About a year ago I wrote a post about the fact that when it comes to how things appear on the socioeconomic ladder, my wife and I refuse to play the status game. We know that we’re excluded from certain social circles because we don’t drive the same cars, go to the same stage productions, or take our holidays in the same vacation hot spots.
But I also know that sometimes we’re excluded simply because we see the world differently, or hold views on church, or worship, or social justice which are different than everybody else. Have opinions. Will share.
Today, however, I want to write about another situation that can develop which is more systemic, and can affect people at all vertical levels and across horizontal spectra.
I’m talking about the situation that can develop where someone is an outsider.
Outsiders don’t experience overt rejection; they simply exist outside of defined groups. I understand this one best where it comes to blogging. Despite the growth of Thinking Out Loud over the past four years, I don’t fit neatly into the many Christian blog clusters out there, and would safely say that I am probably considered a bit of an outsider.
I sense it sometimes when I’m in proximity of established groups and subgroups; and I think that, because of our human longing to be accepted and to socialize, there are people for whom it matters more who experience marginalization more acutely.
A few weeks ago I attended an event where I noticed four couples gathered together who are a very well-defined group. Other people dance around them, so to speak, hoping to find a point of entry on the circle, and certainly their attempts at contact are not rebuffed, but at the end of the day it’s always the same eight people. It’s a younger demographic than my own, but I’ll bet there are people who would love to be part of this micro-community, but would consider themselves outsiders where that group is concerned.
You can be an outsider in a ministry organization or in a community of Christian leaders; you can be in vocational ministry in a denomination but be considered an outsider; you can be a member of your church choir but exist somewhat on the periphery.
The difference between outright rejection and being an outsider is, to use the case of the church choir member as an example, you’re actually on the inside of the group, and yet your membership is almost secondary to being part of the nucleus of the group. You’re in because you met certain standards — you passed the audition — but you’re also in because you did not meet standards that would have constituted rejection. Instead, the exclusion is more subtle.
It’s like the Cheers TV show theme song. Outsiders score points for the first part of the chorus (“everybody knows your name”) but not the second (“and they’re always glad you came”) part of the chorus.
Now let me be very clear: Some people choose to be outsiders, and that’s a different situation altogether.
But those who consider themselves Christ-followers should try to smash down the walls of ‘outsider-ness’ at every opportunity. The questions that need to be asked are:
(a) Who is living out life on the periphery of sub-groups in our church that wish they could be more in the center of those group? and
(b) What are we doing as a church to facilitate more inclusion in various social clusters in our church?