As I’ve been journeying daily into our new neighborhood to work on the house, a neighborhood only a couple of miles from the epicenter of the rest of our life, I am becoming more conscious of feeling like a foreigner. As I make the turn from Chattahoochee Industrial onto Marietta Blvd, the transition begins. By the time I turn right onto Donald Lee Hollowell (better known in the ATL as Bankhead Hwy, despite the effort to rename it and change it’s reputation), there is a distinct feeling that I am not in Kansas anymore, or in my case, “Buckhead”. I am extremely conscious of the fact that I don’t know what the “norms” are here or in how many ways I am violating them. My skin color alone makes me a more obvious outsider here, but how many more of the childhood norms and expectations that go along with a life lived in white skin, in a culture that prizes white skin, will I discover have the potential to further alienate me from my new neighbors?
In reality, in every community there is a much broader vocabulary that we take for granted, there are style and taste assumptions we take for granted, there are forms of social interaction from small talk to humor to how we select our invitation lists that have all been shaped by the community in which we live. It is not like an after school special where a room is silenced if you break one of these norms, but there is a distinction between insider and outsider based on one’s compliance with local norms (from school cultures to neighborhoods to nations). This is what makes the junior high student anxious entering the lunch room and it is what I am noticing makes my shoulders start to tighten as I drive into my new neighborhood.
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Phil. 3:4b-9
I feel the insecurity of outsider status, knowing that surely at least one person watching through their screened window is asking, “Well now what are those crazy white people doing?” My most natural default mode is to declare internally that “they just don’t know” and to assume the superior status with “my way”. This assumption would of course be based on my personal community’s norms and laws by which I would then choose to judge this entire community as themselves “outsiders”. Great, then I win and they lose the insider/outsider game. OR I could try to do away with all the ways I’ve always operated and mimic the norms, vocabulary and cultural standards of my new neighborhood. Shame to Buckhead, bring in Bankhead. In those two options, I have to choose which laws I want to abide by and whose mark of approval will gain more for me.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. Romans 3:20
My confidence and security has been placed in my own norms following, my own sense of abiding by the commonly agreed upon laws of the land. As these change, so does my peace, security, and confidence.
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:3-4
The only Law that matters is God’s, and it is a law whose demands I can never meet. Yet, all of the Law’s demands have been fully met by Jesus who credits me with His righteousness.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10
And here is the difference: my laws, my community’s laws and all other cultural norm regulating laws turn my gaze inward and seem to have as their goal the identification of insiders and outsiders. In beautiful contrast, God’s Law is a written description of His own character. The goal of His Law written on my heart is that it would send my gaze outward to love others as I have been loved. I am no longer living under the norms of Buckhead nor will I simply change to adapating Bankhead’s laws. Drawing lines alienates, while the person and work of Jesus reconciles.
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. Gal. 5:4-5
Each time I feel that outsider insecurity creep into my body, would it immediately redirect my heart to the only source of security it was ever intended to have. Oh would my falls from grace, my grace amnesia, become less and His favor, His approval, and His warm embrace become more.