Sunday, February 6, 2011

A community of misfits

Perhaps some of the most positive and powerful experiences of love are those in which love does not come easily. In our culture, it is so common to speak of love that feels good, that is comfortable, and that comes quite naturally. That love certainly has its place, but there is another kind of love, one that if we are fortunate, we experience in a community of those that we at first glance feel are nothing like us.

I have often talked about my hope for this new faith community to be identified by its diversity. This word is used so often today and sometimes it is over-used and under-appreciated. Truthfully, when we are gathered together in any form, we are a diverse group in terms of life experiences, gender, occupation, and personality. Yet, when we add in race, economic status, sexual orientation, cultural differences, and other identifiers, we find a whole other layer of difference. We find that our common ground is no longer that which is comfortable and natural and we are forced to look for something deeper. I also believe that we are forced to go to deeper places. The small talk is more difficult to come by and we are forced to look the other in the eye, to acknowledge their uniqueness, to confront our differences and wrong stereotypes, and to ask the deeper questions.

When I speak of my hopes for diversity in our emerging faith community, it is for many reasons. Yes, it reflects the changing world we live in and yes, it is a way to continue bridging our socio-economic-racial gaps, but there is more. I cherish the richness of a diverse faith community because we experience deeper love when we are cast into a community of those who seem to have little in common with us. In this community of misfits, we find that while it does not come easily, the way is opened for us to experience the kind of love that can bring hope, change and new life.

As our family watched Because of Winn-Dixie this weekend, I witnessed a powerful image of this type of community (i'm pretty sure my children rolled their eyes when i felt the need to point this out). In her desperation to make friends in a new hometown, a preacher's daughter raised by her divorced father invites her new acquaintances to a party. As the celebration finally takes place, gathered together are the the ex-con, the widow, the blind outcast, the grumpy landlord, the depressed preacher, and the mischievous school boys. It seemed the only thing they had in common was the invitation they each received to attend this gathering. When they finally come together, there is a transformation that takes place. The outcast is restored to community, the ex-con receives affirmation of his gifts, the landlord softens his harsh tone, the depressed preacher and his daughter find renewed relationship and the two boys put their energy to positive use. There is no false impression that they have reached some final utopia, but rather that in this community they have found what they did not even know they were looking for.

No, love does not come easily in a community of misfits, but the challenges are worth the undeniable sense that love can cross boundaries and find us where and when we least expect it.

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