Creating community on the Edges of Things

I have often been proud of the fact that I have tended to prioritise relationships with people who are on the Edges of Things – you know, the non-Kool Kats, the Out-Group, the generally Marginalised and Despised. 

This I have put down to my own experiences of being on the Edge of Things, at various stages in my life. After all, I know how it feels, and so why wouldn’t I draw from my own pain to help others feel included?

How very noble of me.

It has dawned on me recently, however, that my drive towards inclusion is a little more nuanced and a little less holy than the above stated rationalisation. My motivation for building relationships and community with people on the Edges of Things is partly because I feel passionately that all people need a place to belong. But perhaps more significantly, it turns out that I need a place to belong.

When you feel excluded by the Kool Kats, you have one of two choices: (1) try to get the Kool Kats to like you; and (2) forget about the Kool Kats, and start your own club.

Trying to get the Kool Kats to like you is hard work, rarely works, and is thus depressed and demoralising. I learnt a while ago to screw Option 1.

So that leaves Option 2. Start your own club! Make yourself into a Kool Kat! This is an excellent idea, because not only are you no longer on the Edges of Things, but you are now at the Centre. It’s a Centre that you have created yourself. 

I suspect that many a new initiative – friendship groups, sporting clubs, churches, not-for-profits – was started by someone or some people who were sick of being on the Edges of Things. And so they decided to create a new group – built on the Edges and drawing in other marginalised people so that eventually, it became its own Centre, and that once-marginalised person has now become a Kool Kat.

I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with this and in fact, I suspect that maybe Jesus was such a person. And Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day and Malcolm X. These are all people who drew together others on the Edges of Things to create big, powerful groups and movements. I know that all of these people had experiences of marginalisation. 

The only problem lies in lack of insight into one’s own motivations. If I don’t understand that my driving force behind creating belonging at the margins is so that I can belong, there are a couple of possible consequences: 

 

(1) I become complicit and unaware of my own barrier-building activities.

Any group has boundaries, and we feel included because others are outside of those boundaries. However, a good, Christ-like group must hold this inevitable dynamic alongside a commitment to be outward-looking. The whole world will not be in my group (for then it would cease to be a group), but for my group to be good and healthy it must have half of its attention on what is going on in the world beyond. Its boundaries must also be porous, so that people can leave and others can join. How To Not Become A Cult (Or A Gang): 101. 

Yet if I am unaware of my own need to belong In the Group, then I am likely to put my energy into calcifying those group boundaries. This, after all, makes my primal, dinosaur-brain self feel really secure. But for the group, for the world beyond and for myself, these are deadly actions.

 

(2) I become self-righteous.

Hey, look at me, I started a new club for people who were once on the Edges of Things, and now they belong to something! How nice was that of me. Never mind that fact that the initiative was more to do with my infantile need for security, and my own desperate need to be a Kool Kat, than for the righteous cause I am claiming. 

 

Don’t get me wrong – creating community and belonging on the Edges of Things is a wonderful thing to do, and there are Godly vocations to be had doing this. But like all powerful, Godly vocations, their potency comes from that scared, screaming place of neediness that is in us all. In this particular case: my need to belong, whose primal force courses through me as if I were an abandoned child. 

Acknowledging the needs that drive us to do the good things we do may be the first step towards true humility. Here I am, God. Here I am, world. 

Here I am - in all my naked, scrawny glory.