Advent Week Three: On Being an Outsider (and Staying).

In the holiday classic Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Rudolph and his fellow social outcasts Hermie, the dentist-elf, and Yukon Cornelius, the explorer, arrive on the Island of Misfit Toys. We get the song and dance from Charlie-in-the-Box: these are a bunch of toys with problems that vary from the seemingly nonexistent (I still don’t know how a doll that says “How do you do?” is a Misfit), to the obvious dealbreakers (A boat that can’t stay afloat? Yikes). 

And here’s the catch: the Flying Lion King Moon-Racer tells Rudolph, Hermie, and Yukon they can’t stay on the island either. And Yukon makes the astute observation: “How do you like that? Even among Misfits you’re Misfits!” 

Things end up okay for Rudolph in the end, but this really is kind of silly: how could these 3 guys be somehow worse off than a train with square wheels on its caboose? I mean, really. But they didn’t fit a main criteria: they weren’t toys. So they didn’t fit in. 

Like Christmas, this 48 year old classic comes around every year. And kids still like it. Heck, adults still like it. And while some of this can be chalked up to nostalgia, the rest can be attributed to that timeless human experience: at some point or another in our lives, we feel as though we don’t fit in.

I think a lot of our childhoods and teenage years are flecked with this feeling in some way or another; what is harder to admit is that our adulthoods aren’t immune from this sense of being a Misfit. I’d like to say that I can’t remember the last time I said something that was received with raised eyebrows and/or comments like: “Wha…?” but I can’t. The sad truth is, I’m pretty sure I can remember a time a couple hours ago. It doesn’t go away with age.

And often in extreme cases, when we face the discomfort, loneliness, or sense of rejection that can come with feeling like a misfit, we run away. We search for a place or group where we can belong. But during this search, we discover something even more disturbing: we still don’t fit in. We expect to find our fit in the puzzle and find out we don’t fit into that puzzle… or that one… not even the Puzzle of Misfit Puzzles. 

And I’ve got to be honest: one of the places where I’ve often felt like a Misfit among Misfits was at church growing up. Without going into details or specific situations, things reached their apex when my now-husband, then-boyfriend, was taken aside privately by our church’s youthpastor and advised he break up with me if we wanted to continue volunteering with the church youthgroup. 

Christians often characterize themselves as the Misfits of the Worldy World. And I was a Misfit among Misfits. 

But here’s the happy news: this isn’t what the Church is actually about. As Vince said on Sunday: You can belong, but not fit in. We’re all individuals, and we all have our good qualities and not-so-good qualiies, and we have our individual talents, gifts… and quirks. But the idea that the Church is the place where the Homogenized go is not Biblical. The church is for the broken, the searching, the growing, the young, the lost, the found, the old, Christians, non-Christians, the rich, the poor, the middle class, men, women, all ethnicities, all nations: Everyone. There is no “us” and “them.” We’re all in the same boat, and yet we’re all different. 

We all belong, but we all don’t fit in. The church isn’t a neat little puzzle. Perhaps the more apt, cheese-ball metaphor would be a mosaic: mosaics don’t fit together neatly; they’re held together by some kind of sealant/cement. In the church, we don’t come together as a community because we’re all alike; we come together because we’re held together and united in Christ.

Even better: these things that often make us feel like Misfits can actually serve an important purpose in the Church. After all, as we know, Rudolph’s red nose turns out to be what saves the day. 

So rather than characterize the Church as the place where individuality goes to die, and where only certain kinds of people need apply, we should instead characterize the Church as the Island of Misfit Misfits: the place you can belong, but not fit in.  

 

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