Being an outsider has shaped my life of faith

Published 12:02 am Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sometime in the last few years I realized that I have spent my life as an outsider.

(Just so there is no confusion, that’s outsider and not outlaw.)

My life has been a journey that has taken me from Minnesota to Alabama to Georgia to North Carolina to Georgia to Alabama to Georgia to New Jersey to Tennessee to Alabama to Indiana and back to Alabama.

The first two moves were in childhood. The rest have to do with college, seminary, and my life in ministry.

The first move was, perhaps, the most significant. It happened in 1967. We moved into our house in Birmingham on my eighth birthday.

Our neighbors brought us brownies, watermelon, and iced tea to welcome us to the neighborhood.

We didn’t need to tell anyone that we weren’t from Birmingham.

Our Minnesota accents gave us away. We were Yankees.

In Minnesota, the neighborhood kids would play Cowboys and Indians. In Birmingham, it was Rebels and Yankees.

As we ducked behind trees and crouched behind rocks and pointed at one another with the pistols we imagined our hands to be, it seemed that only I could be shot.

No matter how carefully I aimed, they declared I had missed. No matter how well-hidden I was, they announced I had been shot.

From 1967 to 1990, I would be reminded in ways large and small, that I was a stranger in a strange land. When I moved to New Jersey to begin my ministry, I may have been north of the Mason-Dixon, but because I was perceived as a southerner, I was still an outsider. Moving periodically to accept a call to a congregation (on average, once every five years), entering a new community, getting to know new people, acclimating to different patterns of life and traffic, I have been ‘not from around here’ most of my life.

Were I to return to Minnesota, I am sure it would be the same. After all, you can’t go home again.

I was talking with my sister a few weeks ago, checking out my memory of events related to the first two moves of our lives. I was pleased she could confirm that my memory of our welcome into the life of the churches where we worshipped and served was the exception to the rule.

We were still Yankees in those churches, and some folks delighted in ribbing us about that.

But our “Yankee-ness” was not the primary characteristic by which we were identified. We were disciples, children of God, sisters and brothers in Christ.

From time to time, something happens in life that causes me to realize how I have been shaped for the life of faith and discipleship by the faith communities in which I have participated.

The influence of ministers and others in my childhood laid the foundation for how I read scripture and live under its authority.

Then seminary professors, colleagues in ministry, and members of the churches I have served have helped me build up from there.

I expect to be an unfinished work when my days have run their course, and I may have to undergo some remodeling to repair mistakes I have made along the way, but I am grateful for those who got me off to a good start by accepting me as the Yankee I was and letting the Spirit of God in our midst shape me to be the person God was/is calling me to be.

-Bob Masden is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church.