outsiders.

david hayward important people

One of the things that has been the hardest about shifting faith is moving from being an “insider” to an “outsider.” I have always been one of those people who looks like an insider, like someone who fits in. The truth is that underneath a lot of that has been a prevailing feeling that somehow, I just really don’t.

The more I’ve talked to people of the years, the more clear I am that we can be lonely in a group or as part of the crowd. We can look like we are more confident and connected than we really are. We can pull of a sense of being part of something without actually ever feeling like we truly “belong.”

And belonging is a really strong and important need for most of us.

I know it is for me. To feel like we have a place. To feel like we are part of something important. To have meaningful relationships that connect us to a bigger story.

And sometimes we equate belonging to feeling like an insider.

In the early stages of my faith, one of the biggest draws for me was becoming part of a family, a group, a place to belong. There was something about Christian connection that I loved. The homogeneity, the similar passion and focus in the same direction, the clear set of here’s-what-you-listen-to-read-believe-and-do. I loved the certainty, the conformity, the affiliation.

At the same time, I’ll admit that as much as I tried to be an insider, I always sort of felt like an outsider.

Like I somehow didn’t know the Bible as well as everyone else. That I didn’t sound quite as spiritual as everyone else. That I missed certain memos about what I needed to say or do as a good Christian woman.

But I certainly tried. Oh, how I tried! I worked incredibly hard not to feel like an outsider, to find a place, to find a way to truly belong.

I’d come close here and there, but that feeling of being totally “in” only came in one small wave during the two years I worked on a mega-church staff. There was something about being part of that team, that mission, that energy, that swept me away and I finally felt a feeling that had eluded me until then.

The hardest part is that it was just a feeling, not fact.

I let myself believe something that wasn’t true but that I deeply wanted to be.

The reality was that as soon as I started rocking the boat, I immediately became an outsider. And not just pushed to the fringe, but all the way out. Systems can be that way. They are powerful structures that shape human behavior and can be used for good or for not-so-good (and sometimes even evil).

One of the trickiest parts of my faith shift is that I didn’t just become an outsider of that particular church, but I became an outsider in the strain of faith that I had tried so hard to be part of for so long.

And being an outsider is tough.

It’s lonely.

It’s disorienting.

It’s confusing.

I am one of those people that no longer fits into one particular world. I am a post-evangelical-mutt and while I’m grateful for it, it is hard to never all the way fit in anywhere.

And I’ll admit–it still can be lonely & weird & confusing sometimes.

I just don’t fit into any group anymore.

I can’t align with anything all-the-way like I used to.

I can’t compromise my integrity in order to be part.

I can’t be something I’m not.

But here’s what I also know–most all of us feel like outsiders in all kinds of different ways, too.

We are in good company.

And that’s why I love the weird & wild & doesn’t-make-sense Christmas Story so much. The upside-down ways of Jesus remind us that trying to align with the world’s power, a group’s power, a religion’s power, will not help us. It will try to draw us in and allure us. It will try to tempt us to strive and try and do-things-we-really-aren’t-that-in-to in order to belong. It will try to make us work to feel important.

A few weeks ago I stumbled on the above David Hayward Christmas cartoon (and bought one, too!)

The important people weren’t there. The insiders weren’t there.

The outsiders were.

I’m not saying insiders miss God. I can’t evaluate that. But I’m saying that so often when we’re trying to “get inside” or “maintain our position inside” that we miss so much good right in front of us.

And we stay insecure, always striving to be this-or-that or believe-this-or-that or do-this-or-that in order to be part (no matter what that part is–church systems, non-faith-based groups, jobs, and more).

I have a feeling there are a lot of us who feel like outsiders this Christmas. Some embrace it with ease and feel comfortable with it. Others struggle with the feeling and long to feel “inside” of something again.

There are no easy answers, but I have come to believe this: “inside” and “important” are overrated and never seem to lead to true and lasting life.

