Truth from the Margins


“The margins are speaking all over the place—in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world—calling us to respond.”
Nov_Kathy_800One definition of “margin” is “on the border or edge.” To me, the marginalized are those who, for all kinds of different reasons, are on the border or edge of whatever groups or systems they are part of. They are not in the center where the power and resources flow, but instead are in the white blank space that lingers on each side of the center.

I know a lot of people on the margins—men, women, children, who for all different reasons are subjugated to the edges. Poverty, pain, mental illness, physical illness, education, life experiences, gender, race, and sexuality are often reasons for people being pushed to the edge. Most systems have a natural tendency to look inward, not out to the edges. The status quo, the center, the norm is what will always get the attention, resources, and love. Left on its own, most typical systems—religious or not—will naturally ignore the margins and take care of the core.

The revolutionary message of Jesus was His call to look to the margins.

Over and over, Jesus told the religious leaders that they had it all wrong and that their methods of self-preservation were not the heart of God. He spent His time on the margins, healing the sick, restoring dignity to those who had lost it, touching lepers, honoring women, dining with sinners. His overt decisions to defer to the marginalized drove the religious establishment crazy. In the end, this subversion got Him killed. It’s an amazing example of how systems truly can’t stand any threats to their way of living. The center is powerful and doesn’t like to be challenged.

I know this in my small microcosm of the world. For many years, the number one battle I fought in church was to challenge systems to defer to the margins. To look out, instead of in. To break down walls that divide the center and the edge to make the borders bigger. To restore dignity to those who have lost it and have found themselves living in the shadows of the margins. To bring people together instead of separate.

It’s wild, really, how in the church of Jesus Christ there’s so much resistance to this. Honestly, caring for the margins shouldn’t be all that radical in the church. It should be the core of the work that we do as followers of Jesus, what we are known for, what people are drawn to; the norm not the exception. I always say Christians should be known as the wildest, craziest, risk-takers and lovers of people in town. But we all know that’s not always the case. We are often known as the scared ones, the protective ones, the judgmental ones. The ones who take care of our own—and that usually means people who are at the center, not the edge.

Seven years ago when we started The Refuge, we broke all the rules of church we could break. The margins were the center from the beginning. The poor, the women, the honest-about-struggles, the addicted, the lonely, the marginalized-for-all-kinds-of-reasons were the center of our community instead of the fringe. It’s why after all these years we are still small & awkward.

But, I can tell you this with certainty—it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been part of.

Nov_Kathy2So much beauty emerges from the margins, and I get to see it almost every day. Truth so pure that it is like gold. Beauty so glorious that it can’t be matched. Honesty so raw that it pierces souls. Healing so deep that it transforms the most hardened heart.

All from men, women, and children who have been pushed to the edge of so many other systems for so many reasons.

What we are doing here isn’t that special or great or amazing in terms of what is normally defined that way. In fact, so much of The Refuge is simple and unplugged and feels pretty weird. But I think what has sustained us over these years is that we have made a simple choice that has cost us everything but pays the most interesting, upside-down, and amazing return—to listen first to the margins because that’s where truth comes.

Prophetic truth that calls us to action.

The margins are speaking all over the place—in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world—calling us to respond.

The margins are where change in our hearts will come.

The margins are where change in the church will come.

The margins are where change in the world will come.

It makes me think of these words from Tim Keel, a call for our future:

“We need men and women who have previously been on the margins to come forth and lead us. In focusing so exclusively on our cognitive capacities, we have lost our imaginations. We need mystics. We need poets. We need prophets. We need apostles. We need artists. We need a church drawn out of the margins, drawn from the places and filled with people and shaped with competencies formerly thought to be of little account. In fact, perhaps it is from such ‘marginal’ communities as these that influence will begin to spread outward into communities that have been domesticated in a modern world and thus rendered docile. We need a wild vine grafted into the branch. We need alternate takes on reality. We need a different kind of leader–one who can create environments to nurture and release the imagination of God’s person.”

One of the reasons I love SheLoves so much is that it is a prophetic call to action that is coming from the margins, from the voices once unheard.

Poets, prophets, apostles, artists, dreamers, women and men and children releasing imagination and hope in all kinds of wild and wonderful ways.

The margins speak truth.

May we keep calling it out.

May we keep listening to it.

May we keep following its lead.