Where is the margin?

This is the first post in a five post series entitled Faith at the Margins.

As a child I remember being really sensitive to the underdog. The people that weren't on top, the ones not winning, the people under-represented. For most of my adult years I have wondered where that passion went. Social justice has not been "my thing". It's not that I don't care, it's just that there is so much to care about in our world.

I poured my energies into a sphere of society where I can actually affect change; my home and my family. I might not be able to make a just world, a world that recognized and honored the equality, beauty, individuality and important contribution of each person. But I could make that kind of home.

2003, Maine coast

I'm currently on a quest to chart a path for my second adult career, the one to follow raising and homeschooling kids. As part of this discovery process I like doing online psychometric tests. Ok, I've always liked doing online psychometric tests. This most recent test was from the VIA Institute on Character and produced a profile of my "value" strengths. Sure enough, fairness is in my top ten though not as strong as my other strengths like judgement, spirituality, honesty, love, teamwork, forgiveness, beauty appreciation (that's a value!), and prudence.

I recognize the weakness of these self-assessments. The version of ourselves we wish to be can skew the results of who we really are. But an online values test is not the truth of who I really am anyway, it's part of the breadcrumb trail of understanding oneself. Crumbs I'm happy to pick up and nibble along the path of self-awareness.

I grew up in a family and community culture suspicious of "bleeding heart" Liberals. We were pull yourself up by your bootstraps folk, and don't expect a lot of help from the government to do so. Like almost every other family in our social circle and broader community, we were ignorant of our privilege, in spite of our own history.

Our immigrant ancestors settled the western frontier, fleeing the places of their own birth and upbringing, the land of their heritage, often because of religious or cultural persecution. When we arrived in this "new" land we worked hard to get where we were. Never mind that this new land had been the motherland of another people for millenia; people that the government conveniently and forcibly swept aside before our arrival.

where I grew up from grade 5 through grade 12
an antique car parked outside our home for a photo-shoot

So many ironies are nested in this story that it sounds like a fable, or a classic myth. Somehow in the story telling, in the life living, we forgot that we were outsiders once. Every single one of us.

This, by the way, is a dominant theme of the Bible. Remember the outsider, the outcast, those on the margins. Starting with the Old Testament prophets and moving to the New Testament teaching of Jesus - a man who was living on the margins himself, a member of a religious minority under an oppressive regime - the Bible calls people to care for those on the edge.

And we did. We didn't miss the message entirely. It's just that for us the edge was one of religious belief.

My sensitive child's heart felt for people on the margins, the underdogs of society, those who hadn't been given a fair shake in life; that sense of fairness, honesty, and judgement telling me "this isn't right". But I was then, and I am now, a security-seeking person. I instinctually look to authorities to give me permission to speak, permission to act.

The authorities in my life pointed to the boundaries and borders upon which I should care about people's suffering and separation. Did you believe in Jesus as your Savior? No. Well, that was the edge where our energies were to be spent.

I didn't do a very good job of it. And I struggled internally with this disconnect for years. Why did I not care more about people on the margins of faith who were dying and going to hell? Why was I not going out and preaching the gospel, as it had been told to me?

It took me a couple decades to realize I didn't actually believe in that particular gospel. It wasn't good news. It didn't square up with my experienced reality of God as eternally loving. A belief formed in my relationship with my parents and my relationship with my own children. Relationships of unconditional love - imperfect, fragile, and human as they were - didn't line up with the story I had been told. So I ditched the story.

I ditched it in my heart many years ago. I'm pretty sure the inflection point was when I became a mother and experienced the motherheart of God (though I would never call it that, at the time) in my own love for my children. I ditched it in my outward profession of faith in more recent years. And in those in-between years I just kept quiet. I did not proselytize. I did not evangelize. I did not know how to square my personal experience and convictions with "the party line". So I let them exist as separate entities within myself and tried not to think about it too much.

I had work to do. My head, heart, and hands were busy with the work of loving and raising my babies. Making sure they understood that nothing would separate them from my love for them. They were beloved, they belonged, were individually gifted and unique, an important part of the whole.

In mothering, I started to live and understand a theology I could not yet articulate in words.

Next post: Moving to the margins

« An Easter Story
Moving to the margins »
  • Jacinda Gilligan

    Jacinda Gilligan on April 26, 2019, 6:26 a.m.

    Oh Renee, I love hearing people's faith journeys. Having been brought up by a single-mother, struggling with the basics of bringing up 5 girls and in a completely secular home, I am fascinated to hear your story of awakening. My heart has been committed to my spiritual growth for as long as I remember but have always been on the margins of faith communities. Thank you as always for your honesty, your courage and your deep reflection - in your as in your writing.


    • Renee

      Renee on April 26, 2019, 12:06 p.m.


      I also love people's faith stories, of any kind. How people arrive at, or reject religion/faith/belief is so fascinating to me. Also, religion's inextricable relationship with community, belonging and tribalism is equally fascinating.

      Kudos to your mom. xo.


  • Melissa R

    Melissa R on April 28, 2019, 5:48 a.m.

    I teach a creative writing adventure class, Druidawn. In it one of the students created her character who had a personal motto: Be a voice, not an echo.
    I now know it's a popular saying, but in class was the first time I had heard it. I have never been quiet in my opinions but I have often been an echo. That quote gave me a new strength to be a voice in ways I wouldn't have before.
    Be a voice.


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