Thursday, October 15, 2015

Becoming Inclusive

Edwin Markham was from Oregon and for eight years was the Poet Laureate of that state. Although he published several books of poems, Markham (1852-1940) is now best known for “Outwitted,” a poem with only four lines:

I don’t know when I first heard, and liked, that epigram by Markham, but I’m sure it was more than 50 years ago. It is a good one, and I have seen it posted on Facebook and elsewhere two or three times just this month.
We all grow up with a sense of exclusion: there is us (people in my family, my neighborhood, my school, my church, my nation, etc.) and them (people whom we consider different from us, competitors, and others we often consider threatening).
It is important, though, for us to go beyond the usual us/them divisions—such as white/black, rich/poor, man/woman, old/young, straights/LGBTs, Americans/foreigners (or Nihonjin/gaijin), citizens/illegals, and so on.
Recently I happened to see these striking words: “There are no others, there is only us.” (There’s a remarkable video by that name at This is the kind of inclusion I am writing about.
(I am not dealing here with the theological/missiological position called inclusivism; I wrote a little about that idea and its rivals in a blog article back in 2010—and may want to address that subject again sometime.)
The inclusive attitude I am writing about is one of loving acceptance of people, of having arms open to welcome and to embrace anyone or everyone, of drawing a circle (as Markham would say) that takes “others” in.
One of my favorite Bible verses is Matthew 11:18, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (CEB).
And one of my favorite mental images of Jesus as the Christ is him standing with outstretched arms, welcoming everyone. That idea is portrayed in the following painting (which I still like in spite of the stylized white robe):

Several years ago, one of the members of Fukuoka International Church, of which I was co-pastor, had many struggles with his faith. He feared that being a follower of Jesus Christ was limiting, necessitating a view of the world he thought was too narrow.
More than once I tried to assure my young friend that a proper understanding of Christ is actually a broadening experience. Following Christ means accepting all people and affirming all truth.
In my book The Limits of Liberalism I wrote briefly about the “Cosmic Christ.” While there are some problems in the way that idea has been used, the assertion that Christ, the Savior, was uniquely present in Jesus of Nazareth but not limited to a first century Galilean man is quite significant.
Without question, Christianity has often held to an exclusivism that has been divisive and restrictive. But a deeper understanding moves one from exclusion to inclusion and from restriction to expansion.
Maturing in faith impels a person to move from the us/them mentality of childhood to including “others” as a part of an inclusive circle of “we.”


  1. Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago once again shares much-appreciated comments:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for your always interesting and provocative comments.

    "Although the New Testament messages are complicated and, at times, seemingly contradictory, one very basic theme is that of inclusivity, not exclusivity.

    "Aside from Galatians 3:28, several Gospel stories come to mind where Jesus is found with the outcasts of society--prostitutes, tax collectors, and worst of all, Samaritans. There is of course the famous parable about the Good Samaritan in Luke, chapter 10.

    "But the most moving story, at least to me, is found in John 7:53-8:11. This story is not found in the oldest manuscripts of John (or Luke, where it is found in at least one later manuscript), but it is certainly consistent with the other stories about inclusivity. Most translations include the story, but it is usually bracketed.

    "The story, actually more appropriate to Luke than John, is the one in which Jesus forgives a prostitute by saying that anyone who is without sin should throw the first stone. No stones are thrown and Jesus simply forgives the woman and lets her go. The underlying message is that we are much more than just our race or our profession or our gender; we are all human beings and for all of us, our lives and our dignity are sacred."

  2. A nice poem in concept, and fun to read. Would that we could all build a large and diverse group of friends and friendly acquaintances.
    But I have had enough encounters with the "inclusive" crowd to know to generally avoid them as a group. I have found that if they don't have the "wit to win" for their ideal, they become quite exclusive and sometimes mean. I can and do change, but it is generally by pondering truth, not a good sales pitch.

    Given the option between the militant "inclusive" group, and friendly people with whom I have differences, I will choose the friends.
    "Do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do." But also, "Be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as doves."

    1. Militant inclusive is oxymoronic. I seek to be inclusive. I hope not to be militant about it. I have friends and close kin who are very exclusive in some areas in which we disagree, but we remain friends, and have no choice about the kin.

    2. Very well put. The militants seem to be the issue with any group. There is a time for peace and a time for war, but in general, everyday practice friendship and friendliness win.

    3. As a rule I don't respond to anonymous comments, but I appreciate C. Kiker for doing so. When I first read the comment by Anonymous, I thought of exactly what Charles wrote: "Militant inclusive is oxymoronic."

      A few days ago I started reading "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible" (2013) by Charles Eisenstein. The fourth of many short chapters is "Cynicism," and he avers that "cynicism comes from a wound" (p. 24).

      So I want to quote Jesus's words, expanded, to Anonymous: “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads [of cynicism], and I will give you rest”

  3. This theme evokes my thoughts of a (the?) defining period of time in my Christian journey. I was a brash teenage “preacher-boy” given the privilege of the pulpit (Sunday night, of course). With little nuance I shared my conviction that our God was too small if God only loved those who loved Jesus, as if there were no others to love. Short response: my salvation was questioned.

    45 years later I am still wondering and wandering. When someone states: “For Christians, Jesus is the definitive revelation of God”, I reflect again on whether I am a Christian. Perhaps there was a time when I was convinced that Jesus was the defining revelation, but now he is the primary (or is that original or initial) authority and not the only authority in my Christian (?) journey. I do not (well, I hope not often) pretend to practice fully the way of Jesus, but I am still trying.

