By: Matt Gordon
It is a clichéd scenario. Standing there in a line, shoulder-to-shoulder. Waiting. Hoping. Dreading. The captains alternate picks, one name after another—choosing.
The timeless dread of the schoolyard pick reverberates in our souls: Please don’t be the last pick. Please don’t be the last pick. Please don’t be the last pick.
We feel this sinister rejection still, as we interview for jobs, eye promotions, see pics of a birthday party to which we weren’t invited. It is deep within us, nestled into our minds. Psychologists have tried to dig this part of us up—this dealing with rejection. What they’ve found, in part, is that the social pain of rejection remains more vividly a part of us than that of physical injury. Test it now: think about some incident that limped you into crutches or hurled you onto the surgeon’s table. Now, think about the last time you were passed over or left out. Only one of those is likely to keep you up at night, to linger over you and induce anxiety.
What we do with the hurt of rejection varies. Some of us get angry. We are quick to lash out, creating a pattern for others that influences their future behaviors: We better make sure to invite Matt to this meeting because the mess he’ll make if we don’t. Others of us cope. We do this through clinging, in times of rejection, to hobbies or addictions, great and small, or to “secure” relationships to mitigate the damages of feeling isolated. This seldom works effectively, of course, and can make us manic, flighty friends.
The saddest of all responses is the preemptive strike. Again, this is one that we’ve all experienced, rebelled against, or both. Our opening example serves well. Get picked last for kickball, and the next day at recess you opt for the swings instead—you find another option, a solo endeavor. We kick back and forth on the swing, in full view of the game below going on without us, trying desperately to convince ourselves that we didn’t want to play kickball. We hate kickball. Forget kickball—we don’t need it. I’m a swings person. Kickball, puh!
Of course, this doesn’t remain in the realms of recess. In our jobs we see the new position and the old fear creeps in. Someone asks if we are going to apply and we list our reasons why we aren’t, sounding almost too much like our is rehearsed. In general, to quote a Dave Matthews Band song, we “take these chances, and place them on the shelf until the quieter times.” But there are no quieter times. We choose a life of aversion. No risk means no risk—we can’t get picked last for games we don’t line up to play.
I think this probably happens a good deal with faith too. Churches are notorious for picking. They’ll pick the people who sing well or dress “right” or speak a certain way. Growing up, youth groups have “epic” lock-ins (an oxymoron if ever there was one) where the first hour is spent going over the rules and the rest of the night is spent enforcing them. This is an apt summary for many religious organizations, who preach a gospel of grace and then invoke a ritual of rules. Faith is great for anyone as long as you are an “anyone” who conforms to the type. ee cummings captures well the plight of the “outcast” in perhaps his most famous (and bounciest) poem. In it, a guy named Anyone isn’t like others in town. So they reject him. Then, he dies and pretty much is rejected even in that—no one really notices. It is tragically simple, and tragically true. Here’s the first two stanzas:
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.
women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain
Of course this isn’t the way of every church—every faith group.
And it wasn’t the way of Jesus.
In Mark 3, Jesus picks his “team.” And it is a bunch of misfits. You have fisherman, greedy tax collectors, and political extremists. Meek men and argumentative ones; the smart and the not-so-smart alike. He even picks Judas—not even scoundrels were off the list!
Jesus claims to be from God—even to be God a few times. That might be so; it might not be. But if it is true—as these chosen men came to believe—what must that say? For the God of the universe to look you in the eye and say, “I choose you!”
Of course, it is easy to look at the list of those chosen and not find yourself. Just more evidence of rejection. Those picked were men in a certain age range and with (or without) certain qualities or qualifications. But that might be a short-sighted view. My son has some binoculars and he is forever looking in the wrong end, narrowing drastically his field of vision and not taking in a more detailed, expansive view.
Jesus picks these men so that they might, with his voice, pick other men. And women. And children. Across the globe, across the ages and aptitudes. His final words to these followers was to go out and spread this thing. He tells them to take it far and wide—to the ends of the earth and the ends of the age. Invite everyone. Anyone.
“I choose you,” he says. To you. To me. To any who want to play in the game.
Rejection is real. It is a lonely, terrible thing. It isolates and restricts. But Jesus’ paradigm works counter to our kickball example. In some ways, he switches places, allowing each person in line to be the captain, and decide, one at a time, if they want to pick him or not. He has chosen. And he flips the tables—“Your turn,” he says. Through these initially invited men, he aimed to take that choice to every person, to you and to me. We are not in the role of the rejected but are given the choice to reject. Or accept? To enter the game, to follow the “me,” to scale the mountain heavenward.
“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him” (Mark 3:13).