One time I was invited to a meeting of the Breakfast Optimist Club. They meet every Tuesday at 5:30 am, hence, I only went once. It was a pretty entertaining experience; basically just a bunch of rich old guys who got together to eat, talk about their wives, tell stories and vote on things. One guy even brought in his recently replaced artificial hip for a show-and-tell. They have a president, a VP, a Chairman, a Treasurer… they wear name badges (even though they all know each other), they have membership pins, a flag… and a “dirty word jar” in which you place a dollar for every curse word you say during the meeting (which is all used to raise money for charities, so the cursing is quite prevalent and intentional as they each show up with a big roll of singles like they’re headed to a “gentlemen’s club”)… its just a club for rich old guys. I didn’t fit.
One time I was a guest at a Christmas party for the Rotary Club…. People there had long sleeve t-shirts tucked into their khakis, gold elastic-banded digital watches and cell phones in holsters on their belts… grown men in penny loafers… again, I definitely didn’t fit.
I went to a church once where everyone had an assigned seat, the preacher had his name engraved on the door to the auditorium, all the men wore jackets and ties and I overheard some old lady whisper that I “didn’t dress to board the good ship lollipop”, and asked her friend why “people have to mutilate themselves like that”, apparently in reference to my eyebrow ring (old people don’t always realize how loud they’re actually talking)… Again, definitely not the place for me.
One time I had a summer labor job working with a group of parolees and ex-cons.. as a youth pastor and the only guy without a tattoo on my face, again, I didn’t really fit in.
I can’t write about this without quoting Sam Jackson as Shaft, when he said that he’s “too blue for the brothers, too black for the badge”. For years I’ve felt out of place almost everywhere I go. Being in theMidwest, I’m a little too “out there” for the conservative circles and a little too quiet for the party scene. Christians seem to glare at my tattoo, piercings and the fact that I wear jeans and a t-shirt ALL the time.. even if it’s got a couple holes in it. People who aren’t Christians seem to walk on eggshells, like I’m going to be offended or start preaching at them. I don’t ever play a part just to fit in, which seems to be the expectation inAmerica these days, and it seems to make people very edgy when you don’t go out of your way to be just like them.
Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians about being yourself and about fitting in. 1 Corinthians 9:22 says “I have become all things to all menso that by all possible means I might save some!”. I have heard this verse twisted so many times it makes me sick, and every single time it has been twisted by church people who expected everyone else to “get in line” with what they expected. They will also toss around verses like Romans 14:21 which says “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” This will usually be explained to mean that you need to give up your rights in order to accommodate a weaker brother, and some people have gotten very good at being the professional weaker brother, just to get their way. Sorry, but the verse is talking about reaching the lost, not fitting in with Christians.
The Bible says absolutely nothing about making church people happy or acting differently just to fit in. Why? Because the Church that Jesus established IS the Good Ship Lollipop! The Church is the motley crew of drunkards and thieves who have been washed and saved by Jesus! The Church is beautiful because she is such a menagerie of ridiculous characters! Jesus intended for us all to walk that crazy squiggly line between perfect and profane because that’s exactly what we are, and that’s the beauty of Grace; the most filthy little creatures the world has ever seen, scrubbed with blood and clothed in white. The truth is, that we all fit into The Church just as we are, we all belong… even if you stand out like a thumb in a cast. You don’t need to fit in with “those people” any more than they need to fit in with you, because you’re all ridiculous characters in God’s circus! God has called all men, all nations, tribes and tongues to Himself… he has called all the suits, all the t shirts, all the Apple kids and Windows kids, even the Linux kids.. the guys with their shirts tucked in and the guys with no shirts at all.
I’m struggling with this, because while I know that I fit into the Church, I don’t fit in with the people I meet there.. which is okay with me, but it worries me because I know there are a heck of a lot of people out there who feel just as unwelcome, unwanted, ill-fitted and maybe even repulsed by the Church as I do at times; people who have not yet met Jesus and desperately need the Church to surround them and love them and be their family.. but I have seen exactly why hurting people do not turn to the church when they need help… I guess all any of us can do is be the best Jesus we can to the people we are able to reach, I just pray the churches in America see how dire the situation is and drop the act so people will come running to Jesus all on their own, and find a Church that is real, broken and joyful, not fake smiles and lots of talk.
Be the Church Jesus intended.