Ins and Outs

It’s a concept I learned in Sociology 101.

To have a group, you’ve got to have a boundary. Something that establishes the “in” from the “out.” What is a group without a clear line of demarcation?

Our church’s lines of demarcation used to be coverings, plain coats, black cars, no TV, etc., etc. Lots of time spent on who was in and who was out, and what defined separation from the world.

It’s not a conversation we have much anymore, but one I feel like we’ve got to have if we’re going to survive as a group. Are there new ways we can define what makes us counter-cultural? Things like the way we spend our money, the way we react to violence, the way we welcome and forgive and share grace . . . but these things are much harder to measure than whether or not someone is wearing her covering. And grace and forgiveness are not the same as apathy and tolerance, but they often look alike.

So what can we offer that is different than what our prevailing culture offers? Do we care enough to do that? And how do we do it without getting wrapped up in legalism?

Just stuff I’ve been thinking about.

Comments (5)

  1. carl

    hey Melanie,

    I’m not so sure “lines of demarcation” are the only way to define a group. Boundaries are one way, sure; but what happens if you focus on the center rather than the boundary? Put energy into articulating clearly the core values that draw us together instead of the lines that define “in” and “out”. (Instead of sheep on either side of a fence, visualize moths around a candle flame – except, um, hopefully without the burning up and dying part. Boy, that analogy crashed hard.).

    Anyway, it seems to me thinking about it this way has some real advantages. You get to put your energy into the core of what energizes the group, rather than into the narrow legalisms of “gray cases” around the boundary lines. People can decide for themselves whether they’re attracted to the core values that have been / are being articulated, whether they want to “orbit” that center or not. You don’t need a Grand Council of Viziers (or bishops, or whatever) to pass judgement on who is in or out.

    Anyway, just a thought.

  2. TimN

    I would second Carl’s “moth model” of focusing on shared central values that people are moving towards together. I worked with the Anabaptist Network in the United Kingdom. They are an ecumenical network of Christians from many different backgrounds that come together around these “Core Convictions”

    This model has attracted Baptists, Quakers, Methodists and many others to join. This series of articles with authors from many different Christian groups who are part of the Anabaptist Network builds on the images of moving towards a center:

    Drawn to Anabaptism

  3. Melanie

    Thanks for your thoughts, guys. I agree that this is a much more compelling way to do things than the old “you’re in, you’re out” model. However, in setting up the “moth” method (or whatever), you’re still setting up a set of convictions to which people are held. And there are people who DON’T hold to those convictions who are “out.”

    I don’t think that’s bad, it just is. To have an identity, you’ve got to have some kind of core.

  4. Curt

    I think this conversation about boundaries is going to need to be a central point of discernment in determining the path forward for the church. Ever since reading Alan Krieder’s article on “Salty Discipleship” I have not been able to get the image of “cows” out of my head. He talks about Christians being fertilizer in their culture… leaving something behind that helps growth and promotes health.

    I can’t help but see this thread eventually talking about free range cows and feed lot cows. The first follow food as they journey through their environment. The second are kept standing in their own fertilizer waiting for hay to be thrown over the fence every Sunday morning. The free range cow gives something back to the pastures they lumber through, always seeking to see new outgrowths of the very thing that their fertilizer is an agent of producing. In other words, free range cows operate inside the mission of God while feedlot cows are confined by the feedlot fence.

    My guess is that there are dangers for both herds… but the free range option seems healthier at first glance. I think one way to see blogs like this one (or artists, or musicians, or good writers, or even great preachers), is to view them as the guys in pickup trucks who ever once in a while drive out to where the herd is and dump some fresh alfalfa in the field. We all gather around when the alfalfa is good (core stuff) and gain the strength we need to climb the next mountain to the green grass of God’s work in the next valley.

    Is it asking too much to see our prophetic artists (God infused creativity) as the ranchers running herd? Too often we see them as challenging the herd (speaking truth to power)when maybe they have been our guides and protectors on this journey all along.

  5. Darrell Gascho

    Stanley Hauerwas has done some good work on this idea of being in or out and the need and usefulness of having boundaries.

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