Dominant Culture, Love, and the Margins 

It is often in the place of the dominant culture where freedom is most fully experienced. I know this may still be surprising for some, but in America, where we were established on the freedom and the right to pursue happiness, the freedom that was dreamt of, only to became a regular reality for those who have access, or for those of whom access was created for; and let’s be honest and clear… access was not created for all. And yet, there is a voice, a faint one, from the margins, of the lonely, tired, forgotten ones, crying out, “Love me…Notice my pain…Don’t ignore my story because I’m different than you.”

For those without access, alternative social communities had to be formed to give voice to the voiceless and powerless, to fight for the rights and freedoms that are experienced by the dominant culture, of which are usually the ones creating more boundaries around their freedom, in fear of losing power, prestige, or possession. Walter Brueggemann calls this the “religion of static triumphalism and the politics of oppression and exploitation” The Prophetic Imagination, 17.

The king (or the dominant culture), usually, does not want a “free” god who is unpredictable. Rather, the king wants a god he can control, because if god would ever disagree with his rule, he can persuade and manipulate him to do as he wishes. The result is a complete conceived god who is not free in the sense of being accessible to all. The god of the “royal consciousness” is absent to the minority, the marginalized, the immigrant, the refugee. We expect this to happen within structures and systems where a Christian worldview isn’t the prevailing belief, but when this “royal consciousness” resides within the Church, among God’s kin, His children, we begin to have some confusion within the family!

Again, I want to remind us that God is radically committed to giving access to those who have none (i.e. while we were his enemies, Christ died for us “so that” we could have access, so we could be included… to live!). When God’s freedom is limited inside political/spiritual feudal-type systems, especially these systems created from within the household of God, one could imagine the disconnect many propels have with Christians closing doors to those on the margins.

The Creator God, at least the one I have come know from the biblical narrative, is always moving to the margins, exploiting those who oppress the margins, bringing alternative ways of living for those on the margins, and making access for those on the margins to be included, to have space to belong. Indeed, it is from the margins that the thrones of false kings are overturned, and where the true King arises.

One could argue that much of the Old Testament is filled with God focusing “only” on the Israelites, making it about this “one” people. But to see this would be to neglect the thrust, or what some scholars would call, “the arc of the narrative of scripture.” The arc of the narrative of the Old Testament is pointing to “one” people who will represent the “many,” which will eventually, point towards one person from that one people group, who would make access for all peoples. The goal is to re-integrate what has been did-integrated. 

From Exodus (22:21-22), to Psalm (86:9), to Isaiah (Is. 60:3-4), to Malachi (Mal. 1:11), and all scattered in between, we read of God’s heart to welcome ALL the nations, all kinds of diverse people groups, to make room for the sojourners, the poor, or those running for their lives (Deut. 4:41-43). God’s heart has always been to unite the nations, that His name would be great among them, and a family reunion would once again be realized by kin from across the globe.

And for “such a time as this,” in a day where there’s a plethora of corrupt leaders that are driving out humans from their land, keeping vulnerable people out of their land, evil gangs terrorizing, promising to slaughter and humiliate whoever stands against them, nations making profit off the poor, and powerful stakeholders trying to control world destiny, families are being displaced, seeking refuge and security, landing in cities all over the world. A very small percentage of these families are landing in the U.S., in a city near you. Even among those who are fleeing, there some wolves (real or perceived), pretending to be poor sheep running for their lives, only to infiltrate other nations to poison them. Yet, there is still a narrative arc that points towards love, acceptance, access, and belonging for those who are part of the household of God. It is terribly dangerous to live out of a Christian worldview, and sadly, few Christians are living into this. Many claim this worldview as their own, yet deny it with their lifestyle. 

I feel we’ve protected ourselves from the suffering of these suffering sojourners and marginalized through policy, fear of terrorism, nationalism, and “justified” prejudice. As a nation, I can believe how we could feel protective and not intimately join in the suffering of the plight of brothers and sisters from our nations and other nations. I get it. It seems we have a lot to lose in America. Freedom is under attack in new ways, threats that we’ve never faced are now before us, the economy is fragile, and the nation is divided.

It is a different way of live within the household of God. Our leader is rich, full of resources, is not trapped by geographic boundaries, is not motivated by fear, does not see death as losing, isn’t represented by one church or logo, and love and belonging are his weapons of choice, especially love and belonging for the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the poor, the sojourner. Sadly, within the household of God, this worldview is embraced in word and denied in action. We spend a lot of time talking about loving our neighbors in crisis, and little time living it out. 

