Cindy Brandt is my kind of evangelist. She has a new ebook, just out right now, with a message that I’d like to put every bit of breath I have behind. Please go see it, right here. But read this first.
I became a Christian as a child. Children learn by imitating. Every step we take in those early years are carefully placed in the larger footprints of trusted adults before us. Babies pick up linguistic sounds and intonations long before they utter their first words. Every step we take in those early years are carefully placed in the larger footprints of trusted adults before us.
So it was natural I learned how to be Christian by imitating. My development as a child coincided with my faith. In those days of my youth, I moved through the world in tandem with my spiritual predecessors; copying habits, mimicking words, and shaping myself according to the examples before me.
We create cultures by cultivating same habits and shared values. What makes a society cohesive is a collection of mutually agreed upon, if not explicitly stated set of rules for living. There is great comfort in homogeneity, in staying within the boundaries of accepted behaviors, acknowledging with ease that this is the way things are done.
Except it doesn’t look very much like God’s plan for us.
Don’t be mistaken—God is so patient with us, working through the confines of our cultural standards. God honored the systems we have set up in our world to a fault. When the Israelites wanted kings because all they knew were this system of top-down rule by a patriarch, God gave them kings, even though things sometimes turned out bad with these kings. God’s nudges for us are gentle and slow, but always moving us towards stretching our man-made borders.
God incarnated into a Jewish man, respecting Jewish rituals, speaking the languages of his day. He also imitated his trusted adults and grew into the conventional customs of his culture. But as soon as he was of age, he didn’t waste any time getting about the business of stretching boundaries. He pronounced good news to the poor, flipping moneychanging tables. He declared the sick shall be healed, touching lepers and giving sight to the blind. He said to set the burdened free and hung out with women, those who bore the heaviest yokes of the day. His every word and action were directed at stretching the conventional boundaries of the religious and political systems of his day, for the purpose of restoring people who lay just outside of those boundaries.
For Jesus, the problem didn’t lie in having cultural conventions in and of themselves. He took issue only when those conventions erected barriers to keep people out. This is a man who would bust through fences to go find his one lost sheep. This is a man who allowed an outcast to rub his feet with her hair. This is a man who said, let the little ones, the most powerless ones among us, come to me.
Jesus was a Jewish man, but he wandered all along the perimeters of his cultural identity to touch the lives of those on the margins to say, yes you, you belong with me.
I am all grown up now. I imitated my way into spiritual adulthood, and as a follower of Jesus, it is time for me to go wander at the edges of my worlds. What was unacceptable to Jesus will be unacceptable to me: that people be kept out of experiencing restoration because of a boundary we have built.
Because as it turns out, we don’t grow up into carbon copies of those who brought us up. The very best kinds of teachers ensure that we learn the rules in order to break them. We learn how it is, but we become how it should be.
The systems of the world, kept by those in power, will resist this diversity. They will try to reign in dynamic differences, because it is more comfortable to have others look the same as those in power. Confronting differences threaten the status quo. The most dangerous thing we can do is insist upon space for every different, diverse image-bearer of God.
Kurt Vonnegut says, “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
It is my deeply held conviction that our salvation lies on the edge. I think the lives of the outliers have transformative power to make the world a better place. I think it is our sacred duty to mine the stories of those in the margins; those rejected by the majority and silenced by the powerful. People made invisible by systemic alienation. I think we are most Christ-like when we camp out there at the margins and find people to tell them, yes you, you belong with us. I think we are in the business of stretching boundaries, just a little bit every time, so that a few people at a time outside are brought inside.
Tiny, revolutionary shifts. Outside In.
Photo Credit: Andrew Beeston
Cindy Brandt writes about faith in the irreverent, miracles in the ordinary, and beauty in the margins. She is more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing, a social justice Christian, and a feminist. She blogs at cindywords.com, tapping words out from the 33rd floor of a high rise in Taiwan, where she lives with her husband, two children, and a miniature Yorkie.
Check out Cindy Brandt’s new ebook, “Outside In” and get it for free, here!