Three days a week, I teach art at an elementary school. Due to the recent rise of Omicron cases, my principal requested that all teachers maintain a seating chart in their classes. This was to enable her to easily identify students who might come in close contact with an infected student. In a week, I see 400 students for a total of 18 different classes equaling 18 different seating charts.
I knew that my students would not be enthusiastic about this plan. After a week of working with homeroom teachers to set up the seating charts, the day had come to implement the arrangements that we had made. I watched as my students entered the art room. I knew there would be sighs and “ughs,” but what I hadn’t anticipated were the verbal protests hurled towards fellow students. “Nerd.” “I can’t sit by him!” “She bothers me.” “I don’t like him!” “She’s so stupid!” Literally, children will say aloud how they feel about someone. There was no beating around the bush. That day they brought their attitudes, frustrations, opinions, and feelings right into the middle of my classroom.
I went to the marker board and wrote “respect” on it. We talked about what respect means and that I expect it to be exercised in my classroom. I hope that whether or not my students can color between the lines or know the difference between a primary color and a secondary color, they will know what it means to respect themselves, their fellow students, and their teachers.
My heart breaks daily. My school is filled with children who aren’t respected at home, so they don’t know how to respect someone else at school. Some are hungry and tired because their home isn’t a restful, nurturing place. Others hear abuse heaped on them by adults, so why should I expect them to be able to say kind things to their fellow students. The bottom line is that many of them don’t know what it feels like to be loved or to belong.
I thought about my students when I read Brian McLaren’s words from his book, We Make the Road by Walking. He reminded me that God’s love – the good news of the gospel - is for my students and people like them. It is for those who are broken, dirty, scared, mean, and hurting.
McLaren reminds us what a group of ragtag people the disciples were. These witnesses to the incarnation of the gospel left a lot to be desired. If I remember correctly, they once argued over a seating chart too! Despite their sometimes less than appealing demeanor, they were a part of the most beautiful movement of love that has ever come upon the earth.
"So fellowship is for scarred people, and for scared people, and for people who want to believe but aren't sure what to believe again, to hope again, to live again."
McLaren says, “The uprising of the gospel isn’t just for brave people, but for scared folks like [the disciples] who are willing to become brave. It isn’t just for believers, but for doubting folks like Thomas who want to believe in spite of their skepticism. It isn’t just for good people, but for normal, flawed people like you and me and Thomas and Peter.”
He goes on to say, “So fellowship is for scarred people, and for scared people, and for people who want to believe but aren’t sure what or how to believe again, to hope again, to live again.
The fact is that some of my students are a little nerdy. Some of them aren’t very kind. Some aren’t bright, and some of them do get on each other’s nerves – mine too. But they all belong. They belong in my classroom. They belong in this space where they can create and express themselves through art. They each deserve my love and attention. Most importantly, they all belong in the fellowship of God’s children.
I imagine that for each of us, there is a place where we feel left out of God’s grace and love. God calls us to come as we are – to bring our tired, nerdy self and plop right down in God’s grace. It really is for us. This love that we hear preached and proclaimed is for us – not just for the cleaned-up pretty people. Don’t sit on the outside. Step in and receive the love that God has to offer you. Be brave and belong.