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Community from the Inside-Out

Community from the Inside-Out

The phrase “inside-out” brings back many painful childhood memories of clothing improperly applied. However, as I grew older, I learned which ways my shirts, socks and pants were supposed to be worn—the tags and stitching should not show. Why it takes every child so long to understand that concept, I’ll never know.

Growing up also afforded me the opportunity to learn how the term “inside-out” could be more diversely applied to things other than how incorrectly I dressed myself. For instance, I worked at a door factory one summer and learned how doors swing on their hinges in various ways—there was the inside swing, the outside swing and the inside-out swing. Different hinges were required for each swing and each needed a certain kind of assembly. Pretty simple concept, right? That’s what I thought, too—that is until I started putting the hinges on.

Doors are such overlooked objects. We hardly ever wonder what goes in to making one work properly. Before my job at the door factory, I hadn’t. Why would I? After all, that’s for the folks who work in the door factories! Laying flat upon a table, detached from its frame and without the additional guidance of a door-knob hole, it is difficult to gather a context for which way a door will be swinging. I found that I had to pay special attention to the invoices, which provided this information, if only vaguely. People would order a door to swing a particular way depending on how easily it would allow them to enter through it. Some were ordered as inside swings, others for outside swings, and still others were ordered for the grandest of them all—the inside-out swing.

The inside-out hinge was the most difficult to assemble because of its more versatile purpose. The hinges for the inside and the outside swings were made to be put on the door in only one way, for only one purpose—they were exclusive. They fulfilled their function, but were also limited by that function. The inside-out hinges, however, served both functions, offering the most access and widest range of approachability.

“So what?” you may be asking. Well, unlike the hinges with which I worked, we can choose how we want to function. We can choose to “swing in,” thus creating an impenetrable, self-serving, self-loving community that is very safe but that requires very little of its members. This group of people often quickly forgets what initially brought them together and forms shadow-purposes, determined to perpetuate their own existence at the cost of others. They are relevant only to themselves, and ultimately fail to reflect Biblical community.

Another option is to “swing out.” A “swing-out” crew of people is so isolated from each other that no sense of community is ever realized—no chemistry of togetherness is achieved. This group’s purpose never materializes, and they are conclusively diluted into irrelevance.

A third option, the one I hope we all choose, is the “inside-out” swing. This is the approach that acknowledges the need for togetherness, which requires that we spend time laughing with each other, eating, perhaps crying and definitely engaging those topics that always seem to surface late at night. Developing chemistry is valued by the inside-outters because they know that healthy community requires deeper-than-surface relationships. However, the inside-outters are careful not to just love themselves or their purpose … or to the neglect of loving others. They make efforts to see people for what they are—creations who are dealing with the conundrum of being human. Essentially, the inside-outters are in the world, but not of the world—they are sheep in the midst of wolves, as shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. They know where love begins and use wisdom in how they love back.

The Kingdom of God is made of doors hinged upon the inside-out-ness of love: to bring in what is without and to let out what is within. My hope is that, as we continue to discover our identity in Christ, we will consider swinging upon similar hinges. As I needed to pay attention to the invoices in the door factory, would it be that we pay even greater attention to the Word of God—our Biblical guide—so that we know when and how to operate.

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