At a recent church service, our pastor began talking about an upcoming sermon that was to have something to do with "margins" in our Christian lives.
Much of what he said was tantalizing. He discussed how we need to make space for important things in our busy lives. He gave a couple of examples: First, how hard it can be to find time to exercise, even though we know it is healthy. Then he admitted how hard it is, even for him, to read his daily devotional on the Internet when his email beckons.
As is often the case, I didn't quite "get" all that he was saying. But, ever the wise-guy, I sent him an e-mail asking for some clarifications -- and saying, "If you haven't read your devotional yet today, stop reading this email."
He still hasn't gotten back to that sermon, but my mind has been grappling with the whole idea of space and how it defines things.
We humans are comfortable with space. We like to have plenty of space around us. We like our homes on spacious lots. We feel less apprehensive when we can distinguish between "us" and "them" -- even when we are on the "wrong" side of the tracks.
But I sat looking at my Bible the other day and thought that God must have a very different outlook on space. What got me thinking that was the way I had this beautiful, clear text -- the very Word of God -- defined neatly on the page with beautiful white margins. But I had scribbled in the margins how each passage spoke to ME. The scribblings had taken on a life of their own, even as they destroyed the pristine boundaries around my faith.
I've noticed margins eroding a lot lately. The other day at work I was sending an email about a Christian ministry to some people at my church. Suddenly I thought it might be of interest to a woman I work with -- a woman who is in all likelihood an atheist.
How strange it was to drag her name from my secular address book into that Christian mailing about a homeless outreach we held on Christmas Day! How much stranger it was, days later, when I received her reply: "Thanks so much for sharing that. I spent Christmas Day by myself, holding a pity party. How much better off I would have been with you!"
Spaces are being reshaped in our church as well. This week it seemed the entire back row belonged to our homeless brethren. In our laid-back church, there's little to distinguish them from anyone else wearing jeans and T-shirts. To blur the distinctions a little more, there are homeless men fixing the cars of church auto collectors; a homeless man was the first to adopt the child of a prison inmate in our Angel Tree program; it was a homeless man at a recent outreach who coughed up the $5 for someone in need of gas for his car.
I think more and more that God has a very special purpose for all our boundaries: Not to wall us off, but to tell us where to go.
It's only on the other side of those carefully prepared spaces that we learn:
Our homes can be sanctuaries; the streets, places of worship; our churches, mission fields.
One thing space was never meant to be was an excuse to avoid community.
Isaiah 5:8-9 (NIV) puts it this way:
Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
'til no space is left
and you live alone in the land.
The LORD Almighty has declared in my hearing:
"Surely the great houses will become desolate,
the fine mansions left without occupants."
Read more articles by Al Boyce or search for articles on the same topic or others.