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Sunday, December 23, 2018

No Room at the Inn: the Shame of NOT BELONGING

A few weeks ago, a former student whom we know wrote a post about growing up in her multicultural world, and used the phrase "the shame of not belonging".  That phrase jumped out at me. Sure, there is pain in not belonging. But shame? The more I thought about it, the more it resonated. The world keeps us in line by shaming deviance. If you don't belong, then you are made to feel it is because of something wrong with you.

For instance, we landed in America on Saturday. Mostly we are back and forth so often, and we grew up here, so we know how to fit in. But 25 years is a long time to miss the small trends (toilet paper squares with scalloped edges, pretty cool . . .) and fall out of step with some of the larger ones (the sense of persecution and injustice felt by people who are in a pretty solidly powerful and comfortable position, for instance). A minor example caught my attention--my family knows that The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is one of our favorite books; we have traditionally read it aloud while camping in a game park over a December holiday. This year the Children's Theatre of Charlotte put on a musical rendition of the book.  It was professional and moving from start to finish, great costumes, sets, singing, orchestra.  A story that never fails to get to the heart of grace, and done with entertaining beats. Now I have not been to a theatre other than school productions in a couple of decades.  So towards the end, I took a photo on my phone, which is what I would do for an RVA high school show, to honor those performing and post something positive. Only this time, a green light bounced off my phone. It took me a while to figure it out. Photos are not considered positively in the professional Children's Theatre. Someone in the back was holding a laser to shame anyone who held a phone. I was embarrassed to be so foolish as to not know the accepted norms. I was out of step with the rules. And I felt the shame of not belonging.

That started me thinking: sure, being without a room at the Inn was inconvenient, messy, anxiety-provoking, a hardship. But perhaps for Joseph and Mary, it was also shameful. Perhaps they were considered too marginal, too poor, too young, too unknown. Perhaps the whispered rumors of their pregnancy-before-the-official-wedding preceded them and led respectable inn-keepers to prioritize other customers. Perhaps Joseph was made to feel he should have planned ahead better. Or Mary was suddenly aware that other families had cousins to welcome them in, so how could they claim Bethlehem yet be left on the street? Being relegated to a barn was not just uncomfortable, it perhaps felt like a verdict on who they were. Unworthy.

And yet, if God wanted equally shamed and marginalized shepherds to witness the good news, where else could the baby be for them to be allowed access? The place of shame, of the periphery, of the stable, was also the place where anyone could approach.

I am mother to four adult (well, the fourth is only 3+ months away from that official milestone) children who have experienced the shame of not belonging much more regularly that I. For all the kids who have been pierced by the unkindness meant to wound with shame, let us remember that Jesus was born on the edge. That God sent the best news of several millennia into a place where anyone could approach. Into a space of shared not-quite-acceptably-in-line-ness, so that all could approach. To a family that, while of a diffusely connected lineage, had a low social status and little economic or political security.

The baby in the manger is a picture of NOT BELONGING, of a shocking outsider, poverty status that embraced the majority-world experience in a way that 21rst century North Americans may struggle to grasp.

The antidote to shame is love. This Christmas let us try to remember the core message: that the Creator of the Universe risked humanity to live our life, die our death, and open the door to resurrection, leaving shame behind forever.  We belong.

With my mom and sister last week at church in Matthews

We met up with Greg and Beth Farrand, 20 1/2 years after evacuating from rebels together

Julia's host family in Greensboro

Dear friends, the Spangler family, part of our original intended Bundibugyo team, though our paths diverged when war started. Truly still kindred spirits.

With my sister's family in NC

Seeing spectacular lights in NC

At my mom's for brunch

Julia's fellow fellows in Greensboro

With Julia touring her sustainable gardens with spiritual purpose too

My mom with 3/4 of her grandchildren 

An evening Advent gathering for 27 of my childhood friends

We arrived in WV yesterday--stop one, groceries, stop two, tree

Sago Baptist had the BEST Christmas Pageant this morning.  Really.

Right now, a peaceful night as snow falls and 3 kids are on the way to Pittsburgh to pick up the 4th.

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