Four years ago, I embarked on a master’s program at a theologically conservative seminary. As a Black, politically liberal woman, I stood out from most of my classmates.

I’m toward the lower end of the income scale compared to most of my peers. I’m also in my late 30s and happily unmarried, while my friends have nearly all coupled off. Three years ago, I began suffering from as-yet-undiagnosed health problems. To top it all off, I run in nerd circles, but I’ve never seen any of the Star Wars, Star Trek, or Harry Potter movies, and I’ve never heard the Hamilton soundtrack.

Sometimes being an outsider has been beyond my control. Sometimes it was a consequence of my choice to pursue certain interests or communities. Other times I sought it out, as with my choices of universities, churches, and living abroad.

No matter how being an outsider has come about for me, I’ve always learned from it. Over time, I moved from insecurity about my difference to neutrality to recognizing the value in it and letting it better me. It has taught me about the bigness of God, his closeness, his power, and his person- and circumstance-specific care.

During a trying season of life, I wrote to a friend, “Are all stations and circumstances that illuminate the true nature of grace a gift? Since Paul boasts in his weakness and hardships because they facilitate his most powerful encounters with grace (2 Cor. 12:8–10), then are all things gifts that bring to rest on us Christ’s power?”

It was my very differences that convinced me of God’s sovereignty over things like the time and place in which I lived and the family into which I was born. The realization that God was working for my good not despite my race but because of it deepened my faith. And with every new dimension of difference granted to me, my understanding of God’s grace only grows.

In The Outside Edge, author and CEO Robert Kelsey says being a true outsider is exclusively negative: “There’s nothing inherently enabling about this situation, no matter what the view of fashionable commentators. There are no advantages. There’s no edge to being on the edge.” A bleak outlook indeed.

But if I could go back and reverse any of my outsider experiences, I wouldn’t. All the privileges of the inside could not tempt me to part with all I’ve gained from being on the outside. A world where I don’t see what I now see, feel what I now feel, or know what I now know is unimaginable. I am convinced the world and church need certain things for their flourishing that sprout only from seeds of difference.

Taken from: The Gift of the Outsider, Copyright © 2023 Alicia J. Akins. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.

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The Gift of the Outsider: What Living in the Margins Teaches Us About Faith
The Gift of the Outsider: What Living in the Margins Teaches Us About Faith
Harvest House Publishers
224 pp., 17.99
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