“Was I left on your doorstep when I was a baby?” I blurted, and Dad almost choked on his coffee. I considered my parents “a little lower than the angels.” In my early teens, after observing their collective goodness, I began to doubt that I was their child. They were high-quality human beings, and as a teenager, I was becoming undone by “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Based on their model of behavior, I sensed the miss-match in the gene pool. “I mean, we are so different.”
“Different how,” he asked? How could I point out the disconcerting truth that the souls of my parents bordered on the saintly, while mine was developing into more shaded, carnal areas? Why didn’t I share their world view? Why did I not have their immutable faith, their ease with a well-regulated life, their free submission to our religious persuasion? In my mind, all these factors pointed to a suspicious origin.
Dad did not wait for my answer, which was good because I didn’t have one.
“Son, you are blood of my blood and flesh of my flesh; every inch an Arnold. Any differences we might have is your own uniqueness, what makes you, you; the way God made you.”
That was reassuring and frightening at the same time. He was claiming me, but I did not want to confess that I felt as though I was drifting from the shoreline of the goodness of my parents into an uncharted sea that could swallow me whole. I was not sure God was happy with my implanted “uniqueness.”
“How can that be?” was all I could squeak out.
“Much of it is a mystery, but I have foolproof evidence of bloodline.”
Mom took down an old metal box from the top shelf of the closet, opened the rusty lid, and handed me my birth certificate. I held proof of belonging in my hands with the embossed seal of the State of Tennessee stamped on the document. I ran my fingers over the raised lettering of the seal for the tactile assurance of what my eyes beheld.
Certificates are what the state requires as proof of belonging, but what gives the individual a true sense of belonging is when you hear stories shared among family and friends that feature you and reveal the shades of your personality that uniquely demonstrate a universal belonging to our common humanity. I am grateful to belong to the kingdom of heaven…such a big tent…such a rich population of folks…no certificate required.