27 September 2006

Lessons from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Dentist Elf

Long post today, guys. Sorry. I wrote this about a year ago. Something Michelle said Monday reminded me of this. I still feel this way.

I feel like Rudolph and the dentist elf. They didn’t fit in because either they were born different or they strove to be something unexpected. Whoever heard of a red-nosed reindeer or an elf dentist? Even those who loved them most tried to change these anomalies, tried to hide them, or just flat out rejected them. So they ran away. To be honest, most days I want to runaway.
I grew up in a conservative church with strong, faithful parents. I grew up with Bible verses singing in my head, never knowing what it meant to not believe in Christ. And when I say I grew up in the church, I mean I grew up in the church. I lived and breathed the church. My closest friends were from my church. My family was the church.
Perhaps because of this strong foundation I have, I am free to question. Not question God or Who He is. Not question my salvation, my peace and joy, my hope in Christ. But I question how we understand this. How we understand the Bible. How we understand the world around us. How we are in the world but not of it. How we do this whole spirituality thing. And because of this questioning, sometimes I don’t feel accepted by my church family. Sometimes I feel pushed out. Sometimes I feel like this church family sees me as lost. Sometimes I feel unloved. Sometimes I feel like a misfit.
What do you do when you feel knocked down? Especially when the slaps and jeers come from the church, from your own “body”? Sometimes I feel beaten to a bloody pulp by the church – never mind the Levites and priests that pass by on the other side of the road. At least they don’t kick you while you’re down! Where do you go when you feel outside the wall? And if I, who grew up inside the wall, talking the language, laughing at the “why did the Christian cross the road” jokes, understanding the ritual, if I feel outside the wall, how much more so those who aren’t believers or who are new believers?
So most of the time I fight. But that is my community. I live one way. They live another way. Both of us are trying to live according to our understanding of God’s Story. Somehow both fit into that proverbial “gray area,” so perhaps it’s not about right v. wrong. Perhaps it is about love and acceptance, about trust and authenticity. I love U2. So many of their songs speak to me about Christian life and our hope. One tells me about the Christian community, the hopelessly-flawed but chosen by God Church. U2 says that we can’t live with or without each other. U2 says that we give, and we give, and we give ourselves away. That’s what being in community is. It means that struggle of frustration and love with the Church. It means giving ourselves away to the Church. These are my decisions. I may be constantly hurt by the Church. I may feel that my life is easier without the Church, but to act on those selfish – yes, selfish – feelings would be to go against God’s Truth told in the letter to the Ephesians. The Church should be about unity, love, compassion. Somehow, God wants me to be unified to a group of people I feel little to no natural inkling toward in order that together, we can incarnate God’s love in the world. For some reason, this is how God chose to do it. I don’t like it. Oh, I want authenticity, but I want it with my chosen people rather than God’s chosen people. How many times was Christ hurt by His intimate group of friends, even by the three that seemed to be His best friends? But He devoted His life to them. He gave Himself away. I’m to have the same attitude as Christ. Yuck. I want my time, my space, my choosing. But I have to love. I’m not called to seek acceptance in this Church that views some of me as borderline heretical. I’m to love.
I know how the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer ends. They find a whole Misfit Kingdom. They want to live in this misfit kingdom where they know they will be accepted, but the Misfit Lion King (is Jesus a misfit, too?) asks them to go back in the world to find a place for all of the misfits. They do. They risk their lives to go back. They found that a few who truly loved them went after them. They saved the day by pulling the teeth of a threatening enemy and breaking through a dark storm with the only reliable light. And they found a place for all of the other misfits. I know I have to go into the uncomfortable. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to fix some painful teeth when I ensconce myself in the world, in the church, in a seemingly meaningless job. Maybe I’ll find a loyal Cornelius in my travels who will understand me and accept me. Maybe I’ll find that those in the church do truly love me. Maybe even some of them need me, just as I need them. Maybe I’ll find other misfits looking for their place. Besides, I cannot hypocritically rant and rave diatribes against the church for creating their own alternate reality and then myself hide away with only those who like me.
I want to love, truly love and accept people without holding rules or my expectations over their head.


Gina said...

Be who God has called you to be. If you're a misfit (join the club) be one and be proud of it.

One thing I learned from ACFW this year is to use what God has given you to write the story of your heart. Dig down deep, despite the pain and use it to write something God has put on your heart.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

You and me babe. Pulling teeth and weathering storms. I can see it now.

You the one who has never known what its like to NOT be Christian. Me the one who God allowed to explore the realms of atheism (and so much more) both of us with the same goal.

