what are the margins of culture and why do they matter?

Those who inhabit the cultural margins typically do so because they either do not have the social or economic capacity to remain in or penetrate mainstream society, or they choose to remain beyond the grasp of full engagement. There are also degrees of marginalization based on a variety of sociological metrics, ranging from personal income and being able to rent or own a home and transportation to language, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, among other categories, such as health, age, marital status, criminal record, and so on. It is not a simplistic issue. Yet, the net effect for many people is marginalization outside the preferred norms of the culture. It may result in a sense of isolation (as with many elderly who can no longer venture out to find community), expulsion from a home (as in gentrification in a neighborhood which once was affordable, but now has escalated its cost of living), living on the street, being mocked or ignored, and for many youth, seeking ways to gain a sense of belonging through gangs, the sex trade, drugs, violence, graffitti, or other kinds of unsavory behaviors.

There is a frequent assumption among affluent Christians (for purposes of this post, anyone with enough money to pay their basic bills and keep a roof over their heads) that the marginalized are getting what they earned, a ticket to poverty in some form due to unspecified nebulous past misdeeds. A dreadful attitude exacerbated by a lack of relationships with real marginalized people.

The margins of the culture are inhabited by people whom God loves. They have pulses. They have dreams and longings. They range from young to old, and span the full gamut of languages, religions, ethnicities, and even economic strata. That’s right, even affluent people can become marginalized in a certain sense. Just check your local police blotter or obituary column.

The margins matter because God cares about the people who dwell in their spaces. People like you. Like me. Think about the last time you felt isolated from people and God, profoundly lonely. Was it recently? Did someone penetrate that space as an apparent gift from God to bring you community and love? What did that do for your heart? Your view of God and his church?

Most people in the margins are honestly not aware they dwell in that space. It is normal life for them. Many do not know God. Or they worship something other than the God of the Bible. Perhaps they actively oppose him. Many have families. They may even have roofs over their heads. They simply try their best day-by-day to survive while striving to achieve their dreams. You know, sort of like you and me.

What would happen if someone kind, caring, and trustworthy were to enter their world with a giving heart and actions to match? Not expecting anything in return, but certainly willing to engage in the kind of sincere social give-and-take which is generative of authentic community. What would happen if that person, or better, those persons were Christ followers with no other agenda than to love as Christ loved, give as he gave, serve as he served? Sacrificially. Humbly. Boldly. In the way of an ambassador with access to the Father through Jesus and compassion to honor the sensitivities of the culture in which they are ministering.

What might this look like inhabited and energized by the Spirit of the Lord and incarnated in real community as Christ followers interact with those who will likely never step foot inside a church on their own?

Break camp and advance…

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