This past weekend I helped chaperone a group of seven middle-schoolers at a JUMYs (Junior United Methodist Youth) gathering for our Annual Conference (the geographical designation for United Methodist churches, in our case, Minnesota). Because I know these youth pretty well (I've watched them group up over the nearly seven years I've been their pastor and now they are actively engaged in our confirmation process which I teach), I am a bit oblivious to how unique a group they are.
In fact, I wouldn't have even thought about it much, except for what one of the main stage speakers had to say. The speaker is young, musically gifted and easy to listen to. It's not surprising that he is a popular speaker for teenagers across the country. Telling us about his life as the third of three children, he was humorously reflecting that sometimes the last child is "forgotten." In his case, he came upon baby books for two older siblings, but didn't find one for himself. Asking his mother, she responded, "By the time you came along we were way beyond that" (or words to those effect), to which the speaker said, "And now you know why I sometimes thought I was adopted."
As the adoptive father of ten children, I became immediately internally defensive. While his comments were not meant to be derisive or hurtful, I wondered how many of those in the crowd of 900+ had been touched by adoption and how his words may have been damaging. I have wrestled with his comment for several days now and have decided to let it go and chalk it up to ignorance on his part. After all, adopted children do have memories, they do have baby books, they do have memory books; they are not a simple commodity added to family as an afterthought, as his naive comment suggested.
His comment spurred me, though, to realize the diversity in the group I and two other adults were chaperoning. Right away I recognized that three of the seven kids had been adopted as older children (two of them my own children, one from another family whom we influenced to adopt older children). These three children are all children of color: one African-American, one Mexican-American and one Guatemalan-America. Of the remaining four kids, only two come from a "traditional" two-parent family home. The other two kids are being raised by single mothers with at least one other sibling. Even we chaperones were a diverse group: one single mother (divorced after nearly twenty years of marriage), one married mother who has a professional life (she is a physician), and one married father (me).
As this awareness began to dawn upon me, I realized how fortunate I am. In the sea of white faces (this is, after all, Minnesota, where even in the midst cultural changes we are overwhelmingly a white group) at this major middle school church gathering we were a microcosm of diversity. It made me feel good to know that through the ethos and spirit of my denomination and the local church I pastor, we are a place of inclusivity, a taste of what God's realm is. Not only do I as a pastor talk about the gift of diversity, but as a person and as a community of faith we are beginning to reflect that value.
What began as an irritation to me (the misperception of what adoption really is like) became an opportunity to see something bigger.