Until recently, church for me was a lot of pressure. Every time I went, I felt all these expectations from people. I needed to dress a certain way. Say the right things, like “I’m doing good. How are you?” And, of course, I needed to sing really loud whether I felt like it or not. Church felt like so much work, like there were so many expectations I had to meet if anyone there was going to like me.
The weird thing was that I kind of felt more normal when I wasn’t at church or with church people, like then I could be real. I work at a record store now, and though sometimes I feel like I’m an undercover cop because I am a Christian, I usually feel like I can just be myself with those people. They all know that I am a Christian. I don’t really try to hide it or anything. But sometimes I think they know more about who I really am, what I like and don’t like, and how I really live my life than my Christian friends do.
In Jesus in the Margins, Rick McKinley says that there are all kinds of people in the margins. He writes, “Society—our world, our culture—has margins just like this page does. They’re places occupied by people who go unnoticed, misfits who seldom figure in when the mainline world defines itself and esteems itself. But they’re there. The margins are where I find people like me.”
The truth is I have always sort of felt like I am on the outside looking in. I always kind of feel out of place like I don’t quite fit. The people who like most of the things I like are not Christians, so even though we are alike in a lot of ways, I always feel different than them too. This book helped me to see that maybe that is OK. McKinley is the pastor of Imago Dei Community Church in Portland, Ore., and in this book he says that Jesus was always hanging with non-Christians and took a lot of heat from the religious leaders for it. He says that it is mostly outside of the church walls where God is at work, “in the places we ignore.”
In the book, McKinley talks about his own life and the life of some of his friends and how God has worked in them and through their situations. Like Tiffany, a girl who was molested by a family member at a young age and now has a hard time dealing with the idea that God loves her because He let that happen. Or Peter, who is a very successful businessman but confesses that though he has everything money can buy, he has no real relationships with anyone, including his family. And even McKinley admits that although he is a pastor, he has a continual fear of rejection.
The biggest thing about this book is Jesus. When I was reading it, I saw Him in a different way, as the God who doesn’t expect people to be all perfect before He will like them or accept them. It challenged me to think about what Jesus did, not solely in terms of giving me a ticket into heaven, but as this huge thing that makes me OK with God and then allows and calls me to reach out to other people who have been marginalized. Even if it means pissing the religious leaders off because I call those sinners friends, I am OK with buying them a beer and drinking one with them.
McKinley challenges the idea that Christianity is about rules and lines of right and wrong; instead, he says it is about Jesus—who He is and what He did and how we are to follow His example. He says, “The church wants to protect Jesus’ image rather than proclaim the real and living Christ. We want to protect Him from the appearance of doing things that wouldn’t fit into today’s church culture.”
I like the Jesus McKinley talks about in this book. Not because it means that I can go and do whatever I want and Jesus will be cool with it, but because this Jesus makes more sense with what I read in my Bible and makes more sense of my life. I think Jesus is a God who goes after those who live in the margins. The question we are faced with as Christians is, “Will we follow Him?”
[Duane Smets serves at Kaleo Church in San Diego, Calif. Currently, he is in the process of preparing to plant a church. You can read more of his writings at www.theresolved.com.]