Living at the Edges . . .

For one Christmas in the late eighties, a friend gave me a small granite sculpture of three peas in a pod. When I opened the box, she said “it’s to remind you to fit in a little better.” There was prophetic wisdom in her gift. I put it on a shelf at home, and through the years, I’ve dusted it, held it, and wondered where she is now. I’ve also wondered what insight led her to see that I needed to get along better with ordinary life, to be less ‘marginal.’

I lost that sculpture during the last move. It’s probably still out there somewhere, sitting on someone else’s shelf, awaiting someone else’s interpretation of its meaning. But the prophetic utterance that brought it into my life has been stored securely in my heart.

My friend probably had no idea just how accurate her advice was–or maybe she did. I took dance classes in college, and one day, after a semester of class video sessions, my instructor said to me, “At the beginning of this class you were never quite in sync with the rest of the class. But now your movements are synchronized with the others. What was it that prompted you to finally move in time with everyone else?”

Of course I knew why. When I watched the post-session videos, I learned exactly how I needed to “fit in.” Without them I never would have understood the concept of orchestration. The class performances were like a school of fish moving together. But I needed to see someone else doing it to learn how to do it myself. Life has always been like that for me.

I think God creates all of us like that–full of impulses that cause us to gravitate toward people, careers, hobbies, and even geographic areas that feed our spirits and use those God-embedded impulses. He provides the basic creation, the impulses, the desires, the guides, and directions, but it’s our responsibility to figure it all out and to learn to function in His Kingdom’s orchestra, using our unique talents and limitations to blend with and create harmony with the rest of His Kingdom. In His Grand Symphony, the choreography is dynamic. He has given each of us the creative space to design our own responses, and to act out our own choices. Our God is a generous, adaptive, benevolent Maestro!

My space has always been the edges. I love being out in front, thinking my own thoughts, discovering truth for myself, the solitude, the lack of external controls, the room to think, to be, and to govern myself. Sometimes, as in the situation in the dance classes, that focus has been maladaptive. As John Donne and Thomas Merton once wrote, No Man [or Woman] is an Island. But I’m not lonely out there. The margins are the sanctuary of choice for mystics, inventors, musicians, innovators, thinkers, geniuses, priests, prophets, and adventurers.

There are also a few eccentrics, sociopaths, and ordinary whackos in the neighborhood. OK, so maybe it’s a little tough sometimes telling the difference between genius and psychosis–so what! My mother used to say “you’re so smart but you don’t have any common sense.” Yeh? Who said common sense was ‘common’? Of course she also said, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” There was no stopping her when she got started on one of those lectures. I learned early on to just sit there and let her rant. That’s served me well with bosses and supervisors over the years!

In my family we have lots of marginal types–geniuses, dummies, reprobates, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and handicapped types. They’re all marginalized. Society marginalizes differences. If you’re different in any way, you’re out there on the edges. For my parents, being marginal was a badge of honor. I never understood the roots of their values, but for my family, being ‘different’ meant we were better than those folks who valued possessions, money, and status over family. So I come by the need to be ‘out there’ honestly.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t scare me. It took me forever to find the courage to go to college. Going to college meant I would be rejected by my family, have to leave home, live on my own, support myself while I was doing it, and maybe never see any of them again. My parents told me, when I started packing for the first time, “if you leave, don’t come back.”

Every change I made after that was another step further away from my roots and out of their good graces. So every move was painful. Much of their rage came from their fear of separation and change. I knew that. But that first choice–choosing to go, believing that I would lose everything and everyone if I left, was traumatic. Eventually choosing in the face of opposition became lots easier. In hindsight, I see all of those choices as necessary precursors for my Kingdom journey. Maybe I would not know what radical choice meant if I hadn’t already lived through so many of them.

Jesus’ call to follow Him is the ultimate radical choice. When he first challenged the crowds to “leave everything and follow me,” more than a few of those people hightailed it back to the comfort and safety of their own houses. More than a few of us do that today. It’s another one of those unregenerate behaviors we need to put down.

“Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut– make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law–cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me. (Matthew 10:34-39)


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