A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy at church that I'd never seen before. We chatted for a while. He was there for the first time, visiting and looking around to see what we were about. He was built like a pro-wrestler, someone who obviously spent a considerable amount of time in the gym. The short-sleeve t-shirt he was wearing fit snugly to show off his prodigious muscles. The visible parts of his arms were covered with tattoos - artwork of which, frankly, was quite impressive.
He was just there. Just visiting. Just checking us out. Wanting to know who we were. What we were about. What we had to offer. I tried my best to be helpful until a friend he was visiting emerged from the bathrooms. He hung out with her for a little while longer and endured greeting a few strange faces that she introduced. Later, while walking though the parking lot, I saw the guy strap on a leather jacket and climb onto a motorcycle. And gone.
His questions. The lingering hesitation in his voice. The reservation when introduced to more new people. It all communicated something that he never committed to words. He wanted to know what most anyone wants to know when visiting a church for the first time.
Will they accept me?
It's the fundamental question of our existence. Our desire to fit in and be loved is part of what makes us human. For misfits, that quest for deep connection with other members of our species is much more complicated.
Sadly, the modern church tends to marginalize these people. We should know this, the stories are pervasive. People that have left the church for one reason or another. Because they lack that sense of belonging or community. Because they were ostracized. Because they felt like their political or social beliefs didn't fit in with the larger church culture. Many of these people carry wounds with them. Refusing to give a different church a try because the pain inflicted from the last one is too great.
The working poor barely scraping by and ashamed of their reliance on welfare. The young teen questioning his sexuality. The single parent coming out of the tail end of an ugly divorce. The clinically depressed attempting to navigate the stigma of mental health. Recovering addicts. The homeless. People with dirty lives and dirty pasts.
It could be something purely superficial. Like the man I met. Could it be possible for predominantly middle class church welcome a biker covered with tattoos? I know the answer would be yes, but he doesn't. Or maybe his trepidation was grounded in a bigger issue. Past religious traumas. Family issues. Voices of friends telling him that he doesn't belong there. Regardless, he is one of many. A representative of those who walk through the front doors of a new church and wonder, 'Is there a place for me here?'
The rejects, the outcasts, the losers, the last ones picked, the misunderstood. We're in the margins of the modern church.
The church should know better, right? If we look at Jesus' example, it's plain that he loved the misfits. He dined with the most despised members of society. Con artists and prostitutes. One could argue that those were occasions, not a constant, but they'd be wrong. He surrounded himself with outcasts. Almost all of His disciples flunked out of traditional Jewish education. At some point in their lives, they were told that they weren't smart enough to study with a rabbi. They were told that the only thing they were good for was to return to their family profession. Fishermen and tax collectors.
Jesus gathered 12 outcasts. 12 losers. He lived with them, traveled with them, and ate with them. They sat around campfires and He taught them. He told them stories and He laughed with them. And, along the way, He showed them how to love other outcasts. Adulterers, lepers, Samaritans, people with shady reputations - all people who were marginalized by the religious institutions of the day.
If we are to be Christ-like, we need to love those in the margins. The misfits are everywhere. They walk through our church doors every week. We see them at work, at school, at the park, at the grocery store. They need love. They need to know there's hope, that there's a place for them.
As one who has spent most of my life as a misfit, I know how hard it can be. I'm thankful that I've found a place that accepts my flaws and encourages my growth and healing. For those who feel like they're in the margins, I stand with you.
As a side note, you should know that music has played a big role in my life. It's my coping mechanism. And over the past few months, this has been my anthem. It seems to fit with this post.