When I was in the 6th grade I got made fun of for my clothes. I was smart and shy and I had Wal-Mart brand shoes. Stacy Edwards came back from the bathroom one day and told everyone I was a loud pee-er. To this day, when I use public restrooms, I try to “pee quietly.” Whatever that means.
My 9th grade best friend was a bass violinist named Lori whose family took me to church, and who was a good and faithful friend. Sophomore year, I had 4th period with kids from the popular crowd, who invited me to eat lunch with them. I stopped spending time with Lori and our studious, steady friends, now seeing them as a social liability. I had a shot at acceptance with a group I’d always felt outside of, and I took it.
What if I’d never been made fun of for having the wrong clothes and peeing wrong? What if I’d chosen to stick with friends who were loyal and kind rather than chasing acceptance and popularity (which always stayed just out of reach anyway.)
My dear friends, don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious, Christ-originated faith. If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?
Listen, dear friends. Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God. And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you, who use the courts to rob you blind? Aren’t they the ones who scorn the new name—“Christian”—used in your baptisms?
You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures: “Love others as you love yourself.” (James 2:1-8, The Message)
I’ve been on the inside and I’ve been on the outside.
And I’ve wondered if anyone ever really moves on from high school. Sometimes it feels like all of life is a popularity contest and everyone just wants to be invited to sit at the cool kids table.
I wish I could live in a world of rainbows and unicorns and pretend that in the church of Jesus, the great includer, no one ever feels left out. But the truth is that I’ve experienced rejection and exclusion at the hands of God’s people, and I know I’m not alone.
In some ways I’m still healing from the not-good-enough label I was handed in 6th grade, still embarrassed about my shoes.
And in some ways I am still healing from the lie that led me to choose friends based on social status rather than character and, you know, being a good friend.
I look around at this world of Christian womanhood where everyone looks a certain way and there is pressure to dress well, wear cute earrings, always have lipstick on (and I am big fan of good lipstick.)
Even church environments can feel like a popularity contest, survival of the fittest, the high achievers rising to the top. We enter every place we go – even as believers – not asking how we can be a blessing, but asking if we are insiders or outsiders, and judging everyone else accordingly.
But I hear the Spirit calling me – calling us – to something different. Something more.
Jesus loved outsiders. He lived His life on the fringes with fringe people. Jesus had harsh words for the religious elite, the performers, the achievers. His kindness and gentleness was for the hurting, the less than, those who were not good enough. I think Jesus might have even been drawn people with the wrong shoes.
It is so easy to be seduced by the world’s value system (where everyone is graded to see how they measure up). And it renders us incapable of obeying the basic law of our faith, “love others as you love yourself.”
But as Jesus people we are called to God’s value system, where everyone is accepted and loved because they are HIS.