Sometimes the pressure to assimilate reaches critical mass and you have to either join the crowd or jump ship. But often, it’s just uncomfortable, not unmanageable. Unfortunately, we often make the join in or jump ship decision when we don’t need to simply because we’d rather not deal with the tension of being the outlier.
Being the outlier is awkward, but it’s not without it’s purposes. It’s a crucial place that someone must be if we are ever to challenge, change, and unify our communities, whatever they may be. Sometimes, the outlier is the moderator and the mediator and the messenger between two worlds. Sometimes the outlier helps build a bridge or tear down a wall. Sometimes the only wall that gets torn down is the one the outlier built for themselves, and even when that’s the case, that’s enough. Every step towards unity is worth it. Every act of love, of grace, of compassion, of humility, of kindness, is worth it.
If ever you find yourself in that place, where you are the outlier in the position to straddle two worlds uncomfortably, but not unmanageably, you’ve got to gather your strength and you’ve got to have to lay down your “rightness” to leave room for the things you’re going to have to take in. You’ve got to use the divine to filter through it all for you, because you can’t and shouldn’t process everything on your own. You’ve got to carry the peace and the light with you. You’ve got to radiate love and joy and hope because you’re gonna get some looks. You’re gonna hear some words. You’re gonna wonder if you should just join in or jump ship.
But someone’s got to stand on the edges, on the borders, in the overlap. Someone’s got to speak from the fringes with knowledge from the inside, from both insides. Someone’s got to use their voice to say it is not “us” and “them”, it’s just “us”. There is no “them”.
There is no “them”. But, there are a lot of “us”. And there are a lot of outliers, gracing the edges of so many places, so many worlds. We need your voices. You don’t need a perfect message, you just need the truths you know from the places you’ve been.
The more we listen, the less we’ll be talking about the same things over and over again. Talking isn’t without it’s benefit. But we have to listen first, listen to something besides the same things we’ve always listened to. We have to take the time to turn things over in our hearts and minds and ask for guidance and for the grace to change or concede or stand firm, whatever is asked of us once we’ve really dug in to all of it. Convictions don’t prevent you from listening or loving or learning. Convictions don’t have to change with what you learn, but they can. Regardless, your convictions shouldn’t impede your ability to show empathy, compassion, kindness, respect, or humility.
I was sitting in church when the word “conservative” was spoken as a sort of group identifier.
My nickname in elementary school was “Hippie” and in middle school was “Flirt”. My sixth grade graduation speech included my declaration that I would be the first woman President of the United States. In high school, I scribbled poetry on my math notes and was deemed an “idealist” by my Social Studies teacher and argued that love conquers all with an English teacher. I voted for equal constitutional rights for same sex couples. I’m disturbed by the amount of men and women who think that feminism is a dirty word. Conservative is not a word I think anyone would have ever used to describe me, regardless of my “good girl” persona. The older I get, the more I learn, the more I experience, the more people I know and love, the more pronounced my liberal and progressive leanings become.
So when I heard that “c” word, my first thought was “leave“. It was a fear-based thought. It was a selfish thought. It was an arrogant thought. I was thinking that being an outlier is hard and if I just didn’t associate with people different than me, then I wouldn’t be an outlier, I wouldn’t have to defend or prove myself. I wouldn’t have to bite my tongue. I wouldn’t have to feel like a go-between. I wouldn’t have to remember that everyone has a story and a reason for their convictions and way of life.
I have an easier time relating to and connecting to pretty much anyone than I do to other Christians who fall into a different “type” than me.
And so, I know that I have to stay in the tension.
Through the grace of God working in me, I have been able to find common emotional, mental, and spiritual ground with people whose lives look drastically different than mine on the outside. My worldview and perspective has been shaped by those relationships. My understanding of God’s love and grace and power has been increased and strengthened in knowing and loving and letting myself be loved by those people who seemed so different at first. So surely the grace of God is big enough to help me find common ground with people whose lives look similar to mine on the outside, but seem different than mine on the inside.
I think that, if I can stay in the awkward in-between long enough, humbly enough, I will see that there is no “them”, just a lot of “us”.
Maybe the only wall that gets torn down will be mine, but that will be enough.