How Do We See Difference

On the way to the church today, I happened by a middle school student on their way to school. The person was walking alone in the opposite I was driving. The student had magenta hair, and I confess that it made me smile. As I get older, I find myself more open to the creativity of self-expression that I see. Beyond my initial reaction, I became concerned. I found myself hoping that there were people in this student’s world that likewise have made space for their personal expression. I thought back to my own middle school years in a small Michigan town. There was no space for individual expressions such as what I saw this morning. Conformity to the given expression of the time was enforced by fear and intimidation. Anyone who might have had a mind to step outside of the ‘accepted expectation’ was often the target of bullying and marginalization. This moment left me feeling sad. I long for the day when we will be able to effectively push back against that forced conformity.

The Church Is Culpable

The Church, and most faith communities have struggled with the whole concept of forced conformity. The balance between the integrity of the basics of faith and accountability for the expectations of the community has been challenging in every generation. Experience teaches us that the more a community is challenged, the more like it is to narrow the boundaries of what is acceptable. This narrowing has the impact of increasing the energy and the stakes of enforcing compliance. We see this in very stark terms today. Increasingly strident voices, who believe that they have the right to tell others who they should love or impose their own narrow views on gender identity are attempting to impose their will and perspectives on others. This is happening here in the United States and around the world. Some of these voices even question whether or not trans persons have a right to even live. The damage that is being caused throughout the human community is very real, and it is getting worse.

Standing in the Gap

When we see this relentless ‘othering’ of people all around us, we are now powerless to push back against it. Our text for Sunday gives us some crucial insight into the power that we do have. As Matthew tells this story of the paralytic, it goes against the grain of many of these healing stories. In so many cases, people who suffer from physical ailments that Jesus subsequently heals are alone. For a variety of reasons they are at the margins. The paralytic in this story isn’t alone. He might be subject to the same derision because of his ailment, but he has friends. The friends are not afraid to be painted with the associations that others might make. They band together with some level of hope to bring their friend to Jesus. They will not be deterred by any obstacles. This is powerful. As we think about the people who are being pushed to the margins today, are we willing to risk what others might think, in order to bring them in? Are we willing to ignore the efforts that others would make to judge our grace, mercy, and compassion in order to fulfill Christ’s higher call. Are we willing to embrace the basic humanity of people who sit outside of the forced conformity of a culture that fears difference?
Join us on Sunday as we wrestle with this thorny and very real issue in our community.