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Monday, February 18, 2013

Who Is In Your Group?

ex·clu·sion:a keeping apart; blocking of an entrance.

I wonder how many times I have kept a person apart from me whom I could have loved instead. How many times have I excluded? The creepy power of exclusion is that when I'm doing it,  I am foolish enough to feel justified. Such as, "she does drugs, so I'll stay clear of her." (she could hurt my family.) Or, "I have seen her yelling at her kids too many times," (so she is out of control and could hurt my family.) Or "That child is spoiled or watches to much tv, or he is a bully, or he makes too much trouble" (so my kid isn't going to spend time with him...I'm doing what is best.) Or "she doesn't even smile at me so I don't want to get to know her." Or "she cheated on her husband" or "she snubbed me at that party"... or...well, you get it. Judgements can seem well-founded to that ugly portion of my heart that quietly pounds away, blocking the entrance to ME...  Judgement and exclusion is a blood clot or sticky plaque growing in my arteries, quietly disconnecting me from life and from love. The definition above says it well-- exclusion (which I'm realizing, to me, is the equivalent of judgement) pulls us all apart. It is love's enemy. God's enemy.

The common thread that I have discovered in almost all of my judgement, my need to exclude, is FEAR. Fear for my family's safety and well-being, fear for my reputation, fear of not being loved, fear of being hurt, fear of being disappointed. Fear that God is not really taking care of me and this world.

Why write about this today? Lately wherever I have looked, I have seen exclusion. Well, I haven't just see it-- it has screamed at me. And the echos of those screams haven't escaped my mind. So here I write. I believe that I recognize judgement and exclusion more clearly today than ever before because of my struggles as a parent of a special needs child. I have parented a child whom, at times, in many places, people have drawn away from. It has been a quiet, life-sucking with drawl. My family has felt painfully excluded. Judged. But ironically, this experience of exclusion has blessed us enormously-- maybe more than any other aspect of parenting. I can relate to SO many more people today. I can love more. And the door to my heart is very much more open.

When I was in elementary school, I remember my first experience with exclusion when I saw a large, sweet, awkward, glasses-wearing boy getting punched and teased by a group of classmates. I remember yelling and running at the perpetrators. I was that kind of girl. Overly confident. But there was something in my gut that was disgusted with what I saw. At least when I saw it so clearly as at that moment. Maybe it was my selfish fear that I could be that boy some day. 

In college, I joined a sorority. I thought it was a decent way to make friends and go to fun parties. I was later upset when I learned that during the "rushing" process, we were required to score potential new members based on their appearance. I remember another sorority sister asking me if I had rated the girl in the "porkadots." I wanted to vomit. Don't get me wrong, I was (and am) not above judging others (as pointed out earlier.) But to actually have it written on a score sheet (where I couldn't avoid the truth), and to exclude along with a large group of women, brought this issue into the spotlight for me.  I couldn't look. I went inactive shortly after. It was then that I started to think about exclusion-- exclusive friendships, groups, clubs, and how much they worried me. Something, maybe it was God, was pulling me in a different direction.

But we all still do it. We try to find people who are like us. We pull away from people who are not. Our groups might not have names or scorecards, but we have them. We hang out with people who dress like us, or who dress "different" and therefore like us. People who share our faith, or lack of faith. People who have similar parenting styles. So what is the big deal?

The big deal is this--people do not love others if they exclude them...if they don't let them in to their group. If they think they are from a "different group." For example, in Marin, we sadly neglect our homeless family population. I have learned that our neglect is largely because we do not believe there are many homeless people. And when we do learn that homeless families really exist (hundreds of them), we judge them, creating distance from our (wealthy, successful) community to theirs.

I am not that different from a homeless mom. If my husband lost his job and one of us became ill (common background of a homeless family) we could become homeless.When I get to know homeless moms, my similarity to them becomes evident... if I let them into my "group", and they let me in to theirs. I have been blessed with powerful lessons from homeless families about strength, grace and resilience.

Or divorced families-- I just spoke with a separated, lovely mom who is suffering from shock and isolation after her husband left her and her children. She is not much different from me, but right now she might feel that she is. How does one cope when a family suddenly breaks apart? With raising children alone? And watching families going on vacation to Tahoe this week, while she copes alone...She sees distance. Where is her group? She is like me. She could be me. She is part of my group. She has shown me my blessings and how little I deserve them.

Or what about the GBLT community? My husband and I have a couple of gay relatives. We have often talked about how much courage it must take to admit to being so different from what our "mainstream" society proclaims is acceptable. From what some Christians proclaim to be sinful behavior. I am not so different from a gay person. Human sexuality is a giant, scary thing to me. Men scare me (except for my husband, of course.) I do not claim to understand human sexuality, nor can I judge others for their experience with it. Though I am heterosexual, I am part of the same group as those who are GBLT. I love my partner, whom I'm blessed to have as my husband, with all my heart. I love him just as many in the GBLT world love their partners. I can't imagine having to hide that fact.

Or let's consider those kids who can be challenging to be around because of their "imperfection" or their special needs-- like my son? I can write about this today because we don't feel so excluded at the moment. We have found our group, though it may be scattered and small. And maybe because we have looked a little harder than most, we have found beautiful, genuine people to spend time with.... But I can tell you...if you are a parent, you are not that different from me, either. Not so different from me, the parent with the challenging child. And your kid-- he or she is not that different from my child. He is not perfect. He can be a pain in the rear-end. But, guess what, he or she deserves to be included and loved, anyway. At least that is what God says. He or she will enrich many lives if given the opportunity to connect. If the exclusion is lifted. If he or she can taste differences and love them.

This world has all sorts of colors, bright, faded, torn. I pray that one day we can weave them together. All pathways open. All part of the same group. We will make a beautiful land.

"The central tenet of Christianity as it has come down to us is that we are to reach out when our instinct is to pull inward; to give when we want to take; to love when we are inclined to hate; to include when are tempted to exclude."
Jon Meacham 


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