The Principle of the Eleven Foot Pole
Ed Wynn was a popular vaudevillian comedian and actor in the early part of the 20th century. One of his on-stage props was an 11 foot pole to reach out and touch people that other people would not touch with a 10 foot pole. In a memorial tribute to my grandfather, Winston Mattsson-Boze made this application, “We stood for a new kind of Pentecost-- one that held an open spirit, and it refused to choke somebody out because they wouldn’t conform…Ted had an 11 foot pole. Our fellowship made room for many types.”
It can be uncomfortable at times to welcome and embrace someone on the fringes. You’re never quite really sure if they will do or say something that might cause embarrassment for themselves, but more importantly, the rest of us. However, there is treasure to be found by stretching our reach a little farther. Love and acceptance can make a great impact upon someone who has experienced ostracization and rejection. Life may seem less complicated if our criteria for acceptance is narrow, but we will miss out on what God has in store for us.
I want to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps in this regard, but even more importantly, I want to follow the example that Jesus left for us. He was continually reaching out to people who were outside society’s inner circle. Even those that he called to be in his inner circle, the apostles, would not have been considered the cream of the crop. Even after he called them, they were still contentious, impulsive and not shy about self-promotion, but he discipled and encouraged them and his investment paid huge dividends as they went into all of the world, “Preaching the Gospel and making disciples among all nations.”
When your reach extends beyond ordinary boundaries, there is a good possibility that you will be misunderstood. By widening your circle and not cutting off people on the fringes, you retain the opportunity for influence, instruction and enablement, but more importantly perhaps, you will retain the opportunity to see God’s grace in action in someone else’s life. There is a great danger in forgetting where we have come from and what God has done for us. From Isaiah’s admonition to “…Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn.” Isaiah 51:1 (NIV) to Paul’s reminder: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (NIV).
For the cause of Christ, we must extend our reach a little farther and open our hearts to those who see things a little differently. Of course, we must never compromise our “sure foundation” and the truth of the gospel, but even at the risk of our own rejection, we must strive for inclusiveness and love to “the least of these, my brothers” who have been marginalized by others.
In closing, I am reminded of one of my grandfather’s favorite poems by Edwin Markham, titled Outwitted. “He drew a circle that shut me out. Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in!” The language might be a little dated, but that is the attitude that I desire in my life and ministry.