I came across a new phrase that I especially like while reading some Richard Rohr: “The edge of the inside.” Rohr, a Franciscan, uses this phrase to talk about his own relationship with the church and religious life, and commends it as a privileged position from which to see and live.
When you’re on the edge of the inside, you’re still inside the institution of the church, still participating in worship and ritual and community life. But you’re on the edge. You have a critical distance from the trappings that religion brings with it and you are aware of the shortcomings and hypocrisies of your own tradition. But even so, you have chosen to stay on the inside. There is life there. There is a vibrancy and a gift that one receives by staying in.
Being on the edge of the inside also means you have an empathic relationship with those on the outside, those who have chosen to step out of the structures of religion, or those who were never in it. When one is on the edge of the inside there is less emphasis on who is in and who is out and an acceptance of commonality that we share as humans across whatever kinds of lines.
One of the things I have come to find about being on the edge of the inside is that when you stay on the inside, you have a greater ability to help define what the inside is all about. You get to help shape and define what is valuable and important about the tradition. To use a phrase from one of our Twelve Scriptures, you get to help clarify “which commandment is the first of all” in the community. On the outside you can be critical, appreciative, whatever, about all this, but your voice doesn’t carry the weight it would if it spoke from the inside.
Perhaps we could even say that Jesus himself was on the edge of the inside, and, in his lovingly confounding way, made the edge the new center.