Dear Members and Friends,
I’m finding I enjoy the pace here on God’s Acre in the summer. So far, the weather has mostly cooperated for 8:00am worship in the Memorial Garden. It has been nice to see children in worship. We encourage you to come as you are in the summer. We love seeing you in worship with your shorts and flip flops!
I was glad to attend my first Beacons of Light event this year. The youth groups had an awesome year. I provided a brief reflection on the theme for the year: belonging. Some in attendance asked for a copy, so I thought I would share it here. The following is my talk from a few weeks ago:
When Caroline invited me to speak, I decided I wanted to say something relating to this year’s theme which was — belonging. As I thought about it, I soon became interested in the relationship between “fitting in” and “belonging.” There have been many times in my life when I didn’t feel like I fit in.
I remember the cafeteria at the Turkey Hill Middle School. There was this one table where the most popular, most attractive, members of my class would sit. Nobody came out and told me I couldn’t sit at that table, but it was clear to me that I didn’t quite fit in.
During the summer before my freshman year of high school, my family moved to Cape Cod. I was on the Cape, all summer, with no friends. What an awesome way to walk into your first day of high school, knowing no one. My family also ended up moving during the middle of my junior year of high school. I went from a school of a few hundred students to a school of around 2000. I had a hard time fitting in.
My parents made me go to church every Sunday. To be honest, I didn’t really feel like I fit in with the church crowd. In some ways I did, but I didn’t like singing hymns. I tended to get bored in worship. I know nobody here has that problem. The kids I liked hanging out with in school, didn’t go to my church. I always felt a little bit like a fish out of water.
After college, I ended up going to seminary which is three years of graduate school. Talk about not fitting in. I went to college to be a gym teacher. I took courses in weightlifting, archery and badminton. In seminary, I was required to read a book titled A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.
I remember reading that title and thinking, “What? Are you kidding me?” I had to sit in class and discuss Immanuel Kant’s A Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics with people who were really smart and people who studied philosophy and the Bible in college, not badminton.
I’m guessing most people have times in their life when they don’t fit in. You may be in that place right now, but here’s what I think. I think fitting in isn’t the point. Jesus didn’t fit in. He didn’t fit in with the Pharisees or the Sadducees. This was a guy who had the ability to walk on water, for Pete’s sake! People must have seen him as a little odd.
Not only that, but he sought out people who did not fit in. Who’s familiar with Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. Everybody hated tax collectors. He was also short in stature. Personally, I don’t hold that against him, but it meant that when Jesus passed through town, Zacchaeus couldn’t see him on account of the crowd. So, Zacchaeus climbed a tree.
Not only did Zacchaeus not fit in on account of his occupation and the fact that he was particularly short, but being up in a tree meant he was physically separated from the rest of the community. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”
You’ll have to read the story for yourself. Suffice it to say that after some conversation with Jesus, Zacchaeus repented of his wrongdoing and in response, Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.” Zacchaeus did not fit in for a number of reasons, but he belonged. Jesus went out of his way to make it known.
I’m thinking that fitting in doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with belonging. You might not fit in, but you can still belong. In fact, in my life, it’s the people who haven’t exactly fit in that have made life interesting. I have an adopted cousin who is African American. At every family reunion, he is the only black person among dozens and dozens of white people. In a way, he doesn’t fit in, but he has belonged since day one.
Before I sit down, I’d like to say something about Caroline. When I came to New Canaan, I wasn’t sure if I would fit in. You might think I would automatically fit in because I’m a minister, but that’s not how it works. There are lots of reasons why a person might not fit into a community.
I still don’t know how I fit, but Caroline has a way of making a person feel like they belong. That’s something I appreciate about her and about the youth groups she and Kim Case and Kelly Leather led this year. AND do you know who has the most responsibility for making our youth groups places of belonging? You! If you’re a member of one of our youth groups, it’s up to you to make everyone feel like they belong.
If you’re someone who doesn’t feel like you fit in, I say don’t even worry about trying to fit in. Don’t try to be like other people. Don’t surrender that which makes you unique and original in order to fit in somewhere. That is not what it’s about. You don’t have to fit in in order to belong. You belong because God made you just as you are.
This church doesn’t have to be a place where everybody fits in. In fact, I encourage you to do anything but fit in. However, this church is a place where everyone belongs. Whether you sit at the popular table or not, whether you are tall or short, gay or straight, whatever your gender or background, whether you fit in around here or not, you belong.
I hope The Congregational Church of New Canaan is a place you feel like you belong. Have a great summer!