Seeing life through the eyes of the marginalized might mean I have to actually talk to someone I am not already friends with on Facebook. It could mean I take a route to school (the mall, work, the gym) I do not normally take. It might mean I need to take more time to do the things I do. Seeing life through the eyes of the marginalized means I need to be intentional.
Passing over those on our margins is easy. We are busy. Our minds are five steps ahead of our bodies. We get tunnel vision in order to keep all the balls we are juggling in the air. And, just like that, a week has gone by, the good idea we had to break out of our routine got buried under a mound of paper work, laundry, grass clippings, or appointments. When I worked graveyards on the weekend I used to volunteer at a food bank on Saturday mornings. It was one of the places I chose to become more aware of my margins. But, I let a week go by because I really “needed” to sleep and pretty soon seven months have past and I have only been to the food bank once. I do not even have the excuse any more of being tired from graveyards because I have not work graveyards since August. I simply got out of the habit of going and now my real margins are a little further away and my “comfortable” ones are building walls again.
Granted when we use the term marginalized generically we probably are not talking about the people on our personal margins but the principle of six degrees of separation in all likelihood gets us to our real margins in a hurry. The truth is we all have margins and are part of someone else’s margins. Perhaps looking at it that way can actually help us become more aware of those we marginalize in the generic sense. Having margins is natural. Building walls on them so we can not see the rest of the world is neglect.
For over a year, before I started back to school, I had basically isolated myself. My margins started at my front door. I had more room (so to speak) on-line than in real life. This experience brought to my attention the fact that most people who are marginalized by society probably get that way because they first become isolated. When a person’s connections decrease the likelihood they will become marginalized by the rest of society increases. This principle holds true whether we are talking about a microcosm like a school or the grand picture of the world.
Some people on the margins do just fine. In fact they like having fewer “bosses”, fewer outside responsibilities, and the feeling that comes from living off the fruit of their own labor. Most however live with considerable risk. Just like the weak in a herd they are vulnerable to predators. Charlatans and bullies take advantage. Accidents and disease take their toll. Often their neediness makes them even less welcome when they do appear on our door steps, in our shopping malls, or at our fellowship halls.
While “Christians” are number one on most polls when it comes to throwing funds in the direction of the “marginalized” (especially in crisis situations) we run a distant second or third (behind the government and non-profits) when it comes to actually getting in the trenches. Sadly, we are even more “far-sighted” than secular society when it comes to seeing our “neighbors”, preferring to focus the little we do give on foreign missions. After all, telling ourselves, “I can’t afford to quit my job and go overseas” is a more understandable and legitimate excuse for not becoming personally involved than saying, “I just never have two hours on a Saturday morning to work at the foodbank.”
I do not know what it is like to be completely without resources. Even during the very short time I was a homeless college student I had friends who took me in and a key to the theatre dressing rooms where I could take a hot shower. I cannot therefore actually see the world through the eyes of our societies most marginalized (let alone the world’s). I can however slow my life down, open my eyes wider, and begin to see those who live on the margins. And if I choose, I might not only recognize the ways in which I am able to build bridges but begin to build them.
Here are a few more posts to check out:
George at the Love Revolution – The Hierarchy of Dirt
Arthur Stewart – The Bank
Sonnie Swenston – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
Wendy McCaig – An Empty Chair at the Debate
Ellen Haroutunian – Reading the Bible from the Margins
Christine Sine – Seeing through the Eyes of the Marginalized
Alan Knox – Naming the Marginalized
Liz Dyer – Step Away from the Keyhole
John O’Keefe – Viewing the World in Different Ways
Steve Hayes – Ministry to Refugees–Synchroblog on Marginalised People
Andries Louw – The South African Squatter Problem
Drew Tatusko - Invisible Margins of a White Male Body
Jacob Boelman – Through the Eyes of the Marginalized