As a child near Christmas time long ago I remember being mesmerized by the yearly showing of Rudolf the Red-Nose Reindeer. It first aired on December 6, 1964 when I was barely 5. When the cover pops off his nose Rudolph is found to be in "non-conformity" because his nose glows. Now we have a story. The part I loved the most was when Hermey and Rudolf run away, meet up with Yukon Cornelius, escape from the Abominable Snow Monster on an iceberg and arrive on the Island of Misfit Toys ruled over by a winged lion named King Moonracer. Ah…The Island of Misfit Toys. Any chance that lion could be a hint of Aslan from C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia? Is there any way that Island could be the church?


A photocopied sign was posted inside a church office. It was one of those humorous full-page slogans that people in different offices duplicate and pass among themselves. Most of us have seen this particular message, I suppose, but posted in a church office, the words took on a new meaning. There it was, taped to the wall behind a secretary's desk. The sign read, "You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps."    

There is something strange about the church. We are not just another club or civic organization. The church's view of reality is increasingly out of phase from a lot of prevailing views. In the church, we do and say things that do not always make sense to people on the outside. Here we are, gathered on the weekend, sitting in rows facing a bath, a table, a reading desk and something called a pulpit. The vast majority of the population is either sleeping, or doing a million "other better things to do." We come together on a morning to hear God’s Word. This is not to say we are better than or holier than… but rather to say that to some outsiders, it must look a little bit crazy.   Praying in church is the last thing many people would do on a Sunday morning. The strangeness of the church should be evident in the lives of its members the rest of the week.

In the Gospel of John Jesus prays to God from the upper room of the last supper as the hour of his death approaches. It’s a long meditative prayer taking up the entire 17th chapter. And because of the prayer's more elaborate, soulful nature, it serves as a window onto the close relationship between Jesus and the Father. Through it we can see the richness Jesus’ love for his disciples.

Perhaps the most impressive theme of his prayer is the juxtaposition of the disciples and "the world." A tension between the "church" and the "world" has occurred ever since.   That is, we are "in" the world, yet we are cautioned not to be “of” it. We arechosen "out" ofthe world; yet we are "sent" into it as Jesus’ people, what St. Paul would call the Body of Christ.

We in the Church should be a community of faith "distinguishable" from the people of the "world." In one of the most influential books I've read as a pastor, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon issue a strong summons for the Christian community to reclaim its "distinctiveness" by being the "Church of the Cross." They say:

"As Jesus demonstrated, the world, for all of its beauty, is hostile to the truth, Witness without compromise leads to worldly hostility. The cross is not a sign of the church's quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church's revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over these powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God's accountof reality more seriously than Caesar's"

Lately I have been thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke powerfully to deepest hurts and greatest hopes of our society. He still does. King confronted the evils of racism with a clear word of gospel justice. His work provoked allegations against his character and threats against his life. Yet he remained faithful to his vision until the day someone shot him. The key, as he said in a number of his speeches, was a certain maladjustment, a certain form of craziness. Consider how Kings words might apply to the way Christians seek to live in these sad and challenging times.

“There are certain things,” he said, “within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all [people] of good will to be maladjusted”.   “If you will allow the preacher in me to come out now, let me say to you that I never did intend to adjust to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never did intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I never did intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never did intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. And I call upon all [people] of good will to be maladjusted because it may well be that the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the maladjusted.”

Finally King said, "Let us be as maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth, who could look into the eyes of the men and women of his generation and cry out, 'Love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Pray for them that use you.” And so when we live in the world but not of it we come off looking a bit strange. So be it.

The church as the Island of Misfit Toys.   "You don't have to be crazy to work around here, but it helps," the sign says. Likewise, you don't have to be out of your mind to do the work of Jesus Christ, even though a faithful life can provoke the world to think of you that way. Faith can lead us out on a limb, but when we dare to go a little too far out we discover that that is where the fruit is.

Faithfully yours, Ross


For further reading:

Nicholas Kristof on What If Whites Were the Minority

 Jim Wallis Pastoral Letter to White Americans