When I was young, one of the books I read and loved was Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The book was published over 100 years ago in 1914, and was followed by 25 sequels. I thought Tarzan was one cool dude, and I was apparently not alone in this assessment. He has been a popular figure known the world over ever since he swung onto the world stage. And he has moved into every branch of our culture. He’s in comic books, songs (remember "Guitarzan"?), been on the radio and even had his own TV show. According to the Internet Movie Database there are 200 movies with the word “Tarzan” in the title. So why have so many people over the past 100 years found the character so fascinating?
I suspect it has something to do with being an outsider longing to find a place in the world. Tarzan is an outsider. After being orphaned as an infant, he’s raised by apes, who become his adopted family. But he’s different from them and never totally fits in. In later books written by Burroughs, Tarzan settles with Jane in London and adapts the thin veneer of civilization, but even here he never fits in. He longs for the jungle and his jungle family. He is still most comfortable sleeping in trees and eating raw meat. Eventually he returns to the Jungle. He is devoted to Jane in both worlds, but he himself is never totally at home wherever he is. So it makes sense to me that young people struggling with their feelings of being “different” (and what young person doesn’t feel this way) would read a book about a similar outsider and find it meaningful.
People long to fit in. People want to belong. And yet, people are all different. No one entirely fits in anywhere. And this tension between wanting to fit in and being different makes a lot of people nervous about congregations. Churches have frequently expected folk to meet cookie-cutter expectations, wanting everyone to look, think, and act alike. And people who attend these congregations usually become experts at pretending like they are the same. But in reality, we’re all different, even when we pretend otherwise. And this is why one of the most powerful gifts a congregation can give to others is the gift of accepting them in spite of differences.
I celebrate Maple Avenues willingness to share this gift. We expect you to be nice, and to respect others, but we don’t expect you to be like everyone else. Whenever somebody walks through the door of a church for the first time, they can’t help but wonder: “Will people here welcome and accept me?” I believe the answer to that question at Maple Avenue is “You bet!” It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed. It doesn’t matter your past. It doesn’t matter your ethnic background. Other congregations may reject you because they don’t like who you are, but we’re glad to see you here!
Tarzan never quite fits in. But wherever he goes, he is a blessing. He never fails to come to the rescue of those who are in trouble. He has a unique set of talents which he uses to make the world better. And I think the same can be said of each one of our members. I even believe it’s true of visitors who walk through our doors.
You probably know why I’m talking about Tarzan. We are currently hard at work preparing for our summer musical production of Tarzan! We have an amazingly talented cast, and I think it’s going to be well worth seeing. And at this musical, as with everything else we do around here, you, your friends, and your neighbors are always welcome.
Yours in Christ