On Thursday a Grandma who had come to school to pick up her three-year-old grandson asked him who I was when I spoke to them in the hall in passing. He responded matter-of-factly, “That’s Pastor Marcia. She lives in the chapel.” I was pleased he associated me with chapel. I was surprised to hear him say I lived there!
Later that same day I saw someone who was familiar but whom I couldn’t place. I puzzled over it like a dog with a bone. “Where have I seen her before……? Is she a school parent? Was she at the Waxahachie Project meeting? Oh, wait! I remember now. She works at the pharmacy. Whew. That’s why she looks familiar!”
I was bothered until I had a setting in which to place her. Once I had that setting I knew how she fit into my circle of familiar faces and I quit trying to figure out who she was.
The three-year-old and I were both organizing our worlds by putting people in their places in ways that made sense to us. When we know who is who and what is what, our world feels safer and more predictable and we have a sense of safety and control. We also have a better handle on our own identity when we can put others in life’s landscape in relationship to ourselves.
Religion is another one of the ways people (us) make sense of their (our) world. Religion helps us identify right and wrong. It provides stories of ancestors. It lays out a framework for expectations. It helps us move toward purpose. We become part of something that is greater than ourselves.
Religion also helps identify who is like us and who is not like us……who is other. In this way it frames belongingness. But it also puts barriers up between those like us and those who are other. If we don’t grow up our thinking stays tribal and only our group matters. Our group must win. Our group is more righteous and more superior than other groups. This is sports team spirit writ large and applied to our state, our political in-group, our religion and our nation.
This is natural. But, if we don’t mature in our thinking and grow up in our spirituality, we are in danger of framing others as evil, enemy, or demonic. What, then, do we do with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, his story of the mustard seed, or his insistence that we love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us?
Boundaries help us organize people by place, help us keep ourselves safe, and make sense out of our world. Yet Jesus spent his life overturning barriers, extending boundaries, and upending everything people understood about the kingdom of God.
I hope your faith and your experience with church is overturning barriers and causing you to stretch and grow in your faith and in your humanity. Ultimately, our identity rests, not in our differences, but in the unity of the Body of Christ as it becomes the gathered family of God.
Rev. Marcia Hagee
She graduated from Duke University and the University of Missouri-Columbia studying Psychology and Religion. She earned her M. Div at Phillips Theological Seminary and was ordained by the Oklahoma Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).