May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
-Romans 15:5-7 (NIV)
|Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune|
In the Chicago Tribune this week, Barbara Brotman described coming across a game of Marshmallowball in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. The kids were playing in the street - actually in an intersection, with each corner one of the four bases. They were using an aluminum baseball bat, but some of the other rules were different - including the fact that the ball was a jumbo marshmallow. (Marshmallows go far enough when you hit them with a bat, but not too far.)
Brotman noted that kids of all ages were playing. If the younger ones had trouble hitting, the older ones would help them out. She reflected that the once common sight of kids playing ball in streets or vacant lots had become less common as organized leagues and other activities fill summer days. She ended her article, “the kids will look back on this as the summer of the marshmallows — the year they played in the street, spending hours smacking sticky white gobs into the air as the cars slowed and the fireflies flickered and everyone became friends, and summer and marshmallowball will last forever.”
The marshmallowball article got me into the Wayback Machine, thinking about my own version of marshmallowball. We played in an intersection, too, though in later years we had to move the fences back to prevent an explosion in home runs. (We never thought to launch an investigation into performance enhancing drugs.) Our game started out as baseball, actually, when we were little kids, but it evolved when we were a little older after Todd Holden lined one foul through the Barnes’ living room window. After that, we played tennisball, which like marshmallowball is pretty self-explanatory.
Brotman’s article reminded me of how we’d shout “car” whenever one came by. (Often, one of us would shout, as the car passed, “What do you think this is, a street?!” Pretty clever, we were.) We weren’t as busy as a lot of kids are now, I guess. But we never got tired of playing tennisball. If somebody had to go home, we’d just adjust the teams to keep things fair. If there were just a few of us, we’d use ghost runners.
I’m not going to tell you that we were always so accepting, but anyone was welcome on the tennisball...field? Court? Whatever. The weird kids. The uncoordinated kids. The little kids. Even the girls (and later, especially the girls). We didn’t have strikeouts; there was more a generally-agreed upon time limit for each hitter per turn. The older ones would help the younger ones, too, and no one really cared how good or bad anyone was. (The one attempt we made in about 1979 or 1980 to keep stats ended in failure because no one really cared enough to remember to keep track.) I don’t remember arguing much over the score of the game, because in the end the score didn’t matter. There were no playoffs, no championship; the next day, both teams were 0-0 again. We had something to do. We got exercise. And, most importantly, we got to know each other. We laughed, and enjoyed being together. We discovered that, even if we couldn’t be friends everywhere, we were friends there. I still remember those kids, the things we did, the things we said. I can still see the view from under that streetlight, standing at the crushed Coke can that served as home plate, bat in hand, my friends covering bases or cutting up or leading off a base. (We did have some arguments about leading off...)
I’m reminded of Paul’s demand that we accept each other, and how some people never have a place where they know they’ll fit, and be welcome, and won’t be judged by their appearance or their performance or whatever. It’s not getting any easier to find, either. The busier we get, the more task-oriented groups we belong to, the more likely we are to lose the art of accepting others - and the joy of just being accepted.
But believers in Jesus never lose the ability to accept. All we have to do, when we forget, is to think about Jesus. He was never so busy that he didn’t have time to welcome someone who was hurting, or have a meal with someone everyone else shunned, or bounce a child on his knee. He could talk with hair-raising intensity about God’s judgment, but he befriended sinners and always believed that redemption was right around the corner for them.
And he accepted us, didn’t he? It’s an article of faith among us that he died for our sins, and that in his resurrection he offers us redemption and new life. No matter what we were, what we still can be when our fallen natures have their way, he welcomes us with open arms, love, and grace. He calls us his friends. Invites us to be with him.
So you know how to accept, and you know some people who need acceptance. You know they’re withering and dying, you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices, and they just desperately need someone to accept them, to notice them, with whatever baggage they may carry, and still be their friend. Unless you’ve been in that place, you can’t imagine what it will mean to that person to have one human being acknowledge their worth and look at them with acceptance and not rejection.
You can only see it with some people though. Others cover it pretty well. They’re self-sufficient, seemingly. They function at a high level. They’re admired for their achievements, feared for their power, honored for their excellence. From the outside, it looks like everyone loves them. But they’re dying, too, because no one loves them for who they are. There isn’t a soul who knows them for who they really are and loves them. Their worst fear is that they’re unlovable. Unacceptable.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell. So, as those who know what it is to be accepted without qualification, let’s make it our mission to accept others. Let’s tell and show the people in our lives that they matter, that they’re valuable, just because they’re made in God’s image. Let’s assume, with every person we meet, that if we don’t accept them, no one will. Because that really might be the case. Nothing is a greater witness to the gospel, to the redemptive power of God in Christ Jesus, than for one person to accept another with no strings, no expectations, no hidden agenda.
Just like in marshmallowball. Except, you know, with less stickiness.