It is interesting to think that our Savior’s life began in the midst of exclusion; that the one who was sent to bring God’s Kingdom together had to fight from the beginning just to open doors.
Joseph remained with Mary in an effort to keep her from being excluded. The young couple found themselves in a stable after they had been turned away by an innkeeper. The young family fled as the ruler sought to exclude every baby boy to hone in on the One. Until the day that he died, Christ fought against exclusion.
As a youth pastor, one of the biggest things I watch for in every gathering is that every youth member is able to take part in the activities. I look for the youth who is sitting alone or stepping to the outside of the group. I look for the group of teenagers who have formed a circle with backs to others. I urge our youth leaders to reach out to their peers as I see cliques forming. This can be difficult to do at times when there are 50 bodies moving around at the speed of light, but it is something that I think we all need to be sensitive to.
It seems that youth today spend almost all of their energy on seeking acceptance. Maybe they try to find this acceptance through their appearance or interests; I remember a spell in my own adolescence when I sought it by getting poor grades (my parents didn’t let that last long!). With all of the differences among them, however, this desire for acceptance is one of the few things they have 100% in common.
Several weeks ago as I rode the bus to take some of our children home, I remember asking them what their favorite part of the night was. Very quietly, almost lost in the chorus of “the games and crafts!”, one young boy said “my favorite part was being included.”
My heart stopped as I looked at the eyes of this sweet child. I asked him if he wasn’t usually included, “not all of the time” he whispered back. My heart ached and leapt for joy all at once. He was included! But why hasn’t he been before?
Matching interests and finding “perfect friends” for every youth that walks through our doors is incredibly difficult. As I continue to reflect on this young child’s comment, I wonder if I am going about inclusion the wrong way.
When we read the accounts of Christ’s ministry, despite the exclusion that he suffered himself, we don’t read about surveys he handed out to ensure that each disciple was compatible or that each person was worthy of his company. Instead, we read about the no-questions-asked sacrificial Love and inclusion of all. Christ didn’t look at appearance or interests, he didn’t ask qualifying questions before eating with the outcasts. Why do we spend so much time focusing on these little details?
In a broken and divided world waiting for that star of hope to shine once again, each one of us are seeking acceptance in some way – it isn’t just the kids. We all long to say that our favorite part was being included, yet we all struggle including.
I keep thinking about the incredible Love we celebrate during this season of Advent. I think about the words of hope that the young child offered that night on the bus. I think of the common joy shared among my youth each week, regardless of qualifiers. I think of God’s grace for all of us, sending us our Savior in the midst of exclusion and struggle, as we each find our way in this crazy journey. I pray that we might begin to live with one another the way that Christ lived- with little worry about qualifiers and reasons to walk with one another in our shared journeys.
How do you seek inclusion in your own life?
How do you help to ensure inclusion in your congregation?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M. Div. ’14)
Transitional Associate Pastor, Youth & Young Adults
Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian (Cary, NC)