“You can play with me,” a little voice said to me from the other side of the slide. It was my first day at a new school, and when recess came, I had fled to conceal myself under the big metal slide on the far edge of the playground. Turning my head, I looked up to see another girl, tiny like myself, with a hand of friendship reached out in sincerity. Slowly, I crawled out from under the slide and took her hand. For the next twelve years that we went to school together, I would never forget the way that Becky made me feel in that moment. Included. Worthy. Interesting. Loved.
Over the past week, I’ve found myself wanting to say the same thing that Becky said to me to some many hundreds of United Methodists: “You can play with me.”
In the weeks since the Special Called Session of General Conference, I know that I have not been the only one hiding under the slide, feeling as if the whole world is chatting on the swings without me. We can’t really see or hear to know for sure whether that feeling is real or just our imagination. Perhaps everyone has found a corner of the playground to hide in themselves, or perhaps they are all twirling and talking together on the tire swing, spinning until they feel like they are going to throw up. Secrets are held close, and no amount of craning our necks will give us a clear view.
Gatherings were announced for May, one open to the public, and one by invitation only; each offering a space to discuss how we would move forward, what would come next. The public gathering invited anyone who wanted to come to join the conversation. The selective gathering encouraged people to nominate others or nominate themselves if they wanted to be chosen.
At first the reaction and condemnation of the selective talks was swift on social media, people said things like “we’ve tried this before” and “the time has passed for cis-het white men to be steering the ship.” As time passed, though, people became curious. They poked their heads out. Those that hadn’t had much interest in playing kickball found themselves wondering, “Will I be picked for the team?” Wondering whether they would be called special, chosen, leader, worthy, wise. Gradually, rigid resistance gave way to the expectant awaiting that fell over the crowd.
In a moment when so many of us were feeling cast out, what a comfort it would be for somebody, anybody, to draw us into community, to help us feel less impotent.
I was chatting on the phone with a friend on my way home from work when she went to check her email. “Maybe there will be one for me,” she said hopefully, like Charlie Bucket opening another chocolate bar, hoping to find that one last Golden Ticket to gain entry to Willy Wonka’s tour of delights. “Oh.” I heard the pain in her voice. The sound of one already excluded, being excluded still. It turned my heart inside out.
All I could think in that moment, all that I’ve been able think in every moment since, were Becky’s words: “You can play with me.”
I wanted to say it to her and I wanted to say it to you… and to be honest, it did not even start last week, I’ve wanted to say it every day since February 26th.
I want to be on your team. The guys who have declared themselves team captains did not pick me either, friend. But that does not mean that we can’t play. I want to climb out from under my slide and pick dandelions with you. I want to join the crowd throwing the dodgeball up against the big stone wall. I want to take turns timing each other on the monkey bars, and spin in circles until we fall down laughing in the grass.
I want to play with you. I want you on my team.
I think you are so special, and worthy, and interesting, and wise. I think you are a leader who we cannot do this without. I am just such a big fan of yours, and I am sorry that I have not told you that enough. You amaze me every day when I see the brave and creative things you are doing passing through my newsfeed.
Friend, I know that I can’t offer you a field to play on, or the newest toys, but I have a feeling that we can make do. That is when we have always had the most fun anyway. Running through the woods. Using our imaginations instead of our search engines. Creating toys out of sticks and rubber bands and dreams. That is when we have created the most beautiful things. When resources were low, but love was high. When power was lacking, but creativity was abundant. When we did not have the answers, but we had faith that God would give them.
Friend, I do not know what comes next, and it has been so hard for me to pull myself out from under this slide. But now that I’m out here, standing in the warmth of the sun, I find my heart overflowing with the words that someone once said to me: You can play with me. You are not alone. You are fun, and wise, and incredible, and good. You are brave, and strong, and creative, and kind. You are simply fantastic, and I just can’t wait to see what holy mischief we can cook up together.
Come on, let’s go adventuring, friend. You can play with me.