Back in fifth or sixth grade teasing about cooties was the somewhat harmless playground game of dealing with the opposite sex. We both chased and avoided one another, running around with our fingers crossed against the threat of exposure to boy germs or to girl germs.
More harmful though was the girl who was labeled "cootie queen" or the boy with a permanent status of cooties making him like a leper to everyone on the playground. Every day must have been like a never-ending bad dream for them.
I remember the dirty girl in our class with the matted hair and crooked teeth and slow speech. At that age, I didn't yet understand socio-economic conditions. I was unaware that some people didn't have two loving parents at home to care for them. I certainly didn't know about the dysfuntions of poverty, addictions, and abuse that were the home environment for some children.
I just knew that I was glad I wasn't that dirty girl. I'd love to tell you a story about how I befriended the girl and changed both of our lives, but that's not what happened.
While a part of me had compassion for the girl, I understood that to be her friend would cost me. As a very shy child, my life motto was to avoid drawing attention to myself. So the choice was made to save myself and my small place of privilege in the society of fifth grade.
It's still easy for me to surround myself with people who are like me. But who are the people who feel left out, who feel like they don't fit or don't belong?
Poor isn't always about money. Often it is the person who grew up feeling excluded because of their looks, or weight, or clothes, or some other childhood curse, like thick glasses, acne, or stuttering.
Jesus always spent his power and privilege bringing in the least of these. I wish I had spent less of my time securing my own position. I pray that my eyes will be open to see those around me who need an invitation to belong.