As preschoolers, many of us played a similar game. If you grew up in most of the country, it was known as “Duck, Duck, Goose”. If you grew up in Minnesota, it was known as “Duck, Duck, Grey Duck”. Same game, just a different name. According to Wikipedia, the “grey duck” version is closer to the Scandinavian origins, so you Minnesotans can feel superior.
Nowhere is the game called “Goose, Goose, Duck”. Except for a small pond where my dog, Churchill, and I walk once or twice a week. There, a good-sized (25-30) flock of Canada geese makes its home. And there in the midst of the flock of geese is one odd-looking member. It is a duck that is mostly black, with some white splotches and red around the eyes. It is kind of odd-looking and it may have an injured foot because it seems to wobble when it walks.
But this duck is part of the flock. He may stand out in stark contrast to the rest, but he has been part of the flock for several years. Each year new goslings are born and grow up to adults. They all know this “ugly duckling” as part of their family. I don’t know whether the goose part of the flock changes from year to year. I don’t know if some fly off to new ponds and streams (who can tell them apart?). But the black duck remains, year after year.
I don’t know where he came from or even if he is a “he”. I don’t know how he came to adopt this flock as his family. All I know is, he is as much a part of the flock as goslings that are born into it. This pond is home and this group of geese is the flock. Even the odd one.
Sometimes our families have their “odd ducks”. Sometimes our churches have their “ugly ducklings”. Sometimes our friends or work associates include people who are “just different”. And many times these people are made to feel less human or less accepted. They are only reluctantly included in plans.
My hope is that there is some place where these “different” people are not only accepted, but valued. That we can see them as special, important, children of God. And I hope that one of those places is the church or other place of worship.
Several years ago, I was the principal of a small alternative school for students who needed a place to fit in. One of the students that year was a young man with Asperger syndrome. At the time, I had never heard of it or known anyone who had it. This young man was very bright, but socially awkward. Toward the end of the second quarter, he was doing so well, he was poised to make the honor roll.
Just before the Christmas break, we had a party for the kids. There were only about 10 students, so it was not difficult to include everyone. After lunch several of us began to play “Uno” and this young man was invited to play. We were all playing together and laughing and kidding each other when his mother came to pick him up. I will never forget the look on her face as she watched him play. She was almost in tears because, I think for the first time, she saw her son with a group of kids who accepted him and he was interacting with them and he was “normal”.
When we returned to school after the new year, he was not there. After he had been gone for several days, I went to his home to see what happened. I don’t know what caused it, but he decided he did not want to return to school. He was over 16 and there was nothing his mother could do to make him go. He never gave me a good answer as to why he did not want to return. He would have graduated that spring.
Even though I felt like we had failed him, his mother said before I left that I had given her the best Christmas gift she had ever gotten. She saw her son just being a normal kid, surrounded by people who accepted and liked him.
Sometimes we never realize how important acceptance is. Jesus included the rich and the poor, the socially acceptable and the social outcasts. He set the example for us. Rather than a bar called “Cheers”, the place where everyone knows your name and accepts you should be among the children of God. I hope your fellowship includes a few “odd ducks”. They make life a lot more interesting.