We’ve allowed the culture of our day to rub off on us so much that the fear of loss, self-protection, and discomfort from suffering has handcuffed us. I know this is not true for everyone in the house, but when the vast majority of the family members aren’t getting it, when is the proper time to call this a crisis of faith? The family is in critical condition and in need of resuscitation. We’ve lost sight of our first love, and new gods have stolen our hearts and we don’t believe it when people tell us so. The “royal consciousness” of God’s people has been high-jacked by a lower consciousness that sees self-preservation as more important than sacrificial-love. 

God creates access for all. This is what He does, and his household does the same. The fullness of God’s access is best seen through the lens of Jesus. The God-man, coming to remove the barriers we’ve made to access God, became human. Think on that for a moment, the God of perfect glory stepped in to the margins by becoming human. He was born to Mary, an unmarried teen mom, who soon after her birth became a refugee in Egypt. When it was safe to return home, He grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood. He never went to formal school, worked His father’s trade as a mason/carpenter, promising never to amount to much, except to be an honest tradesman. 

He ended up leaving the business, had no place to call home, and lived off the generosity of others, calling a ragamuffin group of shady characters full of pride and anger to follow him. He brought worth and value to the women who followed him and included them in his work which was risky, since he was single, right? He touched the untouchable leper and the outcasted bleeding woman, slowed down long enough to listen to the improper yelling blind man and offer him what he needed, stayed in the home of a single Samaritan woman who got around with the fellas, and welcomed the tears and treasures of prostitutes to be poured over his body, so that he might be anointed to die the next day on a tree that represents a cursed man, dying for a cursed people who cursed the Him, only to be marched outside the gates, in the margins, outside the city center, to be crucified and left to die.

Then he went to the most ultimate marginal place, death. Jesus went there too, only to convert the tomb into a womb, thus giving life, value, worth, dignity, and access to not just those on the margins, but those all the way to the palace too!

God went to the margins, because it’s there where everyone has access. The rich can go serve the poor, or fancy their favorite spot whenever they like. The poor do not have the same access to the rich man’s part of town and favorite places, nor the palace. If the God-man was born in a castle, only the powerful and privileged would have access to Him, but thanks be to God, He went to the margins, became a part of the margins, and invites us in our new life to follow Him into the margins. This is the Creator God I’ve come to know, and it’s why I’m persistently writing about and living and moving into the margins of our culture.

We present an inaccessible God when do not stand and fight for the suffering sojourners, or fight for policies that continue to estrange them and strip them of resources and protection. The same is true when we look past them and forget about them and do not make space for them in our lives. When we neglect to see their plight and ignore their cries, we represent to them a God who does not hear and who is not concerned with lower-level dwellers who aren’t citizens of America. We don’t hesitate to call them illegals or terrorists or thugs, and we don’t slow down long enough to acknowledge their stories, validate their pain, and call out the injustice of the home situation that has left them desperate. 

This is a huge problem with in the household of God. My prayer is that Jesus’ people would be able to see this same God that moved to the margins and be challenged to move to the margins as well, however God might challenge them. I pray that people within the household of God would prophetically create alternative social communities for the forgotten ones to belong and be willing to stand with them regardless of the social pressure not to.

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2 thoughts on “Dominant Culture, Love, and the Margins 

  1. Good stuff Jeff. Clearly seen in a sociological and yes, relational sense. The church at large world wide, from a limited point of view (mine) is growing without depth. So to me, from an old school perspective, the issue is a crisis of faith when we forget “God said…”

    The Apostle Paul told a young man (who might have been the millennial of his day) “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Tim. 2:15

    What has happened over my seventy years of life within Christian cultures everywhere? A poor work ethic in the WORD! A deliberate confusion of truth where believers won’t and don’t desire to handle/know the WORD.

    For me, to see what you penned clearly represents, on a large scale, the failure of believers to grow, as if there’s a refusal to wait on the Lord for the exchange of fast-food relationships with God by giving quick manageable answers without mystery.

    No wonder with this lost love of God’s Word, are we in the straights we’re in. And I’m not talking about being a Monk where I’m isolated from others just to say, “I’m in the Word.”

    Everything is meaningless when we forget, “God said….”

    Thank you for defining the issue of an institutional and individual lukewarmness that shows the need to fall back in love with the WORD expressed in print and in Jesus (God in flesh).

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