I will never forget the lesson I learned nearly 40 years ago, when I was a 5th grader at Conewago Elementary School just outside Hershey, Pennsylvania. Our township (school district) was rural, mainly made up of German immigrants and thus very white. Coble's and Risser's and Shaw's had been farming the land for many, many generations.
I can't remember our 5th grade teachers name, she was new and young and very pretty. It was 1972 and integration was making the headlines out in the world, that didn't seem to be an issue in our township, but somewhere along the line she decided that we needed to learn about what prejudice and segregation meant.
One morning she asked us to write our names on a slip of paper. After she collected them in a hat she informed us that she would draw 6 names out of the class and these people would be segregated all day. The six would sit in the back of the room, would eat separately in the lunch room and on the play ground, everyone was supposed to ignore them.
Of course my name was drawn. It killed me to sit in the back of the room, let alone behind a partition. But it was even harder on the play ground. My best friend, Lori, was vicious, joining the other girls in not just ignoring me, but teasing me as well. I didn't make it through the end of the day, I ended up not only in tears, but physically ill. My mom was called to take me home. I went straight to bed.
I faintly remember my teacher trying to debrief us on what happened. I remember being surprised that everyone else could just go back to the way things were before the 'experiment'. The experience left an indelible mark on me.
I can't imagine living segregated/prejudice against day after day after day...throughout my life I have tried to include everyone, to find common ground and to give others room to be who God created them to be.
And yet...I remind myself that in many ways I segregate myself - we all do. We hesitate entering into authentic relationship with others, we separate ourselves from friends and family because of misunderstandings or shame, and even worse, we deny ourselves the love of God - often times because we think that we are unworthy of God's love.
We base our expectations about God and God's love on our human experiences, just being human means that we are broken, and in need of transformation and redemption. But often times we are so hard on ourselves...much to our own detriment.
I know in my head that God's love is extravagantly given and readily available. God does not give to us as the world gives to us - God's love is abundant. And yet - I think one of the main reasons we have for not accepting this love and internalizing it is because we judge ourselves unworthy - or we have no concept of what authentic love looks like.
I don't have all of the answers, I am a fellow traveler on this journey of life. I agree with Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr who teaches that as much as we desire to avoid suffering, it is through our suffering that we learn the greatest lessons about God's love and care for us...and how we can love and live authentically.
It is hard, however, after years of hearing that we are to avoid (or manage) our sin or avoid suffering that there is a better - more holistic - way to look at things: We come to God much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. God absolutely leveled the human playing field by using our sins and failures to bring us to divine union. This is surely the most counterintuitive message of the Gospels—so counterintuitive that it largely remains hidden in plain sight. (Richard Rohr http://cac.org/dm-themes)
I think of this as the rhetoric heats up in this election season. I ponder this as my denomination struggles with a wide variety of issues that could very well bring us to schism. I also look at my own life and wonder how I will live into the growing edges that I am facing as a woman, mother and pastor. I ask myself how this informs my teaching and preaching - and I realize I have a whole lot to learn yet about God and about love.
Just some thoughts for the day,