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When You Don’t Fit In At Church

AUGUST 1, 2013 BY  32 COMMENTS

square peg round hole

On Sunday mornings, I wake up early, kiss my still sleeping husband good-bye, and drive nearly an hour to my church in one of the more rural parts of West Virginia. I park my van, covered in HRC and Obama and Strong Bad bumper stickers in a sea of conservative pickup trucks. I wear an Arrested Development t-shirt among a throng of Christian t-shirts.

I should not fit in.

According to a number of demographics, I am nothing like a lot of these people. It would be all too easy for me to focus on our differences. There are plenty, and if I’m being perfectly honest, some of them matter to me. I care about things like LGBT equality and access to birth control. I’m pretty iffy about hell. I’m far more likely to reach for John 3:17 as a life verse instead of John 3:16.

And yet this is my home. The owner of a local bed and breakfast who brings in flowers every Sunday never fails to give me a hug. The Christian school teacher asks me how things are going with my book writing. The man who helps run the children’s archery program stops me to let me know that he’s praying for the women at Beginning of Life with me. The pastor’s wife calls me beautiful and the pastor always thanks me for being a part of the family.

I don’t fit in, but I am loved.

And because I am loved, it is much easier for me to reciprocate that love. I am accepted, so it becomes easier for me to accept. I am honored, so it is my desire to return honor.

I know that there are numerous discussions about people leaving the Church. There are so many valid reasons and I have encountered a number of them in my own experiences with the church, but most of them boil down to the idea that there is some right way to do church. We think that there is a magic formula that we can put together and it will make this whole Christianity thing come together for everyone. More political involvement! More contemporary music! More focus on ritual! More skinny jeans! More candles! More focus on orthodoxy! We make our lists and we assume that if we could just find that sweet spot, people would stay.

There is no sweet spot. There is no right way. There is no magic formula.

But there I don’t think that means all is lost. There is looking at someone you don’t understand and saying, “Tell me your story,” and then listening. There is thanking the person who made coffee for showing up an hour before the service started to get the machines running. There is going out of your way to pass the peace to someone who has a different bumper sticker on their car than you have on yours.

There is love.

And when we love like Jesus tells us to love, fitting in isn’t really a concern, because love makes all kinds of room for everyone.

Tending Linda’s Garden

Linda was one of us and she is most certainly missed not only in our hearts and minds, but also in our daily work and gatherings. When we gather at the home where she lived to put together breakfasts, it’s impossible to forget that a big part of the reason we do this is because she did it first. Linda and another brother, Robert, loved the meals that Grace and Main provides through the Roving Feast a few times every week. What they really loved about them wasn’t the menu, but the opportunities to meet and love the people in the neighborhood. She and Robert already lived there, along with Bruce (the missionary in that section of town, whom Third Chance Ministries supports) and the owner of the home, a particularly lovely and hospitable lady we’ll call Julia. They saw grace multiplied in a place of profound need and denied hope and it broke their hearts. So, they started a breakfast that grew from 8 to 50 over several months. Linda dipped into her own pocket on many occasions to buy eggs, sausage, bacon, pancake batter, butter, and all the other staples of a good southern breakfast. She had little to offer financially, but she gave it freely and graciously. Together, this little household offered hospitality, food, and love to those who gathered around the coffee pot on their front lawn.

On the morning that Linda was struck and killed by a car in a nearby neighborhood, she spent time in another one of her passions—the idyllic garden planted in their backyard. It seems that the watermelons needed tending if they were going to make it. It doesn’t take much to grow watermelons—some seeds, some dirt, and a whole bunch of water and sunlight. You don’t have to tell the vines where to go or stretch them so they’ll make it far enough—the watermelons seem to know what they’re doing. One day, you’ll go to your garden and find fruit in the place where once there were only vines. Those plants will have taken the dirt, water, and sunlight and made them into a fruit sweet and juicy enough to make your chin sticky.

As a Christian community that counts Linda as one of our sisters alongside whom we’ve worked, struggled, and lived, we intone to ourselves in our prayers that Linda now rests with Christ in God. Yet, we also know that Linda was like one of her watermelon vines planted in a place of need and justice deferred. In that place, she grew day by day and gave forth a harvest of love and compassion that taught us all how better to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who taught us that all of the law and the prophets hang on the command to love God and love our neighbor. We don’t have to build a monument to our sister, Linda, because she built one to love with her life. Consumed by compassion for her brothers and sisters on the Northside, she cultivated life one bowl of grits at a time. When we walk the streets of the Northside, we find that we’re walking in Linda’s garden and seeing the fruits of her faithfulness and love.

For all good gifts, we give thanks. We give thanks for breakfasts and coffee, and for gardens and watermelons. We give thanks for new leaders who have stepped into the shoes left behind by our sister, so that the breakfast can continue. We give thanks for the hospitality of Julia, who invited Linda into her home. We give thanks for Robert and his involvement in the breakfast in those early days. We give thanks for Mike, whose generosity provides bread to the hungry and who was drawn by the Spirit to the fledgling breakfast as a leader. We give thanks for Bruce and his continued leadership and faithfulness on the Northside, even raising up new leaders in our midst. We give thanks for Linda’s family who welcomed us to her funeral service and gave us Linda in the first place. We give thanks for Linda, whose love continues to cultivate fruit—even when we’re not looking.

In the meantime, we’ll keep tending Linda’s garden.