“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
One of my favorite collections of commercials is that of the insurance company Pemco, based out of Seattle as I understand it, which has a series of commercials that gently pokes fun of various stereotypes of people in the Northwest (including clueless people who are not from around here that have found themselves here for one reason or another), letting everyone know, whether they are an Oregon beachcomber or a Walla Walla Wine Wine Woman Woman, or perhaps even an alpaca herder , that they are “one of us.” Besides being spot-on and genuinely hilarious, these commercials serve an intriguing social purpose in pointing to an ideal of acceptance of people in all their quirks.
For me, the question of belonging is fraught with many concerns and anxieties. For a variety of reasons, including painful life experience, a somewhat provocative personality, and other assorted influences, I have always felt like an outsider no matter where I have been . Even in situations where I could have become an insider were I more skilled as a courtier (something I have little interest or skill in), I have always felt it abhorrent to participate in political games and competition of that kind of fashion. I have seen enough of the world that I think I would be out of place in some fashion no matter where I was and in whatever time period. I have not yet come across a place or time where I would be an ordinary person, so I suppose that being a lovable but eccentric sort of person is all that is available to me as my place in the world.
My own thoughts about tolerance and acceptance, as might be expected, are somewhat complicated and nuanced. It is my belief that people, as people, should be loved and cared for no matter who they are and no matter what their quirks. It is also my firm belief that behaviors and attitudes that are wicked need to be dealt with and overcome. The complexity comes in that these two views are widely seen as being in contradiction to each other, though in reality they are only in tension, of the sort of tension that leads to moral growth and development. It is very easy to err on the side of believing that loving and respecting others means not disagreeing with any of their decisions, and also very easy to believe that the behavior and mindset of others absolves us of the command we have been given to love and honor even our enemies, even those who slander us and persecute us. It is easy for us to be so enamored with tough love that we forget the need to be tender, or to naturally be so tender that we fail in our responsibility to be tough at times and about the right matters.
Balance is a difficult matter, and this is true both on the individual and the collective levels. Just as it is hard for each of us as people to strike the right balance between a crusading moral fervor against evil and a compassionate love that binds the wounds of those who have been broken by an evil world and makes the outsider at home, it is hard for institutions and societies to keep the same balance as well. At different times and different situations we must examine whether (or both) an open demonstration of love and acceptance or a quiet and firm moral rebuke is necessary. Our firm commitment to both manners of behavior might be difficult for others to understand and relate to, but it ought to be connected to our genuine commitment to both mercy and judgment.
It ought to reflect, furthermore, a genuine tension that exists in the actions of God towards us. On the one side, we have the loving concern and deep longing of Jesus Christ for his people in Matthew 23:37: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under wings, but you were not willing!” On the other side, we have the obvious disciplining of God, talked about in Hebrews 12:5-7: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Eternal, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Eternal loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten. Yet even this chastening is followed by loving concern, as in Hebrews 12:12-14: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Here again we see these mutual obligations of obedience and compassion combined together, rather than being pitted together between mutually hostile social gospels and calls or personal morality, as if God was pleased with one with the absence of the other.
Moreover, our Heavenly Father deliberately calls a wide variety of people into His family, and this has always been the case. As Isaiah 56:6-8 reads: “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Eternal, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Eternal, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Eternal God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.” God has always had a concern with the outcasts and the stranger and giving them an honored place. Nor is this any less true for Christians today, as it is written in Matthew 25:34-36: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” It is clear, from the scriptures that God identifies with the outsider and longs for them to be brought inside, to be accepted and loved.
Why then is it so hard for us to do so? How does a fervent concern with the outsiders and the outcasts in a theoretical level become indifference or even hostility on the practical level? Perhaps it is often a matter of finding it difficult to see Jesus in the people we happen to meet. Outsiders are often somewhat skeptical of others, and often have a life experience that includes a fair amount of betrayal and abuse, eroding their trust in others. Besides that, they will almost certainly have their quirks and odd ways, without the familiarity or the time taken to get to know others well and make their ways understandable. Yet, the Bible is clear that the people of God are like Him, a little different, whether we happen to be in the Pacific Northwest, or anywhere else. I suppose that by not fitting in we belong among God’s people after all, as strange as that may seem.
 See, for example: