Outside In

Recently I attended a wedding, which in the preceding days, was threatened by the notorious Sydney summer storms. It was an outdoor wedding with an indoor/outdoor reception. What was to be done, how much will we trust the forecasts, at want point do you pull the trigger on a $2000 ‘just in case’ marquee? (Heather, I’m really glad our wedding is behind us). The perils of being outside at the wrong moment extend further than simply a lyric from an Alanis Morisette song. Throughout our lives we are subjected to times where we are out when we’d rather be in. So much of our society functions on an inside/outside divide (it’s not always negative, sometimes it is solely for clarification purposes), but we are always aware (at varying levels of consciousness) of who is inside and who is out (though with the latter we all have our blindspots). There are people who are in my school and those who are at another school, or out of school. There are those who are in my family, and those outside. Those represented on a panel and those who aren’t.

This inside/outside divide extends to viewpoints, those who hold (in) those who don’t (out), and it runs on like Russian Dolls. For instance:

people who like sport vs people who don’t

people who like Basketball vs people who don’t

people who support the Spurs vs people who don’t

Even within the inside group to the third degree there could be insiders and outsiders (anyone with more than one sibling will attest that there are times some siblings are in and other aren’t, despite all being in as siblings, a pretty nuanced category to begin with).

So the question is begged, is there any way to escape this kind of thinking?

Should we try and escape it?

And, importantly for my own situatedness --

Is Christianity just one more inside/outside category or identifier? Should we be challenging this?

We know that the early church struggled with this. The Jew/Gentile controversies found in Galatians and Acts provide an explicit example. A subtler struggle to define the community comes through in the polemic against the Pharisees in the Gospels (‘the Jews’ in John’s account), a tactic employed by the Gospel writers and their communities who were trying to define/separate themselves from the Rabbinic Judaism emerging at the same time. A tactic that would, in futures unknown to the participants, contribute much to Christian anti-Semitism and violence. Therefore we must consider the dangers of Christianity separating people as in and out.

Therefore… and idea (which needs to be haunted by another idea – expanded in 3 practices)

Idea 1) Christianity is not one inside/outsider definer among many, it becomes the only definer. In this view, there are simply those who respond to the Christ event and those who don’t. Thus race/gender/sexuality/class/age are dismantled as defining/separating categories – this is the Pauline cut, the universalism of the Christ event.

However, there is still the danger that this inside/outside divide will lead to violence. Therefore it needs to be haunted. It needs to be haunted because, within Christianity, internal/external divides are perpetually blurred. Does not Christianity revolve around the outsider, the wholly other? Because Christ, who being in very nature of God (eternally inside), did not consider being inside with God something to be used to his advantage and instead made himself nothing, took himself outside, by taking the very nature of a servant, and remained committed to the outside, even to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:4-8, loose translation). Does not Christ become the ultimate outsider on the cross? Confirming in that moment, that it is in the underside of society, those expelled, uncounted, unloved, that we will encounter the Divine Life? Thus, are we not called to and confronted by the outsider? Is not Christianity based on radical, unconditional hospitality and enemy love – do not these break any conception outside/inside? Does not the work of the Spirit in all cultures and times render a division based on the action of the Second person of the Trinity absurd? Will these questions ever cease? Didn’t you mention practices before?

Good point. Let’s go to the practices. Though the first is not so much a practice – please forgive.

  • Switch the focus. Shift the way we read the Pauline cut, the way we read ‘responding to the Christ event’. Make the boundary less about those who believe in Jesus (much more a product of the uncontrolled time and place of my birth than anything else), to those who have the faith of Jesus – i.e. faith in restoring life; in justice, liberation and preferential options for the poor; in the forgiveness of trespass and the bringing of jubilee; in the challenge of oppression and the transformation of communities; of standing with the outsider; of those whose eyes are turned towards the to come and not propping up the systems of the day; to those who use their traditions to critique structures and systems of violation and violence; of love unconditionally. Make this what we mean by responding to the Christ event, rather than the intellectual assent to propositional doctrine (not that it doesn’t have a place, it just doesn’t have the place).
  • Allow our beliefs, traditions, and language to be continually disturbed by those who are considered outside (as well as from traditional ‘outsiders’ within our communities). In terms of a practical outworking, there are courses like Peter Rollins' Atheism For Lent or the Evangelism Project. There are other ways to do this however, inviting speakers to challenge and provoke, reading from outside of your typical sources, etc.
  • Examine our hospitality. The positive here is that it is less cerebral. Regularly check in on your hospitality – who is invited, who remains in discreetly the dark as the uninvited other, are you simply inviting your friends, those of high esteem, those who can invite you back, or are you following the model of hospitality Jesus encouraged? Beyond this, is your hospitality all based on invitation, or is there openness to visitation, for welcoming the stranger who comes knocking on your door

There's always more that could be said, and I'd love to hear other people's thoughts in the comments - but the idea that Christianity can remain unchecked as an inside/outside division seems more and more troublesome to me.