We all want to walk into a place billowing with people and noise and distraction, and then somewhere in that storm we want someone to turn and notice us. We want to see their eyes light up and we want them to forget what they were talking about and we want them to pull up a chair or make a spot at the bar for us. We want them to want to get to know us. We want to know that we matter.
I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me
I’m beggin’ you to beg me
This desire for friendship and community and intimacy is a beautiful thing. It serves a purpose in the perpetuation of our species by leading to the creation of little people and also to the formation of communities that provide for and protect the individual. We are not all Bear Grylls-types, able to forage on pine cones and various species of moss.
Beyond the physical need, friendship and community fulfill the desires we all have to be loved and to have the opportunity to love others. Many of the emotional needs we have, and much of the pain we encounter, find their answer in this communion of misfits.
Yet a dangerous outcome awaits the individual or community who pursues this insider status for its own sake. We can easily become rather enamored with the way that others accept and love us. How quickly we forget how it felt to be on the outside, to be the one at the party with no one to talk to! How rapidly we erase the memory of that awkward vulnerability!
A strange thought begins tap-tap-tapping within our ego. An alarming worry opens our eyes wide, like that rustling in the middle of the night that sounds very much like someone trying to open the front door.
If I extend the hand of love and fellowship to an outsider, my fellow insiders will lump me with them. I will lose my insider status. I will be seen as different.
And so we ever so slightly turn our shoulder on that passing glance of a stranger, maintaining the insiders’ circle.
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I love Lancaster County. The scenic beauty, the memories from my childhood, the friends I’ve made: there are few places on earth like it. We are a generous, honest and family-oriented people. All good things.
But as a whole we are not good at welcoming outsiders. If you move here from somewhere else, I’d be willing to bet that you will always feel at least a little bit “other.” This experience may not be universal, but it is the case of everyone I’ve ever spoken to who has moved into our community from somewhere else.
“It’s a great place to live. An awesome place to raise children,” is the general sentiment. “But I’ve always felt like an outsider.”
There are numerous reasons for this. But at the foundation of our community’s main dysfunction is the elevation of family above all else. After all, most of us who live here can trace our family roots back 10 generations or more simply by opening our coveted copies of The Fisher Book or The Stoltzfus Book.
We go on vacations with our extended family. We spend every single holiday with our extended family. We go to church and spend Sunday afternoons with our extended family.
Of course, it’s our Christian duty to be kind, so we take meals to others and welcome them to the neighborhood and make friends with those “out-of-towners,” but in our heart of hearts we reserve the space of “closest friends” for others like us. And by “like us,” we mean “those who grew up around here.”
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I look around at this beautiful community and do you know who I see reaching out to the marginalized people the most?
Strangers. People not from around here. Outsiders.
My friend Chuck Holt has come into Paradise as an “outsider” and fulfills more needs than anyone else I know, working his fingers to the bone at The Factory where he provides a listening ear for hurting kids and a pathway out of poverty for those in the community.
My brother-in-law Ben Halvorsen is from England. He spends every Friday night down at the Kinzer’s Tavern reaching out to people who are one friendship away from a much, much better life. Many church people, people who have been in Lancaster their whole lives, find this association with “notorious sinners” a rather unsavory and perhaps even unacceptable past time.
Bethany Woodcock, after traveling the world for much of her adult life, has spent just about every year she’s lived in our community championing for the rights of the poor and downtrodden. Here. In Lancaster. Where most of us home-towners would rather forget about the little trailer park behind the auto sales lot, or the breathtaking poverty lining the part of Route 30 I rarely drive.
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All of this to say.
I am an insider. And I don’t like it. I don’t want it. I want back on the outside.
Maybe our trip will take me there.
* * * * *
As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers were outside, wanting to talk with him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.” Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “These are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” Matthew 12:46-50
There he goes again! Jesus constantly takes the accepted hierarchy and flips it on to its head. In this instance, Jesus’ own family is on the outside, both literally and figuratively…AND HE LEAVES THEM THERE. Replacing them, right there in his inner circle, learning from him and listening to him, are the notorious sinners, the tax collectors, and the outcasts.
What am I going to do with this guy, Jesus, who keeps trying to turn my world upside-down?
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And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have eternal life. Matthew 19:29
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Do you feel like an insider or an outsider in your community? Any hints on how we can all become more geared towards the “outsiders” among us?