What happens when doors do not easily open for a person, when he or she always feels pushed to the edges, left out, left behind, forced to look in from the outside? I had that conversation today with two very special and valued people – one a staff member and the other an active congregant. We discussed how when traditional groups refuse us entry, most of us will find someplace else to belong.
Check out the profiles of young persons from the U.S. who try to unite with foreign militant organizations. A large percentage are people who seemed to be (or worse, were branded as) misfits. When people have developmental challenges or alternate learning styles or out-of-the-norm relational skills, we sometimes tend to isolate them. Perhaps we do not intentionally reject them, we simply feel uncomfortable including them. Either way, the result is the same – that they feel closed out and pushed aside. And when that happens, there will always be other groups (often with less than honorable intent) who will receive them with open arms, affirm them, and make them feel (a) part of the new circle and thus (b) an enemy of the community that made no room for them. The leadership of militant and/or hate organizations are experts in preying on the vulnerable. Be they foreign extremist religious sects or American survivalists or the KKK, those organizations have always fed on people who feel unwanted and unwelcomed in more traditional populations.
It makes one wonder what the world might look like if we had ever taken The Jesus Model seriously. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He said. Make time and room for “the poor, the lepers, the harlots, the publicans, the beggars at the gate”... all those are words Jesus used and people Jesus cared for. He saw every individual as a child of God and, thus, as someone worthy of concern, compassion, and kindness. In fact, He was often criticized for sitting at the table with people whom others (even religious leaders) preferred to push away. But isn’t it conceivable that by sitting at the table with people, by acknowledging them and interacting with them and treating them as if they were not invisible, we protect ourselves and them against the potential of anger, recrimination, and violence? Every time we reject people, someone else will receive them. And that someone else may prey upon them, brainwash them, and send them back against us. Jesus understood that making friends is always wiser than making enemies.
I try to remind myself of that in daily human interactions. Not everyone will allow me to be their friend, and that’s okay. But may it never be for a lack of effort on my part. Whether we are talking family members, co-workers, classmates, neighbors, fellow church members, or strangers on the street, nothing is ever lost by at least being cordial and kind. But high prices may be paid when we choose to be aloof or dismissive.