The Photocopy Syndrome (Part Four)

In this series I’ve talked about some ways we don’t fit in. Maybe it’s your quirky personality. Maybe you’re infected with a case of creativity that makes it hard to simply color inside the lines like everyone else. Maybe you can’t stay quiet when something is not right, even if no one else will speak up. All these things can make us feel like outsiders.

It’s important to remember that feeling like an outsider is not a permanent state. The more we step into our authentic self and strip away arbitrary expectations, over time, we find our community who accept us for who we are and not who they want us to be. It may take time and effort, but it’s possible to find a sense of belonging. True community is not built on uniformity.

The Spark

None of this is easy. But I’m convinced it’s worth it. Great organizations and institutions typically have a story about a woman or man who dared to think differently. Founders are usually trailblazers. You’re likely benefiting way more than your realize from the efforts of outsiders who forged a path. What do you think they would say to you?

I remember reading a study (I believe from Harvard University) several years ago that chronicled the life cycle of organizations. Their origin can usually be traced back to a person with passion. Their passion lead to a movement as they recruited others to join. The movement became a machine as processes and policies were required to keep everything moving along.

But if they’re not careful, the movement will drift into being a mere monument — a beautiful slab of cold stone pointing back to what used to be but no longer looking forward. The movement will die unless someone comes along with a spark that reignites the passion. And the cycle begins again. It’s begins and begins again with an authentic person pursuing their passion.

Maybe you’re that spark. Don’t dim to the darkness of the naysayers. Be a light.

The Two Rings

Howard Thurman, mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” His advice to find those gifts, passions, and convictions deep inside and live them out makes me think of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. These first century Christians were working out their gifts too. But they were struggling to make it all work together in community.

Paul uses the words “same” and “one” repeatedly to call them back together. They served the same Lord. Their gifts were all from one Spirit. They were all part of the same body. Yet Paul doesn’t ignore their individuality. He writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). There’s a subtle point that can be missed in this passage. They have individual gifts, yet they are individually members of the body. How can that work?

Paul makes a dramatic shift from talking about the various gifts when he says he will show them a “more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:30). This is when he pens the most well known of all his writings, the infamous chapter on love (1 Cor. 13). Though this text is often used for weddings, it’s not really concerned with romantic love. It’s about the use of gifts in the life of the community. The way to live out our individuality together can only happen through a love that sees and believes and hopes for the best.

This kind of love breeds mutual respect. Without sincere empathy for others, competition and infighting will rule the day and ruin the culture. Love, respect, and empathy are the way to flourish. But there is still something more, a specific way these virtues can uphold you even if you have a hard time finding the optimal culture I’m describing here.

In his essay, Lewis says rings shouldn’t be formed around power like the inner ring. I would add that we shouldn’t form them like the outer ring, as an exclusive group for outsiders. Lewis explains that what should frame a proper ring is friendship:

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

If you’re a divergent, an outsider, a trail blazer, a creative who never feels like you fit in, my encouragement to you is pretty simple. Look and pray for a community where love, empathy, and respect define the culture. And in that context, form your inner ring around friendship with a select few who share a similar view of the world. Find your people and flourish.

And then, to paraphrase St. Augustine, love God and be yourself. Come alive. That’s what the world needs. Not more flattened, mono-color photocopies. Anyone can become that. But that’s not you, is it?

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four