Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Being a Minority: Celebrating Being Different

The church, my church history professor used to say, was run by "good little boys and girls" who enjoyed following and enforcing rules. At the time, I remember thinking that his comment was a little harsh-- but after 20 years, I'd have to concede that he had a point.

Church can be a lot like high school-- only you never graduate: peer pressure rules all, and leaders are simply those who have the natural or delegated authority to enforce what peer pressure decrees.

Maybe that's why this course of being a minority comes more naturally to me-- I never fit into the mold of my peers. Every minority struggles with this same reality. We are the natural exceptions to the rules-- rule-breakers by our just being who we are. And in a culture where breaking the rules is the worst form of behavior, we easily find ourselves on the outside looking in.

This experience is frighteningly new to the good little boys and girls of conservative/evangelical conviction in the PC(USA). It is rather like the quarterback and the head cheerleader being shunned-- those who have without a thought assumed a position of power are forced to think by such turns of events.

The major mind shift that must occur is to embrace the gift of being different, even if--especially if!-- the majority shuns you. I had a chance to visit a foreign land a couple of months ago at a very prestigious country club north of the Trinity. The co-chair of the PNC that called me to OCPC had been invited, and as usual gave me a chance to go with her. She loves to introduce me as her "other" son, and watch the confusion as people look at me (so caucasion my skin is almost transparent), and look back at her, beautiful and black.

We walked into a group of people I would have rather run away from, and she simply began introducing herself. In each pair of eyes read the words, "who are you and what are you doing here?" And Opal simply smiled and talked normally to them, meeting their unspoken peer pressure with the assurance, "here I am. I am me. I am different, and I'm proud of being different." She didn't ask their permission-- she didn't need it. We weren't there to disrupt anything; we weren't trying to cause a scene. We were just being who we are.

So, conservative/evangelical brothers and sisters, it is our turn to be different. There's no need to make a scene, or respond to the spoken or unspoken peer pressure around us. Just smile, take your place at the table and be who Christ is calling you to be.

It's amazing how liberating it can be, even for good boys and girls, to learn that conformity is just another passing human power. If we just take responsibility for our own discipline and demonstrate a different way of living in the midst of people who do not like it or understand what we are doing, we may have done more for the cause of Christ than all that we have ever preached or taught.

Our real witness to Christ is not what we say or what position we hold. Our real witness is who we are. Christ has made all the difference in my life-- I am not who I was. If that makes me stand out awkwardly, I hope to be able to summon Opal's grace and calmly BE what Christ has made me.

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