Dr. Suess was brilliant. Even though I was ruthless with what moved to our downsized abode, our worn collection of Dr. Suess books made the cut. I grew up enjoying Dr. Suess and tried to pass my obsession to my kids. On one occasion I recall reading The Cat in the Hat to Ian and Becca, then after tucking them in, re-reading it by myself. Like a close friend, Dr. Suess provided familiarity and comfort.
Among my favorite Seuss stories has to be The Sneetches. For those of you uninformed…you missed out. Here is a synopsis.
The Sneetches – synopsis
The Sneetches are yellow bird-like creatures that lived on a beautiful beach. Some had green stars on their bellies and some did not. The star-bellied Sneetches contend “they’re the best Sneetches on the beaches.” They enjoy much fun and frivolity, excluding their plain-bellied-brethren.
Enter Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He has just the contraption that will solve their problem. The plain-bellied Sneetches pay just three dollars “eaches” to enter the machine, and come out the other end with stars upon “thars.”
For just a moment, all is well. But the original-starred-Sneetches maintain they are still the best. Opportunistic McBean to the rescue! For only ten dollars ‘eaches’, they can enter the machine and have that pesky star removed. Chaos ensues. The Sneetches get so caught up in adding or removing their stars in order to fit in that even they cannot keep track of who is who. Eventually, Sylvester McBean leaves with his pockets bulging.
The story ends…
"Then, when every last cent Of their money was spent, The Fix-it-Up Chappie packed up And he went. And he laughed as he drove In his car up the beach, “They never will learn. No. You can’t teach a Sneetch!” But McBean was quite wrong. I’m quite happy to say That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day, The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.”
I did a little research. The Sneetches, published in 1961, was written to teach children about prejudice and discrimination. Suess wrote the book to shed light on how different groups of people didn’t like each other during World War II.
Ahhh the lessons of history. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? The groups may have changed but our stereotypes, assumptions and judgements about others not like us seem to be as divisive as ever. The cliques we identified with in highschool served as the training grounds for our more sophisticated cliques as adults. It is no wonder.
We were created to BELONG
I believe we are hard wired with an innate desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. To belong. This deep longing drives our need for approval. It is so instinctual that we go to extraordinary lengths to acquire it. To fit in. We live in the right places, we enroll our kids in the right activities, we share the right ‘news’ stories on social media, we use the right language, we pass judgement on the the right people and we portray the right image.
In an effort to protect our precarious house of cards, we constantly compare ourselves which only feeds our inevitable insecurity. From dangerous street gangs to polite church lady gossip groups, a sense of belonging is foundational. The hollow sense of acceptance that we cobble together is nothing more than a flimsy star on our belly.
Division is everywhere
Last week I came across a partially spent gift card to Whole Foods. I decided to spend the rest of it. While in the salsa aisle, I bumped into someone I knew. After some chit chat, I said something like, “I’m a Trader Joes shopper. I can’t seem to find anything in here.”
Her response still reverberates… “Ah yes. Those Trader Joe shoppers are really just Whole Food shopper wannabees.” I bit my lip.
I wanted to scream. “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! YOU CLAIM STATUS BY WHERE YOU SHOP FOR GROCERIES?” It was absurd. And three days later I can’t seem to shake it. In a quick attempt to escape, I responded with an insincere chuckle and walked away.
My unique baggage
I’m a minister’s wife. It’s a title that carries baggage. Without saying a word, I can make people uncomfortable. Often a tennis partner will apologize to me for swearing after a bad shot. (As if I’m her conscience) I’ve been excluded from girls night out. (girls I knew from my church at the time, no less) It can be difficult for me to fit in. Because of my twisted sense of humor wouldn’t it be funny to watch others reactions if I suggested we pray before we started a tennis match. Or when meeting a girlfriend for coffee, I start quoting scripture to the Starbucks cashier? Can you imagine?
To Fit In
And then it hit me. Fitting in and belonging are not the same. Fitting in is to be chameleon like so you blend in. You adapt to the group. You become one of them. You learn the handshake. Our motivation runs so deep, that we sometimes deny who we really are just to find approval and be accepted. We laugh at the jokes, we join in with mean-spirited banter, we remain silent when we should speak up.
Belonging on the other hand, is to be accepted exactly as we are. Period. “While we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8b Only in Christ do we experience real BELONGING. It is as if we are Pre-approved. AS IS. No conditions. What a relief. We belong, NOW! Not if and when we understand the bible. Not if and when we clean up our language. Not if and when we donate to the church. We belong now. We’re part of the family of God. We are accepted as is; we’re one of the inner circle; all division is gone; peace is restored.
I love how this passage in Ephesians explains belonging. Here it is in the Message translation.
Ephesians 2:13-15 The Message (MSG)
11-13 But don’t take any of this for granted. It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything.
14-15 The Messiah has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.
If you aren’t noticing division in your slice of the world, may I suggest you may have insulated yourself from people not like you. That is a brilliant defense. It sure does un-complicate things. But unfortunately it misses the mark.
“In the World, but not Of the World”
I’ve heard it said we are to be “In the World but not of the World.” That means we can’t wash our hands of those people not like us. We can’t seclude ourselves from uncomfortable division. If you belong to Christ you have marching orders spelled out in Matthew 28:16-20 which is known as the Great Commission. It says we’re to GO… Consider it a directive to be ‘in the world.’
As Christians while we need to remain in the world, we must retain our distinctive kingdom character. We must refuse to fit in or conform or let the world press us into its mold. Romans 12:2 . Instead we’re to behave in a way that shows evidence to whom we belong.
Whose Side are you On?
You are either a Christian or you’re not. The Bible is clear. The world’s inhabitants are either under the influence of this cosmos with its deception and spell; or they belong to Christ and are under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is no neutral ground. The lines are drawn. If you belong to Christ, live like it! As I write those words, please know I’m looking in the mirror.
“They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love”
It was a song I learned as a child in Sunday School. Like fingernails on a chalk board those lyrics make me cringe. In my experience so often I want to scream NO THEY WON’T. Christians seem just as likely to be unloving as non Christians. No wonder the world is so confused.
We lose our way when we sit on the fence; when we’re fickle with which side we are on. We can’t be of two minds. Fit in sometimes and belong other times.
What God intended
Instead, the way I see it, God intended things to work differently. In Him we are secure. From a secure place of belonging, empowered by Christ, we’re able to radically love the world. When love is born from that fertile place, they WILL know we are Christians by our love.
From a secure place of belonging, we are able to love our star belly neighbors.
From a secure place of belonging, we recognize that the Lord has laid claim to everyone.
From a secure place of belonging, we realize that our vast differences fade away when we remember that we all are created in His image.
From a secure place of belonging, we’re able to love our enemies, acknowledging that Christ died for them as much as he died for us.
I don’t pretend to have it all figured out. But I’m certain of one thing. It starts with love. Think about it.