Monday, August 15, 2011

Outsiders and Insiders

Another beautiful day has dawned here in Chicago. I hope that wherever you are you can take a moment to "stop and smell the roses" today.

At Sunday Mass yesterday at Saint James, our guest celebrant and homilist was Fr. Harry Hagan, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. He teaches Old Testament at the School of Theology at Saint Meinrad. Father Hagan visited us last summer and I was really drawn into the Mass; the same thing happened yesterday. He has a simple and beautiful singing voice. He prayed the texts quite beautifully. And his preaching was outstanding. Reflecting on the text from Isaiah, and the story of the Canaanite woman, Father asked us to think about what it means to feel like an outsider; as well as what it means to feel like an insider. He suggested that every person has an innate sense of being an outsider; not being able to live up to the expectations of those who are perceived as being on the inside.

I looked around at the people sitting at Mass yesterday and thought about these words. The parish is made up of a variety of cultural and ethnic groups, predominantly African-American. Surely the differences in race and ethnicity have been causes for having people feel like outsiders. And for me, a white man of Western-European descent, there is sometimes a sense of feeling like an ousider in a predominantly African-American parish. But what I came to realize is that this sense of being an outsider in my parish is totally of my own making. I have never been in a more welcoming parish in my life. And the warmth and hospitality that I feel at Saint James is more genuine than you can imagine. So, as I reflected yesterday, I realized that there are times when we self-construct an attitude of being on the outside. Now, don't get me wrong, there have certainly been times in my own life that I have been pushed out; that I have been told that I am, in some way "outside." But, when I think about it, isn't there something about being in a new "inside" when pushed "outside?" A group of people who has been rejected by another group of people becomes a group of outcasts who may then develop their own set of expectations and mores, and may eventually define who the outsiders and insiders are.

Ah, my head is spinning with all of this stuff. It was just a good thing to have a homily preached that has had me thinking and thinking.

When you think about your own life, at your core, do you feel like an outsider or an insider?

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...


You end with a very good question. It all depends on the point, or more properly line, of reference doesn't it? I sometimes feel I am "inside" the group (parish, music group, whatever) and sometimes "outside".

Here's a quick story that also ties in a post last week. Some years ago I was attending a conference in Chicago. It was Sunday, and I decided that to make it to Mass at all, I would have to hoof it over to Holy Name to the early Mass. The service was attended by a lot of people who were definitely not affluent -- my guess was they lived in the neighborhood and worked at blue collar jobs down town. They were also very ethinically diverse.

When the priest was ready to start and turned on his microphone, he explained the organist hadn't made it. "But," he said, "let's try to sing Morning Has Broken" anyway." So we did, and the result was at least decent. And it said we were a community in Christ.

I have think of this experience as being an outsider with a group of outsiders transformed into a group of insiders.


Jeff Rexhausen said...

In general, I suspect people experience the dividing line like this:

If I'm in circumstances of my own choosing, I feel like an insider; in circumstances not of my choosing, I feel like an outsider.

Among other things, this can help us understand how different liturgical styles and changes can move people back and forth between the two.