Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Being Outside

Advent is about waiting and wandering. In the story, people are on the move, going somewhere different, being outsiders. I mean, can you imagine willingly traveling if you are about to deliver a baby, unless you had to? The last place you'd want to be is away from home and the familiar.

Are they the other, these travelers, or are they us? Will they be find a welcome? Or will they be in danger? It's very elemental stuff.

Humans are social animals, and often tribal at that. We reject The Other: whether it is the crazy homeless person on the street, or the people who look different, sound different than we do. Rick Perry claiming tribal identity as an anti-gay Christian is just a particularly ugly streak of this. YOU aren't like ME, he says, which means YOU aren't really American. Never mind that Americans were originally outcasts who left where they were because they were different.

This has its roots in childhood, of course--you remember the unpopular kids? The ones marginalized for being different? That was me. I was terminally unpopular--too bookish, sensitive, no good at sports, and not interested in the prattle of my peers. In high school,I was the only girl in the computer programming classes, I was klutzy, and I didn't like boys like that.. So I embraced being different like a badge of honor.

As I grew up, I continued being on the outside, being different. I discovered science and almost lived in the lab, yet I had a literature degree. I never made friends very easily; too quirky and independent. I lived overseas for a number of years, where my accent immediately identified me as The Other. And when I returned to the US, I discovered that once an expatriate, always an outsider, and never truly at home. On the other hand, I realized that my living abroad had given me a unique viewpoint and objectivity about my own country. I could see things clearly having seen them from a distance.

In any case, I continue to live on the margins, always looking in. I believe that this gives me potential for unique insight. But it can also be lonely. The closest I get to belonging is with my beloved wife, through whom I find community and friends. But at some level, I don't really belong there either.

What's the definition of "normal"? If you are a Christian in a group of non-believers, are you the standard and the atheists the outsiders? Or the atheist in a group of Christians? Does the outsider offer you anything worth knowing? ANd are they worth bringing in?


June Butler said...

Oh IT! I 'knew' you before I met your beloved wife, so you brought BP into 'our' group. Look how Tom took you and BP into his heart. Oh my! We had a lovely time together. And I must tell you that Tom does not take to everyone as he took to you two.

I believe what you've written, but I don't at all think of you as 'other' or outside my circle, my friend,

IT said...

Well, Mimi, I would say you (and Tom!) have definitely brought me in from the cold... ;-) but of course, I'm the ultimate outsider here, the atheist of the Episcopal blogosphere!

June Butler said...

IT, we are one in that which is essential, in our humanity. And we are one in love, which bridges all divisions and labels.

JCF said...

we are one in that which is essential, in our humanity. And we are one in love, which bridges all divisions and labels.


"Wot Mimi Said"

I wish you commented at Joe.My.God, IT. As a believer in Christ-God, I'm so frequently an outsider there. I don't even bother to say (per Dan Savage) "NALT" to the constant entries re the *latest* Christianist Outrage. But when the responses get...annihilationist re Christians there, I still find it difficult not take it personally. That's *me* they want to see devoured by lions (and more prosaically, my TEC parish they want to see taxed! :-X)

Queer&Christian: ALWAYS, *somebody* wants to stipulate, angrily, "oxymoron". :-/

I guess I want you to comment at JMG, IT, to prop me... {Sigh}

IT said...

JCF, I have to ration my commenting. I stopped doing much at Daily Kos because I wearied of the non-stop attacks on Christians. They called me a Christian apologist...pretty sad.

I like to say that I've gone through my religion-bashing phase to become post-religious. But I think that fundies on either side can't get there easily.

IT said...

Mimi, perhaps YOU should comment at JMG! Very lovely image,.,,

June Butler said...

IT, years and years ago, I tried to make the case at Eschaton that not all Christians were like the fundies, but I was met with such hostility that I went away. Perhaps that was not the right thing to do, but the verbal attacks took their toll.

I'll have a look at Joe.My.God.

IT said...

I just had an exchange with an anti-equality woman on Twitter who asked me what church I belonged to and what my views are on the Bible. She persists in saying that she supports #Prop8 because she's a Christian, despite a number of us pointing out that not all Christians support Prop8.

But that kind of communication is rare. The problem is that Angry Atheists and Cruel Christianists have polarized the debate so much that it's impossible to have a conversation that bridges the two.

Jake said...

Your post certainly resonates with me, IT, for lots of reasons I'll not get into. Personally, I've gotten to the point that being labeled an "outsider" or a "lone wolf" is considered a compliment.

Having spent some time now in the online debate rooms, I find myself not welcome in most of the Christian and Atheist rooms. The Christians label me as a heretic (or often an Atheist posing as a Christian), and the atheists label me a fundie! Luckily, I've found one room that usually avoids such quick and erroneous judgments, as it is set up as a theist vs. atheist debate room. However, even there, if the atheists outnumber the theists, I'm an outsider, and if the fundie Christians outnumber the progressive ones, I'm out again.

So it goes. But, as you point out, there are advantages to the perspective of being outside looking in. There is wisdom and knowledge to be gained by listening to such people. That's one reason I encourage church folks to get it into their heads that the most important person at any gathering is the stranger in our midst. The potential for God to do a new thing always hinges on the fresh perspective, and even sometimes honest critique, offered by those on the outside looking in.

There's other reasons why the stranger is so important, such as Matthew 25, but that's another sermon! I'll stop now. :)

IT said...

Jake, that's what I was groping towards: the value of the outsider who makes us take a fresh look at ourselves. And being an outsider can do the same.

We are all outsiders at some point, in some way--the problem is we try to put ourselves in situations where we aren't outside, but the in group. And that can encourage our baser instincts of tribalism.

klady said...

Exactly, IT. I have been struggling with that mightily of late in terms of the parish, the diocese, TEC, and Christianity at large. After another unfortunate public explosion of thoughts and words, I am left frustrated because I fear that I will never be able to speak when and where someone might listen.

Maybe I don't really have anything helpful to say. But as far as religion is concerned, I find myself in the awkward position of being simultaneously the penultimate outsider and insider simply by virtue of being an ex- clergy spouse (a status from which I apparently cannot get a divorce). I have no voice or vote as to what goes on inside and, to make matters worse, or at least more complicated, I remain very much outside, as I've always been, in ways that no one (including myself, at times) can even begin to comprehend.

I try to use that vantagepoint to illuminate, if I can, what I see around me, though no doubt without the patience and insight that you, IT, and many of you others have. I just am acutely aware of the tribal instincts at play on both left and right (for lack of better terms) in the church (and elsewhere). Among other things, they make people act and believe in ways that are illogical and counterproductive, at times not only oblivious to anyone's perspective but their own but deeply set in their unexamined conviction that others think, feel, and are motivated by the same things they are.

The problem, of course, is that we all see through a glass darkly.

Counterlight said...

An outsider all my life, including in my own family.
I remember spending 2 months in Italy and never once feeling homesick. Partly it was because Italy was so wonderful, and partly because as far as I'm concerned, one corner of the world is the same as any other. I will always be a stranger no matter where I go, and especially if I go "home."

Perhaps that's why I like New York, because it is a city of exiles and strangers.

JCF said...

Off-topic (sort of):

Having transitioned to where there is no more "outside" (I believe), I pray Christopher Hitchens rests in peace, and Love.