Monthly Archives: April 2022

Filters

Life is complicated. Tasks, challenges, opportunities, and information are bombarding us all the time and we deal with this overwhelming flow by using filters. Rather than looking at all jobs available, we filter down to the ones in the area we are interested in, or pay what we hope to get, or are closest to us. We filter down class options to the ones that will help us get the future job we want, or that we think we will do well in. We filter our relationships, paying more attention to people that give us a feeling of warmth and connection, or people who have a skill, style, or personality we admire. Very often we filter tasks, opportunities, and relationships to those that seem easiest. We are not necessarily lazy about it, but physical and emotional energy is precious, and we guard it by using it on the easiest things and on things we value the most.

Last month I wrote about how feeling like we belong (in church and in the world) is so valuable. Feeling disconnected and isolated can make it hard to participate in a group, and often makes a person feel guarded, or afraid of being judged. I also wrote we are more like to experience a feeling of belonging only when we let that guard down, and embrace that we are created well by God, and believe that even if not everybody “gets us,” that we are still beloved and do belong. Today, I would like to challenge us to examine how we help others feel THEY belong. If all of us are waiting for someone else to welcome us into a place of belonging, to make the first move, we will all wait forever. It helps to remember that Jesus himself calls us into ways of belonging to God and belonging to each other.

No one has to earn a place in the community of Christ. We may not know each other as well as we could, but we all belong here. Once we accept that, and invite the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us (I am seriously asking you to pray for this to happen,) we can turn our attention to the people around us, in church and in the world. What neighbor will you bless with a hello, or a smile, or a question to invite a conversation? That serious looking person sitting alone may seem intimidating, but may just be sad or uncomfortable and aching for friendly gesture. That person who is a different age, or race, or is differently dressed may have a word you need to hear or be a connection that will turn out to be a gift. I am not saying it will always go well. Your effort may feel awkward or be refused, and that is okay. Just the act of reaching out in hopeful and willing obedience to God’s call to love others is rewarding and plants a seed in both you, and the person you reach out to. The more obedient we are to God, the more we grow in connection with God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. As more of us are obedient to God, the more connected and powerful we become as a congregation. The early church in the book of Acts believed in Jesus and they followed his teaching and example because of that belief. Their reputation of being so powerful in love and the Holy Spirit made the church grow in astonishing numbers as the wealthy and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable were attracted to their caring community. Could choosing to extend a welcome to someone you don’t know well or feel awkward around do something good in your life? Could it increase your hope, joy, power or faith? Could it grow our reputation as a community that loves God, uplifts people, inspires hope and grows disciples? We won’t know unless we try. Let’s set down our guards and let go of our filters for who we want to welcome. Let’s trust that God has a purpose for us, and for the people God brings into our lives. Let us trust that there is room for us all.

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In or Out

I grew up in a small town in eastern South Dakota. My entire grade in school had under thirty kids, so we all were very familiar with each other from kindergarten on. You might think that knowing each other that well and that long would mean we all felt connected and close, but like most places you go we had the “in” groups, and we had other groups, and we had outsiders. Especially up through 7th grade, I tended to be an outsider, never confident that I belonged in any of the groups. The more visible the “in” group was, the more ostracized and inadequate I felt.

When I started attending my church as a young mom, I saw many groups of people who were very close. These were people who really knew each other and enjoyed being together. I was excited to be part of that. But as time went on, I noticed I wasn’t really fitting in like I saw others did. These other folks had history together, and work and family connections that had helped them form easy friendships. They also had “done church” together, serving and being involved in many ways. I taught Sunday school and served on committees, really hoping to both help the church and forge friendships. I tried not to appear as uncomfortable as I felt, because even though I was met with kindness and encouragement I still didn’t feel “in.” How do people get it right? I wondered. How do they get over the barrier between “out” and “in?”

I got through it, and part of it was giving up the focus on being accepted by others and allowing myself to believe I am accepted by God just as I am. I came to understand that embracing my true self, the way I was created by God is key to true belonging. God made me curious, sensitive, and enthusiastic about lots of things. That comes out awkwardly sometimes, but that awkward, outside feeling has turned out to be very helpful. Because I know the feeling of being on the outside, I truly want to reach out to others who may also feel like outsiders. Fully believing that we are all beloved children of God has helped me be brave about extending welcome to others even when there is a risk of getting it wrong or being rejected.

One passage from the book Love is the Way, by Bishop Michael Curry that spoke to me on this topic was in chapter 5 “Love’s Call—and Love’s Calling.” He says this: “Somehow, when we come to love ourselves through God’s eyes, and through loving others, we become whole again.

We are beloved children of God, called upon to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors. It is all tied together in a package. This is the most fundamental part of following Jesus, and all the rest is built upon it. What if we are having trouble really believing in our core that we are beloved children of God? We ask the one who can do the impossible. When we ask God to work in us, God will always answer yes. Praying, meditating, worshiping, or reading scripture aren’t things we do to earn this love, they are acts that make room for that love and that belonging to take root and grow. Doing this in community makes it possible for our church to deepen its roots and grow in us and through us.

Looking back, I can see that even though I didn’t feel like I was part of any “in” group either as a child or when I started at my current church, that I really was an important part of the community, and all along was building the foundation of relationships. We do this when we extend a welcome, a word of encouragement or a request for help, and open ourselves up to the love of God and others.