David Hayward, aka as the Naked Pastor posted a cartoon recently (see above). This cartoon spoke to me, and I am beginning to understand why I resonate with it, and it is for deeply personal reasons.
Confession time. I feel like a square peg, and I have all my life. For most of my life, I have felt like an outsider. I have always been a closet leader, a bit of a free thinker inspired by big ideas and deep empathy. I seemed to be able to see things from different perspectives, find humour in some irreverent ways and have always been empathetic and as a result, I found myself on the outside. The weirdo, the geek, you get the idea. Shame and rejection were constant companions - why couldn't I just fit in?
I've tried to be a round peg, and I was never happy. I have always wanted to fit in, and there were times in my life where I tried hard but in doing so, I lost myself. For those times in my life when I pretended to be a round peg and would find a place within the desired community, it came with a trade-off. It was like I could never be me. At various seasons, I admit in alcoholic haze or religious pageantry I lost sight of who I was and found myself taking up the identity of the group - a mask. Whether it was booze, scrapping and living a country music song or playing the religion game with its orthodoxy, its exclusions and prohibitions I found that I exchanged one loneliness for another.
One of the constant themes in almost every "prophetic word" or encouragement I have received in my Christian life has been around being on the fringes, outside the camp. One such that keeps coming back was Hebrews 13:12:
Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood...
The idea that God has called me outside the camp, outside of the established institutional Christian camp so that I can relate to and proclaim the love of God to those who also find themselves outside the camp. Those people who like me, are square pegs and don't fit into a round hole church system. Quite serendipitously I have found myself tripping into this most of my religious life but feeling terribly conflicted, and at times, unchristian, un-orthodox in a theological sense and a "flaming liberal" (when that was the worst thing in the world I could be!). Truth be told, I have always felt most comfortable, safest with people outside the camp but the idea that I needed to be in the camp was hard for me to shake.
For those of you who have read my book "Becoming Love. Avoiding Common Forms of Christian Insanity" you are familiar with my bigger story and how God deconstructed my theology, my view of God, love, justice, mercy, and even the very way that I do church. This deconstruction while very strange and scary at times was also very rich. I had the opportunity to explore and experience some of the threads and themes I was wrestling with and managed to earn a Masters degree at the same time. I was also able to do some deeper exploration of me. I was able to explore myself with some dear friends who helped me uncover who I was. They helped at the beginning of the journey to excavate myself from the religious, social and cultural graffiti that I was hiding / lost behind. They helped me through various tools like the work of David Keirsey and the Enneagram to come to understand who I was created to be. To understand my personality and the strengths and challenges of my personality. In excavating this, it has brought a great deal of freedom to be me. I have discovered (continuing process) what Christ would look like and do if he was like me.
For most of my ministry, I have found myself tripping into people and situations that were often considered outside the camp. Whether it was a youth group almost exclusively of rough unchurched teens or finding myself connecting, encouraging and loving folks with mental illness, addictions, broken marriages, the elderly, those with dementia - rich and poor alike. I have been delighted to build friendships with new-agers, agnostics, witches, pro-choice advocates and gay, lesbian and transgender folks. I have found myself becoming good friends with foul-mouthed truckers, tough and hardened bikers and even lawyers! For most of these people, they never considered the church and its Jesus as a place for hope and healing. The most common thread for all these people is the belief that they too were disqualified from heaven, and that they too were rejected by God. People who have come to believe that they are excluded. Square pegged people and a round hole religion.
Jesus demonstrates over and again that he has no problems colouring outside the lines of religious orthodoxy. There are many stories of Jesus causing no end of scandal among the religious elite by forgiving sins, healing, touching the lepers, hanging out with tax collectors and a Samaritan woman to name but the few. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the captives; Jesus came for those that the religious system of the day failed time and again.
Jesus tells a story about a King, who is throwing a wedding feast and invites all the "best" people, only to have them all come up with lame excuses as to why they cannot attend. So the King instructs his servants to go into the hi ways and by-ways and invite the square pegs to attend instead. The wedding feast was full!
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. - Mt 22:10 NRSV
Advocates of the round hole argue that there is a narrow path - a narrow round hole. Perhaps the narrow path isn't narrow in the way we have often thought - Christ isn't as small as we make him. We need to free ourselves from our individualistic, moralistic reading of scripture as this wasn't the context in which they were written. The narrow way is not narrow as in a pencil line or balancing on a rail; rather it speaks of compacting, like a funnel. The narrow way is the Jesus way - learning to love your neighbours as Jesus has loved us knowing that Jesus is our righteousness. The narrow way is the way of inclusive, self-giving love. It is certainly not in giving intellectual assent to a set of doctrines, paying homage to leaders or brand or playing the political, violent, financial game of the world - even when it is adorned in religious finery. In fact, it requires that we lay down our baggage to pass through the narrow way; our pride, our elitism, our political, financial and religious finery.
Sadly, much of institutional religion is maintained by elitism, works righteousness, exclusion and scapegoating. Thank God these people aren't the final arbitrators of whose in and whose out. We are all in need Jesus, whether we understand that need or not, even religious folks. Truth be told there are many within the church who are square pegs trying so very hard to be round ones and sometimes this makes us rigid, fearful, and sometimes defensive and aggressive.
From one square peg to another... The good news is square pegs and round pegs alike are welcomed through the gate of Jesus. God is the God of the outcast and downcast, the screw-ups and the burnouts, the ones who don't fit - the square pegs and the round ones - religious or otherwise.