I don’t think I’ve ever belonged in the middle, I was just born there.
Middle-class, middle-England, middling at school, middle, middle, middle me. To which I could add white, male, and straight. Straight down the middle of the road, me.
Except I never felt like I belonged there. I was made for something else, maybe something more, maybe something less. A born non-conformist, you might say. And so I’ve journeyed towards the margins. At least, in some ways I have. I can’t change my ethnicity, I don’t want to change my gender, and my sexuality seems pretty stable.
The margins are much more interesting, much more vibrant, much more real. It’s at the margins that I meet diversity, it’s at the margins where I stop being a majority. It’s at the margins that I become more fully me, more gloriously human.
And yet those who find themselves cast to the margins through no choice of their own, often tell me that they long to journey to the centre. Those who are disempowered see the margins very differently from those who have inherited power.
So how do the margins and middle meet? How does genuine engagement occur which isn’t simply the powerful taking a tourist trip to patronise the powerless. How do we overcome the boundaries which define us, segregating the middle from the margin?
It’s interesting to consider the example of Jesus here: In many ways, he was a man from the middle. For starters, he was a man – which immediately put him in the top 50% of his society. Secondly, he was educated enough to be literate, and thirdly he had access to financial support. But in other ways he was marginal – as a Jew he was marginal the dominant culture of the Roman Empire, and he chose a life of homeless itinerancy rather than staying within the family structures of his Nazareth hometown. He was single, childless, and attracted all the wrong sorts of attention from the powers-that-be. And then there was the company he kept. Sinners and tax collectors, women and underdogs. All marginal, excluded, disempowered.
It seems to me that the church has been at its worst when it has sought to make a journey to the centre. When Christians have sought power, they become least like Christ. The most Christ-like people I have ever met are those who gather at the margins. Whether they are there through no choice of their own, or because they have made the journey of their own volition, it is in the laying down of power that people discover their closeness to the one who laid aside his own power for the sake of others. In the story of Jesus’ temptation, Satan offers him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor, and Jesus says no. Those who would follow Jesus must surely also say ‘no’ to the temptation of power.
And yet, in so many countries around the world, Christians are longing for power: they perceive themselves to be marginalised, and they hark back to the ‘glory days’ of empire and Christendom, when church and state were bedfellows in global domination. Politicians like Donald Trump are unashamedly playing to this sense of powerlessness, of marginalisation, by offering power to Christians, and offering to take their cause to the centre once again. Trump recently promised, “And by the way, Christianity will have power… because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.” (http://tinyurl.com/zfg4ehy). To which I say that neither America nor the UK are ‘Christian countries’, and neither should they be.
Jesus is never to be found walking towards the centre. He is always walking the other way, towards the margins and the marginalised. Towards the women and children; towards the gay and the bi, and the queer and the trans; towards the refugees in the jungle; towards the Muslim teenager in a ‘Christian’ country; towards the poor and the vulnerable and the homeless; towards any who don’t ‘fit’ in the world that they have inherited.
Simon is Co-Minister of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church and is a bit of a whizz when it comes to the Book of Revelation and all things apocalyptic. He is married to Liz and writes on Facebook: “Who’s Who lists my interests as, “Reading, photography, coffee, guitar, F1, and subverting empire”.
You can read more of Simon’s work at: Baptist Bookworm