unkind to Jonathan. Some people launched a counter-campaign. And while some welcomed the badges and the chance to chat, the general response to dear, naïve, sweet Jonathan was as frosty as a snooty snowman in a very bad mood. And often very funny. Many people blamed his not being English for his mistake. But
I'm sure that #tube_chat guy is a nice chap but he said he thought it would be "fun"— Simon Feegrade (@sfeegrade) September 30, 2016
Either way, a kind of cheat sheet for the badges you might see on the tube or in church in southern England would be helpful. And here at Christian Today we pride ourselves on being helpful. Just not too helpful. Helpful in an English, non-intrusive sort of way. If you'd like us to be. No pressure.
1. Tube chat?*
On the tube
Could mean: I find the atomised, disconnected existence of modern cities a sad development and I think people just need a little encouragement and permission to unplug those iPods, look up from their Kindles and talk. Talk until their souls connect and they leave the carriage together, laughing, holding hands and shouting "Good morning, neighbour!" to everyone crowding the doors at Paddington.
I am American.
If I'm not on your door greeting rota, you're not paying attention. I am the answer to your prayers about that door-to-door outreach that makes the rest of the church's faces drain in horror every time you bring it up. Recruit me! Or: I am American. Or African. Or Australian. Or from the North. And if you say to me after the service that I should pop round and visit some time, I WILL BELIEVE YOU. I WILL SHOW UP AT YOUR FRONT DOOR AND I WILL BRING POT-ROAST. I am also going to speak earnestly to you about my feelings, and engage you in discussions that suggest I believe in a literal Devil. Tell me more about that door-to-door outreach thing?
Probably means: I'm English and someone was handing out badges at the station and I didn't want to seem rude. I put one on without reading the leaflet – it's probably a charity or something – and I've forgotten I'm wearing it. Which is understandable, because the tube ride over hear was full of nutters wanting to talk to me. I'm a little bit frazzled, so could you leave me alone to worship for a bit? What? Street evangelism? Dear God, why?
2. Noob chat
On the tube
Probably means: I'm new to the city. A newbie or, in internet parlance, a 'noob'. I'm the only person in this carriage who is intently reading the map above fellow passengers' heads and craning past them to see what stop we're at, and I really don't need to be wearing this badge. Everybody knows what I am. I am definitely getting mugged today. Help. Me.
Could mean: I'm a terribly clever postmodern web-denizen, venturing out of my cave to make ironic IRL friends.
Could mean: I recently decided to start coming to this church. I'm looking for community, connection and a friendly welcome. Please invite me to a small group, a social event, your house for dinner and as many rotas as will have me.
Probably means: I think I like it here. A handshake, a smile and some light chit-chat over a cup of tea would be lovely, but I'm not really sure I'm going to settle here. Phrases like: "We could really use you on the team for..." or: "This church really needs talented people like you to get involved in..." will pretty much guarantee that you will not see me this side of the Great Day of Judgment.
3. Free hugs
On the tube
Could mean: I'm a generous, tactile person and I know that modern city dwellers often miss the endorphin rush and warm fuzzies that come from human contact. Or: I'm a sex offender.
Probably means: Yes, I am going to evangelise you.
Could mean: I am a charismatic, sensitive and courageous evangelist with more interest in sharing God's love with those outside the Church than routines inside it. I've just come back from spiritual Treasure Hunting and, no matter how cynical, post-evangelical and jaded you are, you will find it impossible to hate me. No matter how hard you try.
Probably means: I am a member of your youth group. Approach only with extreme caution, hands where everyone can see them, in the presence of at least three other adults.
4. Don't even think about talking to me!*
On the tube
Could mean: I'm a genuinely introverted or shy soul and I just can't handle the intensity of strangers talking to me.
Probably means: I'm not actually from London, but I really want people to think I am. Look at me: I'm a hard-nosed king of the concrete jungle. I read Ayn Rand and quote Nietzsche. I don't need new friends. I have 2,000 followers on Twitter and they really get me. Please don't make me go back to Devon.
Could mean: I'm checking out churches in the neighbourhood but I live in mortal terror of inadvertently giving the impression that I've settled on this one while I'm still deciding. It took me three years to get out of The Church of The Blessed Virgin, Queen of Heaven, and I am not even a Catholic. I am not making that mistake again. If you try to talk to me I will literally submerge my head in the baptistry. If I'm here in two weeks' time, you may approach.
Probably means: I am going to be a barrel of laughs in church/parish council meetings.
5. Metropolitan police*
On the tube
Could mean: I am on my way to/from a hen/stag party. Feel free to dance with me!
Probably means: I am an actual police officer. Feel free to get tazered.
Could mean: Your church is under investigation under new legislation aimed at curbing religious extremism. All the stuff Christian Voice has told you is true. Please stop preaching Jesus, and accept the Mark of the Beast.
Probably means: I'm here about the lead that's been stolen from your roof.
*These are actual badges floating around in London. The rest are made up. You may not want to take the analysis in this article too seriously. Even though it's probably spot-on.
Jonty Langley studied literature and philosophy at uni, perfectly preparing him for a career in fast food. Thankfully he discovered writing, which he does for a mission charity and the Christian press.