Thursday, September 22, 2011

The outsider

As I've mentioned once or twice, or three or four times, I come from a mostly unchurched background.

It's been many years since I put my faith in Christ, but because I grew up outside the church, I still view things from the perspective of an outsider. Like a person who immigrates as an adult, even decades later I retain the original accent that marks me: "You're not from around here, are you?"

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When I came to faith, I began attending a small, conservative church near my university's campus.

I want to highlight the word conservative in the sentence above.

I had spent my first 18 years in a very liberal home.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but when I came to Christian faith as a college sophomore, I was a sexually-active gay-affirming pro-choice feminist Democrat.

Every week, I went to church feeling like a party crasher. It was like going to a fancy dinner, with me stealing sidelong glances at the other diners to figure out which fork to use. I didn't know the rules.

And I didn't know much about the Bible, or about Christian teaching.

But I knew — I knew — God had drawn me to Him.

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Over time, I learned a little about the Bible and about doctrine — some of it confusing. And by watching and listening, I picked up some of the unwritten rules. Some of those were confusing too.

I learned what it meant to be a Christian woman by watching women around me. They wore dresses and nylons to church, so I wore dresses and nylons to church. They were polite and genteel, so I tried to behave likewise. They didn't voice opinions or anger, and mostly stayed quiet in church settings, so I... well, I struggled with that one.

I took in these unwritten behavioral rules right along with the Bible lessons. Sometimes, it was easy to confuse the two, to feel like maybe I was going to hell for thinking it might be OK to wear jeans to church. (Oh, I kid. Mostly.)

Since then, I've watched many of the dominant thoughts change, and I've come to see some of the rules as traditions and preferences — there's nothing wrong with them, but preferences are not doctrine, and traditions are not scripture.

I've learned to look a little more closely, to question, to deconstruct... to distinguish faith from preference or politics or upbringing.

Maybe I find it easy to ask questions because I'm looking at things from the outside.

I understand how it can be threatening, though. When I question things people associate closely with their faith, it might seem like I'm questioning their faith itself. I get that — my decision to follow Christ came only after I questioned my own beliefs, traditions, relationships, and assumptions about the world, to the point of being willing to give them all up.

So I know firsthand how scary that is.

But maybe there are some things that need to be challenged, with a gracious tone, as one family member to another. We all have blind spots.

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Here's what many of those challenges will probably center around:

As I've read and studied the Bible, I'm impressed with the message I keep seeing throughout its pages — God has a heart for the outcast. The poor. The immigrant. The prisoner. The prostitute. The mentally ill. The hurting, the bleeding, the lost. The single. The infertile. The griefstricken. The abused. The minority. The woman. The child. The eunuch.

The outsider.

And the more I trace this thread through scripture, the less sense it makes to me to distance myself from people who look different, speak different, vote different, love different, and believe different from the way I do.

They're outsiders too.

I get the feeling God wants me to welcome them. Not welcome them if they change their beliefs, sexual habits, or politics. Just welcome them, and let Him do the rest.

~~~~~

If at some point you visit this blog and you're tempted to write me off as an infidel because I express an opinion that differs from yours, keep in mind I'm not challenging your faith or your beliefs — though I may be asking you to examine the consistency of those beliefs and how they play out in the world.

And I welcome your challenge in return, but please remember we're family, in the best sense. Even though I am an outsider.

~~~~~

4 comments:

  1. How funny that our journeys have taken us in exactly opposite directions. I started in a conservative Christian faith and have since discarded it after years of analysis, questioning and reflection. May all of our journeys be fufilling for ourselves and beneficial for those around us.

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  2. If there's such a thing as an insider-outsider, then I fit the bill. I grew up "in" church, and have attended the same, small, conservative church for the the last 15 years. In a great many ways, it IS the things that Church is supposed to be, because in a great many ways the people who sit in those pews with me really have become my family. They're a community of people in which I feel cared for because I knew they were praying me through grad school and they showed up for my mom when her mom died. In a great many ways, though, it is NOT the ways the Church is supposed to be, because it's hard to be an outsider coming into our community - and I think there's more people in the pews who would agree with me on that point than not. I think you say it best when you say, "Preferences are not doctrine." But, as is so typical in life, instigating change is hard. So, I think the question becomes: where do we start? Maybe I already started by being a chick who wears jeans and Chuck Taylor's to church.

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  3. I grew up in the church but experienced a time of rebellion once in college. I didn't feel I could explore politics and other worldviews within the confines of the faith I'd been raised in (really my own issue, not necessarily the church). It took a lot of wrestling and coming across Jim Wallis's work to realize that faith and tradition/conservativism are not mutually exclusive. My faith is now authentic, though it makes me an outsider at times. And being a single woman makes me an outsider as well. My soul has grown weary at times from being the teachable moment. But then again, I wouldn't change any part of who God created me to be. Great post!

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  4. I grew up in a very conservative denomination and became Methodist after marrying. I have been un-learning the rules. It is neat to see you and I are coming to the same conclusions, despite starting at opposite ends of the spectrum.

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