I attended a small Lutheran high school. One year two new students arrived, two children of missionaries returned back to the United States after service in Transylvania. Yup, Transylvania.
They were everything that made them the target of bullies and ignored by the cool kids: they were polite, kind, soft-spoken, but not afraid to be seen and heard singing in chapel or speaking from their hearts about Jesus. They wore handmade clothing embroidered for them by Transylvanians.
To those of us who were pastors’ kids, wonder of wonders, here were people lower in the pecking order than us, lower on the high school popularity food chain.
And dangerous to befriend.
You know how this works. If you stand with them, you might find that the line around you had been redrawn, with you on the other side. Sure, you would have some really interesting company, but, did I say they were from Transylvania? Is that even a real place?
The first day they came to school in “normal clothes”—all of the fascinating, colorful, and intricate embroidery left at home—my heart sank a little. And, it was too late. Changing clothes wouldn’t help. Everyone already knew they were different.
I should have done more. There was so much more I could have done and said if I would have put my beliefs into action, shown kindness more courageously, not worried or cared about where lines were getting drawn and about whose company I had on which side of the line. I had been a new kid once and had been befriended by two people in particular right from my first day, people who knew how to make me feel at home immediately, like I had people to be with, talk with, laugh and cry with, be myself with, even while we were all busy doing the important adolescent thing of trying to figure out who that was for each of us. They could have left me standing alone. Instead they became dear friends.
The missionary kids left the school before too long, although it may have felt way too long to them. I can’t remember whether they left because their parents got a new assignment or whether they decided to try their luck at the local public school.
I should have done more. The adults in the room should have done more.
When I attended the St Augustine Seminar meeting at Lambeth last November to help prepare Bible studies that the bishops and their spouses will use at the Lambeth Conference, I heard Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby say, “it’s time to draw a line” behind all the disagreements of the past. We have important work to do together. Our fights about human sexuality keep us from doing the work we need to do as the church.
I felt hopeful. I pictured a big magic marker making a wide line. We need to know our history, the things that happened before the line. But we have other work to do that we will do best if we say, okay, let’s go. My imaginary magic marker line would be easy to step over, but it would be an important symbol. Sure, you can go back there if you want, but why? We’ve got important and beautiful things to do ahead, together, and for God.
But recently we found out from the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, that another line had been drawn, a line meant to keep same-sex spouses of bishops on the outside.
Read Joe’s post on the Scapegoat Mechanism about how this move, this line-drawing, functions and says if these few people are kept out, those on this side of the line will all be better off. It’s a small price to pay, according to the mechanism. See, only a few people are on the other side of the line. Now, let’s “all” go forward.
It doesn’t work. It’s wrong. And it’s not love, no matter how many people are on the majority side of the line.
I remember as a child in Vacation Bible School, during the time when we played games, one of the games we played was Red Rover. Do you know it? A team forms a human chain by linking hands. They call, “Red Rover, Red Rover, we call Sandra over.” And the person called from the other side tries to run through one of the links. If she can run through the link, she gets to take one of the people back with her to her team. If she gets stopped, she joins the people who called her.
I remember that one of the older children at church, a teenager named Rob, was one of the team captains. When picking his team, though, Rob did an unexpected thing. Rob kept picking the little kids, the weakest kids, the kids everyone knew were usually the last ones left without a team to belong to. I remember the surprise: “You mean me? You want me?” “Yes, c’mon. I choose you. Get over here.”
Would this team of the small and the weak strike fear into the hearts of the other team? Would this team ever go on to domination in the Red Rover World Cup? Not a chance. That wasn’t the point. The point was to have fun and run around, to hear people call you over by your name. In fact, the game was won when eventually everyone formed one big team, one long line where everyone was included, caught by people whose hands held together could hold you too. That was the point and Rob’s choosing worked. I have no idea where Rob is now. But I hope he’s still doing something to choose the weak and the small and to make them feel wanted.
We didn’t choose Jesus. He chose us. We love God because God first loved us. Jesus chose us, not out of coercion, not because someone said he had to, not because all the strong and co-ordinated people were already taken, but out of love and compassion, out of a desire to be with us, out of a desire that we would all come to know him, to follow him, and to reach out to the world in his name.
Let’s be honest about when we’re drawing lines and what kind of lines we’re drawing. Let’s repent of our crazy ideas about how we can’t be on the same side as someone because then other people won’t be our friends or maybe even talk to us or sit with us on the bus or in the lunchroom. And let’s say no to bullies in church. They’re welcome to join us, but the bullying behavior has no place here.