Anita is one of our fabulous Diaconal Ministry Developers from Eastern Canada and she writes with grace and compassion and authenticity.
The church community did not let her be her. She let them be them but they did not let her be her. Her family was not accepted for being them. Her family was supposed to be something else. And it felt like they couldn’t make the grade. She couldn’t accept the nuanced put down any longer. The lines of non-acceptance are subtle, as to be almost, but not quite invisible. She could not shake this feeling. Lonely in a crowd. Lonely in a place that was supposed to show love and acceptance. Floating on the periphery. Many people float on the periphery.
I missed her in church so much a tear came to my eye and I felt a bit of nausea. It wasn’t the message that brought on the missing. I wanted her in that empty seat beside me so I could lean over a bit and ask her what she thought of whatever was being preached. I wanted to share a chuckle, a common understanding of what was going on. The chair remained empty. My tear dried up. The service went on. The missing stayed.
I am having coffee with a friend. She spoke about faith. Her faith is strong. She spoke about church community. How difficult it is to be welcomed in, for her. Two churches in the last eight years. Felt pushed towards and left at the perimeter. Maybe it’s me she ponders. Maybe I don’t follow the party line well enough. It’s not fun on the periphery. Maybe church is not for me.
I had lunch with friends. Friends from a long ago past life. It was fun to catch up. Two of us spend time talking outside the restaurant, in the cold…for a long time. As we catch up, our conversation turns towards the hurt church folks put onto the family. A broken family. Single parent. Kids. There was help but also judgement. Tuck your head in and take it. Hurt on hurt. A young child knowing judgement. Set apart. Lonely. Didn’t know why, not then, not totally then. But knew that something wasn’t right about their family.
I have felt all of these emotions for different reasons in each church I have been a member of, but not when I was very young. Maybe all members float on the periphery.
Many people often float around the perimeter of the “in” circle. There are circles within circles within circles. Cliques form. It happens. Like people with like ideas with like families with like…
Outsiders have a hard time permeating through the walls. Conversation and jokes revolve around times spent with each other. Ingroups. Outgroups. In churches. In all kinds of communities. Inclusion. Exclusion. All kinds of social systems struggle with ingroups and outgroups. There are those who are members of the inner circle, middle circle and the periphery. We invite others in but we don’t really mean for them to join us just the way they are. Nope. We want those we invite in to be just like us. Without knowing it or being purposeful we think of people other than ourselves, as ‘not quite making the grade’. The outside dirt is what we see first. We see the inside dirt later. We all have inside dirt and outside dirt. We attach labels. I do it. Then we try to pray the dirt away. The inside dirt and the outside dirt. Fix ‘em. The dirt is anything that doesn’t match what we consider acceptable behaviour.
Church spaces, places, should be different. I want church to be a different community.
Are they? Accepting-hospitable spaces? A place to belong?
We invite others in but we don’t really mean for them to join us just the way they are. Nope. We want those we invite in to be just like us… Church spaces, places, should be different. I want church to be a different community.
I think about the tattoo on my arm: mee leven. The hand writing is mine. My parents spoke about mee leven. It’s Dutch, meaning “with living”. I remember my mom telling me that we live together in community. When I look at my arm it is a powerful reminder of my life’s purpose. It is a reminder of what my parents wished to instill in me. They did not aspire to have power over others nor for others to have power over them. They prayed for life to be lived, side by side. Together. Not separate. Not alone. Not an us and not them situation.
If I meet someone I’ve met before or someone brand spanking new, it is my choice to “get curious”. Get to know them. I may not get them. It doesn’t matter if I get them or not. I do get that kindness, acceptance and belonging far outweighs whether I get someone. Kindness, acceptance and a place to belong don’t form cliques. Don’t push people to the periphery. I don’t want to live in clique space. In clique space I might have to cover up “my weird” and paper over all my dirty little habits so I can belong. I need to be my authentic self. I choose to work at offering acceptance to everyone no matter what stuff they bring with them. It is for everyone…belonging. If you don’t understand something about another don’t make it your practice, your ritual, to judge first and ask questions later. Get curious and find out what’s going on. What is at the heart of what the other is expressing or going through. Judgement in word, deed or body language is a habit, a ritual. It is practiced. It is unconscious. Something done for many years without thought. Unrolling the habit or ritual is accomplished by putting another habit or ritual in it’s place.
Life is hard. Life in community is less hard. Include don’t exclude. I try to remember other people are a reflection of me. I am a person. All people are persons. Just like me. Walk life alongside others.
I do not want to spend time in reflection of my own prejudices.
Life is hard. Life in community is less hard. Include don’t exclude. I try to remember other people are a reflection of me. I am a person. All people are persons.
I reflect on what I do when I meet people. I try for respect, kindness, acceptance, and ‘you are worth it’ kind of attitude. When I become aware of those pieces that I haven’t sorted out yet in my lousy attitude, it is my job to work on them. Put on new habits and rituals.
Christmas is just around the corner. Christmas has been a time of great joy and great sorrow for me over the years. I hold in tension joy and sorrow at this time of the year. If I am honest, I hold in tension joy and sorrow most of the year. I am the tightrope walker. Striving for balance. Learning to stand above and beside the joy and sorrow that life is all about. Holding joy and sorrow on my inside and on my outside. For me, Christmas is Jesus and the blueprint he laid out for me. He respected, loved, accepted and gave all people a place to belong. Christmas for me is also about presents (given and received) and relationships. There is complete joy in the knowledge that Jesus arrived in human form, human – like me. There is joy in knowing that extravagant gifts were given and received in strange places to celebrate His birth. There is joy in knowing that each breath He drew showed me how to love without condition. To love without expecting others to be some unknown “something”, a particular pattern, that they cannot be or don’t have a blueprint for. This unconditional love is freeing for me. It means I can care for all people no matter their past, present or future. I just have to be me. I am not good at being someone else. I expect this is the same for everyone. I have tried to be someone else. When I am someone else, I cannot hold the tension, I keep falling off the tightrope. It’s best to be me.
I like the Jesus blueprint. I am reflecting on how he did life, mee leven, doing life together.
Photo Credit: Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi from Pexels