Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Christianity at the Margins

A few weeks ago, a Christian friend expressed concern that I seemed to be on the margins of the Christian community. While I could sense his genuine sense of compassion and his desire to draw me towards the centre, I explained to him that the margins of the Christian community was precisely the place I needed to be in order to live my faith with any kind of integrity. I explained to him that it was the margins to which I believe I was called by God and thus to gravitate towards the centre would be quite unthinkable.

Let me explain that it was never my intention to live my faith on the margins of the Christian community. Indeed, starting out well and truly in the centre, I was pulled towards the circumference by a number of gravitational forces. I certainly don't blame anyone for where I currently find myself - it is as much through my own actions as it through the actions of others. But perhaps the dominating influence is my own intrinsic personality. I have what is called Aspergers' Syndrome. For the unacquainted, Aspergers' Syndrome is a mild form on the Autistic Spectrum. The common perception is that Aspergers' is a curse, but I truly see it as a blessing. By this I mean that Aspergers' gives me an opportunity to see and understand things in a completely different way to rest of the world. And so, because of my unique perspective, it might even be apt to suggest that I was born to be on the margins.

Having found myself on the margins, I have discovered that it is a vibrant place where I can truly grow in my faith. Unfortunately, this perspective isn't shared by everyone who finds themselves on the margins. In my conversations with other Christians, I have found many people who find themselves on the margins for no crime other than having the audacity to be themselves. It may be that they have asked one too many questions, or it could be that they mistakenly believed that the Church was a place where they could be different and still feel accepted. Some of these people have been scarred by years of church abuse and wonder if there is a place for them in the Christian faith. My heart really goes out to them.

In contrast to the vibrancy of the Christianity at the margins, I have found Christianity at the centre to be rather stale and lifeless in comparison. Because Christianity at the centre demands homogeneity, I find that it gravitates towards mediocrity. Not only this, but because Christianity at the centre claims the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian as their own, there tends to be an unswerving conviction that Christianity at the centre holds the keys to the kingdom, which tends to breed comfort and complacency. And so, from these experiences, being able to speak fluent Christianese but residing on the margins I have discovered my mission. My role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I see no viable way to shirk this responsibility.

Though I am resolutely committed to a faith on the margins, the vision has recently been clarified for me by our current Bible Study at Space For God as we study the gospel of Mark. I am reminded by the fact that many of the Jews in first century Palestine expected to find a Messiah at the centre overthrowing the Roman Empire and liberating them from imperialistic rule - indeed there were entire zealot movements dedicated towards the anticipation of this Messiah and his presumed mission. It comes as somewhat of an anti-climax therefore, that the Messiah is announced by an obscure desert prophet wearing clothes made from camel's hair who dines on locusts. When the Messiah finally comes, his curriculum vitae is rather unimpressive. For the last thirty years he has been working as a carpenter in his old man's business. He comes from the sticks - a town called Nazareth, which might be likened to the outer Sydney suburb of Rooty Hill. And just for good measure, he is baptised by this desert prophet. Indeed, as we read through the gospel, we see that Jesus continues to live on the margins and finally dies on the margins in the most ignominious way possible in the ancient world - being crucified as a common criminal. His heritage as a devout Jew only makes his death more disgraceful.

It is not only in the life of Jesus that we see God at the margins, but throughout the history of Christianity. The early Christian Church was originally viewed as an aberrant sect on the margins of Judaism and for this reason it was persecuted by the Jewish authorities. But rather than stifle the growing religion, we read in Acts 8:1 that this persecution was just the impetus that the early Church needed to expand into Judea and Samaria. I also look back to 380AD, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius and became Christendom. Seated at the centre of the Roman Empire, Christianity became complacent and corrupt, plunging into what we know as the Dark Ages within a century. Finally, I think about the early Anabaptists (whom I am starting to see as my spiritual forefathers) who tried to regain the message of Christ and their faithfulness in the face of persecution from Catholics, Calvinists and Lutherans alike.

With all of this in mind, I offer hope and encouragement to those who find themselves struggling on the margins of Christianity. We worship a God who came to Earth on the margins, who lived on the margins and died on the margins. It was with people on the margins that he primarily associated himself. Ever since, he has done likewise. He was with the early Church as they endured the persecution of the Jewish authorities and the Roman Empire. He was with the Anabaptists as they were persecuted by the Catholics, the Calvinists and the Lutherans. And today, if you so desire, he is with you.

8 comments:

Jane said...

Heh. Being in a Sydney Anglican church makes me feel as though I have Asperger's too! God has blessed me with the heart to be with those "on the margins" yet he has placed me in a mainstream church in the 'burbs. I'm still trying to work out why, and what I am to do, i.e. stay or go. I certainly agree with your idea that those who are different find it hard to be accepted. It is a challenge for me to be myself.

Apologies for the obscure rambling, and thanks for your blog. I really enjoy reading your viewpoints.

Jane said...

P.S. You have chosen a profession in which A.S. is hardly uncommon!

David Castor said...

Hey Jane - welcome to my blog and thanks for your comments.

Concerning my chosen profession, I think you're right. Some might even say that having Aspergers in this profession is a distinct advantage!

It find it really gratifying to know that there are people out there who can empathise with my experiences. I'd just really like to encourage you to keep persevering faithfully as you seem to be doing. I honestly believe that God has a special role in mind for people who are different within the churches that you are speaking about. I believe that there are people who wish to be themselves, but are afraid to do so because they are concerned about the potential backlash. Your very presence helps give people in your church the permission to be different and the strength to be themselves.

Donna said...

Hi David,

saw your comment on our blog (Pine Gap)
do you know about the Christianity and Anarchy conference on in Brisbane next weekend? I think you'd really like it, see the website www.anz.jesusradicals.com

I'll be and and JimDowling, and there's a guy from Sydney whose looking to share driving costs....

hope you can make it, cheers Donna

jane said...

Thanks for the encouragement David. As for your last sentence, I hope so, although I fear that I'm more likely viewed as the "black sheep of the family" - too outre to be close to the centre. It's annoying.

God bless

jane said...

This is a terrible crime... http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/police-condemn-senseless-attack/2007/06/17/1182018919599.html

God help us.

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