Midlife is about giving birth to a lot of new things, as I was reminded in a devotional piece written by Rev. Mollie Baskette in the 2017 UCC Lenten booklet “Diving Lessons.”
You may have noticed I’ve given birth to a new name for this blog, for example, and I wanted to explain.
It was a typo this week by Sarah, FCC’s administrative assistant, that caused me to pause and wonder…Why do I like the sound of doing ministry WITHIN the margins rather than WITH the margins? Sarah looked puzzled when I thanked her for her typo and explained how it had given me a whole new vision of what doing theology could look like in Chelsea, MI!
Okay. So imagine a piece of paper. You are sitting in the center of the paper (a very small you). If you decide you want to listen to, learn from, and serve the needs of those on the outside margins of the paper (very small peeps like you, of course), you remain positioned in the privileged place of the paper’s center and walk over to do ministry with those whom society has often pushed to the edges or margins. You may do this walking over to the edge every day to listen, learn, and serve, but your lifestyle generally remains connected to your own position of privilege in this model. This is what Ministry WITH the Margins sounds like to me.
But…in order to do ministry WITHIN the margins, a person needs to take a one-down position of open, curious experimenter. This person begins to make choices each day that regularly take them out of their familiar places of privilege (always shopping upscale retail, being painfully scrupulous with a healthful diet, obsessing about weight and appearance, traveling as a consumer tourist, etc.) in order to intentionally live closer to the life experience and stories of those whose suffering is much different in some ways than those of us who can CHOOSE the level of comfort we enjoy to large degrees.
And the thing is…when we live to help the world heal or to help dismantle privilege for the few to give greater access to the wonderful resources we enjoy with those whose lives don’t hold the same socio-economic status, education, or health, we also inevitably find ourselves doing ministry within the marginalized parts of our own souls.
Case in point: As a volunteer at Ele’s Place (a center for grieving children and teens), I open my heart weekly to the experience of grief that the children in my group are experiencing from the death of a parent or sibling. Getting close to their suffering allows me to touch the vulnerable places where I have lost people in my own life. Sometimes I need to go home and write in my journal and have a good cry because of opening myself up to their pain, but it helps me to better integrate my own losses into myself, and so I am continually strengthened by this work.
Jesus the revealer of the “Christ” images God for us as a Suffering Servant. As Christians, I believe we are called to live our lives in solidarity with those who are suffering. There’s TONS of ways to do that, both WITH and WITHIN. But the beauty in all this is that new births of understanding happen when we make Solidarity our mantra—for those we serve, and for those of us privileged enough to serve.