    When I became convinced that the Jesus I was learning in my congregation was the embodiment of godly love, I could no longer believe that the Lover-of-the-universe would love so narrowly. The kind of Jesus-love I was learning drew the circle wide, wider, wider still, until there was no circle, only love.

    That night long ago was the public announcement of my Christian conversion: not into Christianity, not out of it, but through it. Jesus is no longer the only way. Thanks be to God and Jesus!

    Am I moving “beyond Christian and non-Christian”? “Beyond theist and atheist”? And if I am, is that a positive development and will I meet Jesus along the way?

    “Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still. Let this be our song: no one stands alone. Standing side by side, draw the circle, draw the circle wide.” [Gordon Light]

    1. Dick, thanks for your thoughtful "testimony." (And thanks, too, for citing the poem by Light; I was not familiar with it.)

      It seems to me that your rejection of exclusivity and growth into inclusivity is not a sign of going "beyond Christian" or becoming "non-Christian." Rather, from what you have written I would say that you have grown/matured in faith in a way that is pleasing to Christ/God.

  4. The above responses make think that we need to consider a hint in the poem, the drawing of larger circles. This is a process, not a conclusion. Physicists have spent a century or so seeking a universal field theory. So far they have not found it. Still, they have greatly increased the circle of knowledge in the process.

    A while back my Sunday School class read "Allah: A Christian Response" by Miroslav Volf. He builds a bridge between Christianity and Islam not by fiat, but by carefully reviewing Christian and Islamic views about God and Christ. He found neither a complete identity, nor a total disconnect. The underlying concepts of God are quite compatible. A careful review of fundamental concepts of Christ can find a great deal of common ground. Still, the two are distinct religions. He ends with an epilogue, "Reality Check: Combating Extremism." There is room for Christians and Muslims of goodwill to find common ground. The common threat is the growth of dangerous extremism in both religions.

    My wife is currently playing Olive, a character in "The Women of Lockerbie," a play based on the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988 over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. Curious in the KC area can see the show this Friday and Saturday night at 7:30, and 2:30 Sunday afternoon at the Cultural Arts Center of Longview Community College in Lees Summit, Missouri. A key turning point in the play is when her character, a Scottish woman, confronts an American woman with her strongly held opinion that the Lockerbie bombing was in retaliation for an American bombing of an Iranian passenger jet a few months earlier. She goes on to suggest the American woman may know nothing about that bombing, but the Scottish woman most certainly did. If you, too, would like to know more about that bombing, see this link: If you want even more, try this one:

    Drawing circles of inclusion is a process, far from complete. Yet, what else can a responsible person do? As "The Women of Lockerbie" instructs us, "When evil comes into the world, it is the job of the witness to turn it to love." Sometimes the hardest part of drawing a large enough circle is discovering it also encircles our own weakness and guilt.

    1. Craig, thanks for once again posting substantial comments.

      I would like to have seen the play that Becky was in; I hope it all went well.

      Two or three years ago I remember reading something really interesting about that Pan Am flight 103, but I can't seem to recall what it was, or where it was.

    2. Craig, I like this quote and would like to start using it. Could you suggest a way to attribute it that brings appropriate recognition to the person or group that deserves it? " "When evil comes into the world, it is the job of the witness to turn it to love."

  5. Thanks Leroy, as always, I find your writing thought-provoking and whole-making.

  6. Patrick Crews, a Thinking Friend in California who thinks deeply, shares the following substantial comments:

    "A simple way to negotiate [thoughts about inclusion]: imagine greater circles of inclusion. A Baptist and a Catholic may continue to be what they are denominationally, but both recognize each other as Christians.

    "A wider circle can include fellow Humans of high ethical values and find inclusion for Buddhists and Humanists. Respect for Life draws a great circle around all creatures.

    "This is an intellectual way of respecting differences by categorical circles that contain circles.

    But I don't see that as encountering others in Spirit. The spiritual encounter isn't about what categorical circle a person may be included in. It's akin to Martin Buber's Thou where you meet the other in that one's own light. That one in the moment contains in himself, herself, everything, every time, every space. You let yourself be included and embraced by the Circle of this one's being.

    "But that's too intellectual a way of putting a heart/faith encounter. It's being/becoming with the other in Spirit rather than material/intellectual categorizes. The individual before you becomes the measure of all things rather than categories that person can be assigned to. It's a belonging that transcends membership. Because you belong with the other you have seen your own self within.

    "This is called 'Transpersonal' because it transcends the personas we try to fit our realities into.

    "But again, I speak to intellectually of Inclusion. Knowing each other in Spirit is an immediate thing we don't impose by a rational choice.

    "Most Humans except maybe sociopaths have this capacity. Unfortunately our cultures don't encourage being open hearted much, and soon they teach us that social categories are what is important.

    "So many don't encounter the individual first and don't see the individual person at first. This is where Christ urges us to become as little children who don't have that social baggage yet.

    "We all belong within each other (As stated in the Gospel of John but little understood), and the Divine is that infinitely inclusive circle that is cannot but be Openness.

    "We all have this Divine capacity. It's how we are 'made in the image of God.' But we do struggle with it, for sometimes it's too easy to objectify persons. And then there are so many times the other doesn't or can't respond to being in Spirit. We can't find a spiritual fellowship with that person, but we can continue to be in their Light they themselves do not see.

    "Inclusiveness is the divine attribute. It's the Holiness of God. To be holy as God is holy, is to be open to others."

    1. Thanks, Patrick, for your thoughtful comments. I especially like your concluding statement.