Outsiders. Jesus. Modigliani. Potok.

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No matter how you try to romanticize it, the role of the outsider is lonely. When I argued in “Too Christian, Too Pagan,” that truly following Jesus meant being “too pagan for your Christian friends” and “too Christian for your pagan friends,” a small cadre of idealists “got it,” but most people agreed with my wealthy, successful, suburban evangelical faddist friend who said, “sounds like a lose-lose to me.”

I”m concluding that what today’s Christian wants is a book that starts with a line like, “it is not about you,” and then goes on to be a book that is ALL about YOU.

Jesus was an outsider, misunderstood by his disciples, somewhat better understood and rejected by the religious leaders of his day. Chaim Potok was an outsider and described the impact on his writing of living out-of-kilter with his religious subculture AND the broader culture this way, “While this tension is exhausting, it is fuel for me. Without it, I would have nothing to say…” Artist Modigliani was twice an outsider, an Italian Jew in France, who after outbreaks of anti-Semitism introduced himself this way, “I am Modigliani, Jew.”

In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” Paul Elie reports that the magnificent 20th century quartet of catholic writers (Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, Flannery O’Conner and Thomas Merton), all wrote from the margins. “Walker Percy saw writing, for example, as a message in a bottle, you know, put in by one person to be urgently sent forth and read by another. That said, they situated themselves to some degree at the margins. And I think their Christian faith had to do with that. They didn’t expect to be at the center of things.”

Being at the center of things offers the promise of life, but it is more like a back hole that actually swallows life and light, snuffing it out. This is the peril of “mainstreamed” Christianity. It easily becomes salt without savor or a light hidden under a bushel. Is “Left Behind” Salt? Light? or as Newsweek said, “old-time religion with a sci-fi twist.”

Maintaining the integrity of artistic expression and faith communicated with originality is not the likely path to mainstream commercial success. It is more like Marah’s Bielanko brothers who Nick Hornby reports, careen wildly from a Shea Stadium performance with Bruce Springsteen to playing a small room at Fiddler’s Elbow, a pub in Kentish Town. North London.

Schumacher said small is beautiful, and counter-intuitively, it seems to me that it is as aliens and outsiders, artists and ambassadors FROM the margin that we will influence society.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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