//

Peace to you this Christmas week. I know some will relish every day this week while others are counting the days until it’s over. My kids are all home and so we will be seeing a lot of movies & taking some much-needed time off. Back sometime next week with the annual end-of-year wrap. It’s definitely been a wild one!

peace and hope, kathy

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

32 Comments

  • Love this! First, I have to say that I got Faith Shift, and I read the first two chapters last night and can’t wait to read the rest! But about this, yeah, feeling like an outsider is one of the hardest things (I don’t think one could overstate how painful it is), but at the same time I feel like I’ve become more connected to humanity as a whole, because I’m not separating myself out any more. Also, the Quaker community has been an amazing place for me to unravel and shift and grow–no performance in the silence, no creed I have to agree to, a deep value for acting from what arises from within. It gives me a place to be an insider again without all the things that I no longer fit in with.
    Wishing you and your family and community a very happy Christmas!

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    • i am late responding to this but love hearing this beautifulness. i think that would be the first kind of church i’d try outside of the refuge for that exact reason. i loved “living the quaker way” by philip gulley. peace to you, dear traveler, from across the miles…

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  • I love that the “inside” and “important” are overrated. It seems Christmas is almost a slap in the face to the poor who have mental illness, addiction, loneliness, pain and exclusion from being invited to parties and social gatherings. This makes me sad. Sometimes I can’t wait for December 26th. While we strive a lot of our lives to be insiders and important this always leads to competition instead of collaboration, love, humility and vulnerability. Blessings to you Kathy this Christmas season!

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  • Amen to the overrated comment! “Inside” (gaining an identity, a human belonging group, etc.) is one important stage for most people, but if we keep growing, it should diminish in its necessity and importance. And the less there is an “inside” the less anyone will be left “outside”! My emerging view of Christian faith is a very broad inclusiveness. I wouldn’t HAVE to even be Christian anymore, but have chosen to re-plant among progressive Christians.

    I don’t have a great segue, but there IS a connection: I encourage you, Kathy (and others who may be reading), to look closely at trying to get to the “Seizing an Alternative” conf. on Whitehead (Process) and the ecological crisis, in June in Pomona, CA. The connection: THIS will be a very diverse group of many Christians and many not… Tracks both Christian, “secular” and interfaith. The Christian ones will generally be led by great folks (some of whom I know and have learned under) who also barely “fit” (inside) anywhere. But their prophetic voices and leadership are strong. The kind of people many of us get inspired by, and who bring vital perspectives and such.

    And this conf. is very application/practice oriented. In my book, should be best of the year, perhaps of the decade! I hope I’ll see you there!

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    • thanks, howard. always love your perspectives. not sure i can make it down for that but look forward to hearing how it goes. we sure do need more prophetic voices and new kind of leadership…peace to you in the new year. hope our paths cross in real life.

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  • This all sounds so very familiar to me. I am grateful – I feel like I’ve been set free. But it’s also lonely sometimes, not quite fitting in, having to explain myself, being treated with suspicion…

    Still, selling my soul to fit in again would be so much worse! 🙂

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  • Blessed are the steerable — the wild, outsider, maverick horses, tamed to the bridle — the bridle of Christ, the reins of the Holy Spirit. Strong and powerful as ever, but steerable toward the work of the Kingdom. Rock on, sister!

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  • Been there, am there, finally comfortable in that Jesus following skin . . . Thanks, good to be real and share, so done with phony. };-)

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  • I really wish we could meet for a coffee and have a natter but it’s a long way from the UK! Your story seems so similar to mine… I too longed to belong, managed two years on church staff and my boat rocking got me pushed all the way out. I’m about six months into the “outside” journey and find your blog so helpful for those times when I feel alone and confused. Like Living Liminal (another one I’d like to have coffee with!) I realise I have actually been set free though and don’t want to ever sell my soul to get “inside” again. Thank you Kathy, I appreciate you very much xx

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    • thanks for taking time to share, it always means so much to me. wild, too, how the stories are played out in so many different ways, in so many different cultures & churches & experiences. crazy, really, and sad but true. peace across the miles as you keep walking toward freedom.

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  • We’re “outsiders” and embrace it. We have no interest in dancing to their music. Many others have also made similar decisions.

    When one knows the secrets of the insiders, one wonders why anyone would have any desire to be part of their group.

    I’ve often wondered why anyone would put up with some of the stuff they seem to be required to put up with to be one of the insiders. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: “To feel like we are part of something important,””a place to belong,” “To feel like we have a place”. Some are willing to pay a high price for those things. We’re simply not interested and don’t want to be part of them even if they pay us. People like us are very threatening to the insiders. Horrors! What if everyone thought like us?

    Reply

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