Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The In-Group

Yesterday's post was one of the toughest that I have written in awhile. And it's because it strikes so near at the heart of the tension that we feel - at least, of the tension that I feel - so often as believers - the tension between the way the world thinks and the way that we are called to live. 

The aim of the post was to talk about how the Jewish believers so easily drew the Greek believers in when there was an issue to tackle that affected all of them. But in order to do this, we still have to talk in some depth about lines that are easy to draw between us. We have to create a distinction between the Jews and the Greeks in order to talk about how the early church got rid of that distinction with inclusion. 

And this is so hard. It's just so hard.

It's a tension that we feel in the world at large, particularly right now. We are bombarded with messages of inclusion and exclusion, of tolerance and intolerance, of equal rights. We keep being told to celebrate with these groups who are looking for a place in the in-crowd when they get one, and yet, there remains this tension. 

How do we celebrate real inclusion if, in order to do so, we have to first recognize what separates us? How can there ever be full-fledged oneness if it is grounded always in otherness?

Take a fairly non-controversial example from this week's news. They were reporting on a woman of color who is set to become the first woman of color ever to be a brigade commander at the U.S. Naval Academy. Now, we want this sort of thing to not be news. We want inclusion and oneness and the notion that the best man (or woman) gets the opportunity to be so routine that it's not news. And yet, in order to show how inclusive we are, we create the distinction anyway. In order to celebrate her most fully, because of the broken world that we live in, and to show that we really believe what we claim to believe, we have to recognize 1) her femaleness 2) her color. In order to show that we really are inclusive and that it's possible to belong no matter who you are, we have to show that we include a diversity of persons. Yet to do so is to create the very division that we claim to have just torn down. 

We are constantly, in our world, re-erecting the barriers we just tore down in order to celebrate having torn them down in the first place. And there's just something that feels...disingenuous? about that. There's something unsettling about it. Something that really bugs me. 

It's the same thing I felt yesterday when talking about the Jews and the Greeks. The story was about how the apostles embraced inclusion to settle a trouble that was affecting all of them, which is an example we should all strive for. But in order to talk about inclusion, I first had to create two distinct groups in the very scenario where the apostles themselves demonstrated that no such groups existed. They were one group of believers.

And I went on to talk about how the church is the same way, how we need to include those that we too often exclude, but here again, that requires first creating two groups out of a body that is called to be one...and then calling that body to be one. It's tough. It's just tough. It's precisely why these questions are so difficult. It's why for all of the conversations and protests and rallies and movements that we have in our culture, we never seem to get any closer to actually solving these sorts of problems. Because every time we claim that we are one, there is something in the same breath that betrays somehow our two-ness. Our otherness. Our recognition that even if we choose unity, we remain different in some very real ways. 

The truth is...I don't advocate the "in-group" going out an intentionally drawing in members of the "out-group." I said it because language is sometimes inconvenient and too often imprecise for these sorts of things, but it doesn't set well with me. I believe that in Christ, there is no in-group and no out-group. There is no slave or free. There is no black or white. There is no rich or poor. There is no Jew or Greek. I believe the apostles got this right by choosing faithful men from the group of believers to address the problem that was cropping up and by choosing a diversity of men that shows plainly that they believed this, too - that in Christ, there was no Jew or Greek.

And yet, I know that to continue to say that is to continue to draw attention to the very divide that we are saying does not exist in Christ. 

And that's why this is so tough. 

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