The Shift From Insider to Outsider

Yesterday I had, not a realization, but a revelation or a pondering. A moment of clarity that broke through the cloud of confusion surrounding many of the questions in my head recently. It was a moment not of comfort, but of acceptance toward the isolation and struggles I have felt. It was not even a moment which was an epiphany, in that of course I have understood what was happening, but somehow it just had yet to clarify itself in my mind.

The revelation: many or most of the communities of my past are no longer the communities to which I can claim to belong. Some are obvious, like the fact that I am no longer in the Army (although still able to be a veteran). Yet this realization continues to how I have attempted to switch careers and am frustrated at how little people understand what I have done, and the skills I have from that time. But this post isn't about frustration, but about separation.

I've moved to several locations, and am operating in a field that is not my undergraduate degree. My longest friendships are with people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away. With the distance comes lack of time spent with them, and so communication tends to get less and less frequent (luckily a couple of exceptions!). Even soldiers that I spent time with in the inseparable bond of combat in Iraq have faded into the shadows of life, only to be awakened occasionally (again, with a few exceptions). My short amount of time utilizing my engineering degree is nothing but a vapor, a blip on the map to which there is little connection (this one I'm OK with!).

However, the removal from other communities runs a bit deeper, and I am not meaning that it is anything negative, but simply a realization into why I've struggled a bit with feeling accepted. I've grown, learned, moved along the path that God has laid out for me as best as I can yield to Him in that regard! I'm sure every other person I've been in community with also feels like they have grown, learned, changed, formed, or adapted along the lines of what they believe. 

Here is the kicker. While I am as confident as I can that I have been following God with all that I have, my beliefs do not fall in line with many of the faith and belief communities that I've grown along. Yet I have continued to try to connect with them, only to feel more and more marginalized, ignored, or tolerated. Much of the distance between these communities and myself now are no ones fault. I cannot even declare that one is wrong and the other right in their approach (although this is not a reciprocal feeling by some of them, I'm sure). Yet, there is little sense of willingness to grow or learn together or from one another.

Politics and faith are the topics you are never supposed to bring up in polite company. So when I claim that I am neither a capitalist nor a socialist with all sincerity and earnestness of finding a better alternative, it creates distance. If I disagree with a young-earth creationist point of view then that creates distance. If the understanding from the study and personal walk with God that I have encountered has brought me to a place that questions (not core orthodoxy, but doctrinal tenants) of churches I was a part of it creates distance. If I feel that the economy should absolutely, positively, never be the reason for making decisions on environmental or social policy, that creates distance.  If I claim that we should read the Bible as the story of the revelation of who God is and how created, interacts, and redeems humanity rather than a guidebook for life, it creates distance.  If I hold that love is the guide for our lives, and not some moral, ethical, political, or religious code, that creates distance. 

Yet love binds. A love that I know is not removed from faith into an end of its own, but which encompasses all of those other aspects of life. Justice cannot be known outside of love. Mercy cannot be known outside of love. Salvation, free will, moral action, and character cannot be known outside of love.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 13 is truly being profound in saying that faith, hope, and love are what remain but the greatest of these is love. Do we get that in this chapter he also makes it clear that no matter what else we do, it means NOTHING without love. Obedience to the commands of Christ is loving others. When we read through John and find Jesus stating that the one who loves him is the one that obeys his commands, it comes just after Jesus giving a new command that we love one another. Then, shortly after his statement, he tells them again that his command is to love one another.

Couple this with the repeated emphasis by Jesus and others that the summation of the law is to love God and love others. How do I get from distance from the communities of my past and love? Because love is what is left, and what allows me to get up in the morning and continue to interact with those who view things differently than me. I'm not perfect, and I'm sure there are things I don't have correct. But so does EVERYONE else. No one is infallible in their beliefs.

But it is love that binds us together. We are all created, redeemed, and called. I cannot act otherwise, in the limited understanding that we all have. Thus I must hope to find love in the midst of this world, with its communities that are sometimes distant, and sometimes drawing nearer. It does not feel good to feel the separation, but the Love of God binds and guides through all of the chaotic movements of fallible humans. So I rely upon that binding love, even if it means that I am an outcast from communities that have added something to a requirement for being a member.

Jesus himself said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:43-48 NIV)

It seems to me what we are to do is love, regardless of what other do, think, believe, or act. We don't love only those who return our love, or love only those who accept our requirements to be a part of a community first.

Faith, hope, love. These three remain. I have faith that there is hope. This hope is that there is genuine community and fellowship (personal relationship) with Jesus and others. Hope that love exists and wins. Because God first loved us and calls us to love Him and others.

Simple, yet in writing this, I feel that for many I will have become more distant.