doing life in the narrative margins

A simple life is not easy to lead in a church culture which demands we find our purpose and declare it to the world, establishing a marketing beachhead upon which to disseminate our ideas and wares. But it is necessary if we are truly to inhabit the narrative margins where most people actually live on a daily basis. It becomes a struggle: should we seek notice and affirmation, or pursue authentic love which gives and receives in mutual brokenness and care?

Donald Miller writes and speaks about finding your subplot in God’s story. I value his insights and I’ve attempted to apply some of them in the past few years since I chose to pursue a counterintuitive ministry and life path. However, I sometimes wonder if our preoccupation with finding our individual purposes causes us to deviate from what God has already required of us through Scripture. A few salient points come to mind: love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40); care for the orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27); love our enemies; walk humbly before God, love mercy, and pursue justice (Micah 6:8).

Is it possible that God set me in this milieu of biblical expectation and then said, “Okay, Glen, off you go.” No carefully scripted subplot, but a narrative world rich with opportunity for those with open hearts, just the right resources for those willing to trust God fully (no, I don’t necessarily mean financial or material), and courage for those who abandon any thought of comfort, accolades, or position so that they will be able to do life mutually with people in the narrative margins, thereby also rendering themselves marginalized by the predominate church culture?

I believe God has a purpose for my life and yours. I just think we spend far too much time fretting over it, and not nearly enough time living it out, exploring the wondrous opportunities he gives us. Our fear is predicated on protecting from personal or corporate setbacks, rather than helping others in distress. It is motivated by a need to pay bills, rather than enter mutually into the lives of those with no resources at all. It has an upwardly mobile sensibility, rather than an incarnational attitude of self-sacrifice in the way of Jesus.

By definition, the narrative margins are not called subplots. Subplots contribute to the overall story. Yet, even there, perhaps especially there, God is at work. Jesus was adept at noticing those in the narrative margins and entering their stories. Case in point: the widow who gave all she had. We only encounter her once briefly in Scripture. Yet, Jesus used her as a counterpoint to the attention-getting (think self-marketing) ways of the wealthy contributors. She gave all she had, and that is all we know about her.

What would happen if there were more people like that in the world today? What if more people lived outside the notice of popular media, church power structures, and cultural mainstream, choosing instead self-sacrifice, living for God and others rather than themselves, inhabiting the narrative margins as testaments to God’s redeeming grace? Such a life costs everything. Demands nothing. Loves and is loved far from the glare of hierarchical religious notice, the ecclesial consciousness which determines who may or may not exert influence within traditional power structures.

The good news is that they are out there. We simply don’t hear about them because they do not tweet, blog, write books, or speak at conferences about it. They are too busy living it out. I think that’s my cue to log out and press in to the narrative milieu into which God has placed me.

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