I met him sitting on a park bench. The star on his cheek was the first thing I noticed. It made me curious, and so began our conversation. It turned out that he had gotten stoned one night and woke up inked. The mark changed his life, brought him out of the main, and into the margins. Into a kind of world where first impressions really matter, and with a tattoo on his cheek any reputable opportunity was that much harder to land. Our conversation drifted to the spiritual, and Starface (he had taken up the name) shared how he had begun to attend church, and that he had a genuine thirst for more. “What do the folks at church think of your Tattoo?” “Honestly?” “Yea,” “Well, it’s been hard to find one that accepts me at face value, no pun intended.” We laughed, and I told him about when I was a new Christian, walking into church and overhearing an older gentleman say, “I didn’t know they let long hairs in here.” We had found common ground, and he relaxed, talking about his life, aspirations, even some of his fears. We were getting under the skin of things, so to speak, and as we connected, the star faded from his cheek.
When I meet someone in the margins of life, there’s an odd mixture of repulsion and attraction that fights for control. Yet, when I can take a breath, focus and remind myself that Jesus touched Lepers, dined with scoundrel tax collectors, and embraced busy harlots, it helps me see the individual for the value they hold, not their cultural idioms, symbols, or lifestyle. While seated with Starface, something in my sight, the facet of vision that has to do with love, grace, and compassion, narrowed my field, eliminating his outer qualities. I think that’s how Jesus could dine with sinners.
My friend Bob Mortimer rolls into town every couple years to speak in schools. Bob is a triple amputee, has one strong right arm left after a boyhood tragedy found him fighting for his life. He powers his customized wheel chair with that hulk like arm, and dares anyone to call him disabled. But after two minutes with him, his lack of extremities pale, and he becomes a whole man. I’m only reminded when I see others stare in disbelief, or someone mistakes him for a beggar, and slips him a buck on Time’s Square while we wait for a taxi.
Starface, meet Bob. Your common ground might not be easy to see, but it’s there. Both of you live in the margins where exceptions rule, rather than commonality. Starface, your options have become limited by other’s first impression. The body of Christ has been slow to embrace you, to loiter long enough for your star to fade. Forgive us. Bob, you have defied all odds, and become a father of three, and a world Christian; a pastor who ministers the grace of God out of a bedrock of excruciating pain. Your voice gives a unique hope for anyone listless with excuses. I need both of you, because margins remind me of the grace of God.
Margins are where the inconceivable, unimaginable and perplexing exists. Where two plus two do not always equal four, and where firm rules and justice and law reside to serve, not litigate the grace of God. Any alternative says that God is not God, cannot handle the twists and turns that come to all of us. We try to contain our lives, speak reason through our philosophy, worldview, convictions, or understanding. But the nature of God, being what it is, doesn’t leave that option open to us. He cannot be contained. Our only recourse, our only means to intimate union with God is through a faith, like Starface and Bob’s. It’s a humble willingness to receive from Him what He intends us to carry. Jesus carried a cross. How about you? What tends to push you to the margins, where only His grace can comfort? Jesus lived and died in the margins, so that all of us who are scarred, disabled, broken images of God, can follow in His steps. That way Love can showcase grace to the world, a world so quick to cast the first stone.
Who do you know who lives in the margins?
Have you put your name on the list?