In-Sight: Living on the Edge of the Inside

Some of you will immediately recognize the title of this post as one of Richard Rohr’s phrases to describe where he believes God calls us to live.[1]  I have intentionally used his words, because I agree with him, and because I believe it is the place where God is calling us to live in these challenging times.

As you know, I have been studying the book of Micah, and it stands in the background of this month’s “In-Sight” writing.  Like all the prophets, Micah lived and worked on the edge of the inside. It is the prophetic location—the place from which renewal emerges.  It is the location where innumerable Christians have lived, beginning with Jesus and continuing through the first disciples, St. Paul, the early church—and  in movements and people such as the desert mothers and fathers, Celtic Christians,  Francis and Clare, the Wesleys, all the way up to the present in groups like the Poor People’s  Campaign. In this post I want to describe some of the qualities exhibited by those who live on the edge of the inside.

First, they seek to make love their aim, not only taking their cue from St. Paul (1 Corinthians 14:1), but also from the major world religions who commend the same. [2]  We Christians call it agapé.  Martin Luther King, Jr. described it as “a tough mind and a tender heart” that issues in nonviolent ministries of compassion. [3]

Second, they refuse to turn the status quo into a sacred cow, or sell their soul to any company store.  In classical spirituality language, they live for “God alone,” and in doing so they view revelation as progressive, history as evolutionary, and institutions as means. They move toward the singular purpose of God, the reconciliation of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

Third, they live under the inspiration of the Big Story. [4] They identify with a faith tradition, but do not see it as wall of separation, but rather as a particular manifestation of Reality larger than itself. They respect and receive truth wherever it is found. [5] As Christians, we recognize the universal presence and activity of God in everyone and everything (e.g. John 1:3, Acts 10:34-36, Acts 17:28, Colossians a 1:15-20,  Colossians 3:11). [6]

Fourth, they live in community, often beginning renewal movements. They are never “holy solitaries” (John Wesley’s term), but rather practice life together.  From the roots of their fellowship they produce the fruit of service in the world, with particular attention to “the least of these.”

Fifth, they resist principles, not people. Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-20 form their mind and fashion their methods. [7] Their aim is not to win, but to transform.  They seek to overcome evil with good through the practice of the better. [8]

Sixth, they strive to advance the kingdom of God, as described by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19, and exemplified thereafter in his life and ministry. In this sense they live as salt and light in the world. They live by the two great commandments and personify the fruit of the Spirit.

Seventh, they live by faith in “things not seen” and things “hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). [9]  They do this as an act of radical trust in God’s sovereignty, and that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” [10]  With the host of reformers they believe the arc of the universe moves toward justice, understood as inclusion, fairness, and equity—for all.

A final quality combines and activates the previous seven: they live as subversives.  I learned from Eugene Peterson to use this word in relation to the spiritual life. [11] He preferred it to the idea of being a revolutionary, as do I now, thanks to him. Revolutionaries stand on the outside and throw stones. Subversives stand on the inside—the edge of the inside—and  sow seeds. 

Our times are better served by subversives. Every person and group I mentioned at the beginning of this article acted subversively. When we learn from people like this, we live the Gospel well, and living it on the edge of the inside.


[1] He has written about this in his recent series, “Mystics and the Margins” on his Daily Meditations (September 27—October 1). The idea is also the 4th Core Principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Rohr writes about each of the principles in his book, ‘The Eight Core Principles.’

[2] Mirabai Star shows how love is present and active in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in her book, ‘God of Love.’ The Dalai Lama brings Buddhism into the picture through his numerous statements about the centrality of love. Hinduism also makes love supreme, calling it “the only thing that is everywhere.”  

[3] Chapter one in his book, ‘ Strength to Love.’

[4] In philosophical language this is called the Perennial Tradition. Bede Griffiths summarized it in his book, ‘Universal Wisdom,’ p. 8. I have been exploring this tradition and may write about it at some point. I believe it is where we must come together if we are to heal the sickness and brokenness in the world today. We must be Big Story people.

[5] The Second Vatican Council affirmed this in “Nostra Aetate  “(In Our Time): Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (October 28, 1965). The ‘ Catechism of the Catholic Church’ affirms this same idea in paragraph 819.

[6] Richard Rohr’s books, ‘Everything Belongs’ and ‘The Universal Christ’ describe this in detail.

[7] I have recently written a three-part series here on Oboedire entitled, ”Dethroning Evil,” based on this Ephesians passage.

[8] “The practice of the better” is one of the core principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation begun by Richard Rohr.  As noted above, he writes about each principle in his book, ‘The Eight Core Principles.’ I wrote an extended series, “Practicing the Better” here on Oboedire. 

[9] Paul Chilcote and I have written about this in our book, ‘Living Hope.’

[10] Hymn, “This is my Father’s World.”

[11] Eugene Peterson, ‘Subversive Spirituality.’

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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