God has certainly brought us together for a reason, I knew that before the conference...but I know it moreso now.

Beyond Words said...

Yes. And remember the church is wherever two or three are gathered in His name. You are a beautiful misfit and you belong to the Upside Down Kingdom--I hope you are literally en-couraged--bold enough to pull thorns out of lions' paws!

Heather said...

Thank you guys for the encouragement! Sometimes I meet people that make me think, man, I love being a misfit! I get to be one of them!

L.L. Barkat said...

I felt so sad when I read this... I know the church can be hard, yet mightn't the church we choose also give us comfort and encouragement to step out? I'm not a church-hopping type (been in mine for over 20 years), but I am so curious why you stay in the place you're in. I think I would have left long ago.

Robin said...

Could Michelle be your Cornelius? I'm just sayin'......on the outside lookin' in, y'all seem to "get it" the same way.

ANYWAY, a BEAUTIFUL post. I think the things you shared are thoughts I've known you had by thoughts you've spoken in other posts. Is that sentence HORRIBLE or what? I hope you're following, though.

Sometimes it's a quiet "rage against the machine", a struggle to live out the life of Christ among people who believe that's what THEY'RE doing, when they sit in judgment or condemnation of how you're living it. And yet, like you said, you must love them, too. Sometimes it's hard to know what that looks like, though.

You know what? I read your other post about the ACFW conference before reading this; I almost made a comment about THAT'S what the Christian community should look like (but so often falls short). There you found love, acceptance, kindness, like mindedness, challenge, prizes ( :) ), encouragement, etc.

Paradox, hmmm?

One More Writer said...

I spent years as a misfit in various churchs--and to be honest, I'm still a misfit at my current church, but I'm suddenly okay with that. The Lord has led me to a few other misfits within that congregation, so now I have a community within my local body. On the other hand, I'm a big believer in the fact that all believers are the church, so as long as my community is one of believers, I'm connected to the body of Christ in spite of the actual venue.

michael snyder said...

Wow, funny AND deep.

I've always been a misfit. Guess I always will be. But no matter, your last line is where it's at.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Yeah, what Mike said.

Honestly, I think that's why we connected so quickly. We've walked that same path and recognized a fellow sojourner.

Jennifer said...

I don't know if I can do my comment justice right now. I might need to think about this longer, but my first thoughts are if your church doesn't fit you, find a new church. It's heartbreaking, and draining, and hard, but that's why we have so many different denominations, worship styles and methodologies--so that everyone has a place to fit and best worship and serve. If it's the church
--then, yes, persevere.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I think Robin's one of us too.

When do we get to spend the weekend together Robin?

Isn't it funny how she can see it Heather? That's why I think she's one of us.

Heather said...

Robin is definitely one of us. "To being an us, for once, instead of them" (from La Vie Boheme in Rent).
As far as church stuff, part of this is more than just one local church body. On the other hand, we have recently left our church. Great church. Great ministry for a certain group of people. We just don't fit within their philosophy of ministry. Our heart for ministry isn't under their umbrella. That's fine. God uses different people in different ways.
Again, thanks for the encouragement. I had a hard time for a while feeling "normal" (whatever that is), but friendships with you all, if blogging, has helped me belong. Thanks!

sage said...

great post... we'll always struggle with church 'cause it never lives up to its potential. But we gotta try and we gotta be true to ourselves.

Robin said...

Michelle, Heather.....smiling, more inside than out.


Umm, where are y'all, I cannot remember where people are (except for Willowtree, who's down under...).

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I'm in Indiana. Heather's in Texas.

Where are you in TN?

Email me if y'want. m.pendergrass at mchsi dot com

Anonymous said...

Good post. Very good.

dan h. said...

I was sharing with a friend how I am kind of a misfit pastor in a church for misfits (our unspoken theme song is the 'rudolph' song), and this friend directed me to your post. Awesome! Do you mind if I share it?
Thanks for your honesty.
dan h.

lindylu54 said...

I feel the pain and loneliness of your heart. Being in the midst of all the church community, and still being all alone. You are young, with alot to say. Your faith is stong and will help you withstand the criticism of others. Continue to be who you are, who God meant you to be and be the BEST at it. Perserverence and continued Trust in God will deliver you from feeling like a misfit.Jesus was a misfit in the midst of his people. Yet he continued on in his desire for all to know the truth, God's truth and find everlasting life. I know its hard, but try to love all these folks no matter what, You will be blessed for it.

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