The margins of life are the places to pause and view the whole picture. The margins of the page are the empty useless space on the edge. The margins are the space we leave only to ensure the important parts don’t get left out or messed up. The margins are the wasted places whose only purpose is to give dignity to the places with value. The margins of a book are where we write our insights. The margins of society are where the poor, the outcasts, and the forsaken live. The margins of society are where we find useless and wasted lives. The margins of society are where Jesus lives. The margins are where heaven and hell overlap, and God meets us there.
It is exactly in the places at the fringes and in the people who inhabit those places where God’s creation, sacrifice, and re-creation take shape. It is with those people that we can learn to find, to see, and to be Christ and his body. Lately, I have been wrestling with marginalization.
I have been struggling with being marginalized in ways I never expected, and in ways for which no one is to blame. I have been contending with the knowledge that my margins are not the same as the people around me, but not knowing how or why. I have been striving to discover where the margins lie to which I am called (I think all who are faithful to follow Jesus are called to one margin or another).
My thoughts have taken me down a path that began, for me, nearly 20 years ago. The path leads to the understanding that as followers of Jesus, we are constantly called throughout Scripture to stand up for and give love to people in the margins. The orphans, widows, and foreigners, the poor, the sick, and the blind. Some of us, individually, are more faithful in that realm than others. Some of us, as whole denominations or traditions, or subsets of Christianity, are more faithful in that realm than others.
Growing up, my church rarely (not never) did anything at all that had to do with seeking justice or taking care of people who didn’t have the same resources as us. Now, I’m pretty irritated at the misrepresentation of the gospel and the Bible and what it means to follow Jesus. You can barely open the Bible at random without landing somewhere that involves God’s desire for justice and freedom for the oppressed or those left in the fringes of society.
In fact, I’ve come to think that is what Jesus’ life and death, resurrection and return are all about.
But how I fit into this whole thing has not been so clear to me. I can help people without homes, or who have been enslaved in the sex industry, or who lack citizenship. There are people around me who are passionate about these things, and I can even be pretty passionate too.
Just a few days ago, something slapped me in the face that has been part of me all along, but I have only recently begun to see clearly. Chrissy and I went to see Silver Linings Playbook. I didn’t know much about it except that it involved a romance, so I wasn’t particularly excited. To be honest, had I known a lot more of the plot, I probably wouldn’t have been excited anyway.
But as I watched the movie, I began to feel something coming alive in me. I felt so strongly for the characters, and I identified with and was drawn to be like the therapist.
I won’t say a lot more about the movie so as not to give any spoilers, but I do recommend watching it.
What I began to see about my life was a longing to participate with God as he connects with certain people. And I can see a sort of pattern in my life of connecting with people who wouldn’t obviously fit with me. In jr. high, my best friends were two of the popular kids (even though I certainly did not fit that description myself). They were a couple guys who were troubled, described as jerks, and one of them even explored outright satanic spirituality.
I was the quiet, nerdy Christian kid.
When I volunteered at vacation Bible school or worked with kids over the years, it was always the kid that was challenging and that the other adults had little patience for that I found myself spending the most time with.
At my Pentecostal, strictly Christian, private university, the friendships that developed most deeply for me were with those who didn’t quite fit the expectations, who questioned the beliefs, who chafed under the rules, who maybe didn’t believe God even exists yet felt trapped at the school because it was the only one their family would pay for.
I majored in biblical studies.
I am not at the fringes in the same way these people are. The margins they inhabit have to do with feeling crushed under the weight of authority, of the accepted norms. They think too carefully, feel too angry, and if they will admit it to themselves, they hurt too deeply because of the rejection they have received by people who should have mentored them, guided them to places of creativity and pioneering growth, and above all—loved them.
I was always the kid adults liked. I followed the rules, I was polite, I worked hard. But it is exactly with people who aren’t like me in those ways that I connect and I identify.
Like the main character of Silver Linings Playbook, these people aren’t marginalized because of class or economic status, or because of race or nationality, or because of beliefs, lifestyle, or anything else so easy to identify. They live on the fringes, in the margins, at the edges of society and even of their own lives because they simply can’t fit in the center with everyone else.
Sometimes they dream too big to fit inside the box. Sometimes they are too broken to fit the shape of the world around them. Sometimes it’s just not easy to figure out how their place doesn’t fit, but it just doesn’t.
Even within the context of the marginalized, I feel like these people are pushed aside. A lot of us—wonderfully and respectably—put so much effort into helping people with economic needs or socio-political needs or medical needs, and we just get frustrated with the people I have in mind because they just don’t quite seem to have their lives together or they seem like troublemakers, and no one takes them seriously.
Instead of abandoning them, brushing them aside to make room for cleaner, neater version of life that most of us are comfortable with or that the church tries so hard to project to everyone around it, I want so badly to give myself in order to share freedom and healing with them.
Other than being a friend when others might not, or giving support when no one else cares, or seeing the inherent value and the amazing potential that others miss, I’m not sure what to do about all this.
It seems like it is a clue for the next steps in my life that I have been waiting to discover, but I don’t know where the clue points me.
The margins are bigger and even more essential to the whole picture than we—and I—usually imagine. And I wonder where that leaves Jesus in those places. The hellish reality of the struggle, and the invasion of heaven into the midst of the fight are both ever present in those places, and I want to find Jesus there. I want to be Christ with him and for him, and I want to draw him out of the people who inhabit those spaces.
I have to wonder if anyone else sees these things or cares about them. I would like to know if anyone else knows what to do about it, what they can do and what I should do.
God has written insights in the margins, and I hope I can look closely enough to read them.
Help me, if you can, and I will do the same.