Letter from the Editor: A Proper Misfit Mentality

Outrage culture seems to be at its prime these days, enabled by social media activists clamoring for sinners to be called to account on everything from dietary choices to political debates to parenting strategies to environmental issues. With this potential for push back, however, we can begin to feel like its always Us against the World. We can begin to feel like—and operate as if—we are permanent misfits.

Sometimes this is true. There are times when we are on the outside of the norm due to principles and priorities that are informed by the Christian faith. The challenge is learning how to operate from a stance of love toward those who think differently, even if we are mistreated for these differences. The apostle Peter reminds us that we are indeed aliens and strangers—misfits—in this world, because we follow Jesus and no longer follow the world’s ways (1 Peter 2:9–11).

But sometimes we identify so closely with the misfit identity that we automatically presume ourselves to be on the outside, even when we’ve not been specifically ostracized. The challenge here is to hope all things about others and refuse to judge others for the way they may judge us. Jesus told His disciples to expect push back, to expect exclusion, to expect others to see us as misfits (John 15:18–25)—but He also called us to love others, even our “enemies,” those who see us as misfits and have no place for us in their circle. We are to lead with love, not with a misfit identity.

And so, being seen as and living as a misfit is a reality for those who follow Jesus. But how do we do this rooted as God’s beloved rather than as victims of others’ opinions? In this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine, the feature essays and support articles help us to think rightly about being a misfit in today’s culture.

Jared Bier’s feature, “Not Like Me: The Irony of Heeding the Tragic Hero,” weaves together a thoughtful analysis of the tragic hero as seen in current events, Breaking Bad‘s Walter White, and classic literature:

“The tragic hero—a trope delineated by Aristotle and rendered timeless by William Shakespeare—is inherently a misfit: the paradigm requires a protagonist who, upon his or her introduction to the audience, has already somehow transcended the status quo. We learn right off the bat in each of their titular works, for instance, that Hamlet was a prince, Othello was an esteemed military officer, and Romeo was an heir to nobility. But another hallmark of the tragic hero is some insurmountable character flaw, which, when revealed, starts a catastrophic series of events that inevitably culminates in the character’s downfall. This uncommon ability or elevated standing, then, establishes from the get-go a chasm between the protagonist and the audience. Most of us cannot fully empathize with or intimately relate to such an individual—but this person also subverts our most basic assumptions: we naturally react with alarm when a character whom we’ve deemed out-of-the-ordinary still meets a tragic end. That is, if indecision or misplaced trust or teenage impulse (as could be the case with Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo, respectively) led to the downfall of such individuals, how much more susceptible am I—average, unremarkable—to meet a tragic end if I were to make the same mistake?”

The way we view the downfall of tragic heroes—from fiction and reality—affects how we view our own place in the society. Seeking to be self-aware is a step toward a proper misfit mentality, which is what Amanda Wortham explores in her insightful self-reflective feature, “Notes from the Ultimate Misfit, an Enneagram Four”:

“The Four’s eternal struggle with envy can compel them to live in a fantasy world, one in which the limits of self are ever-expanding. The temptation to covet a life of pure beauty—one of our own making—is instinctively difficult to resist. But this is folly. We must not sacrifice the sacredness of the mundane on the altar of self-actualization.

“These ordinary moments—fastening of shoes, rotating the steering wheel to the right, swallowing vitamins, reading instructions, braiding hair, filling water glasses, flossing teeth, constructing a sandwich—these are the moments that betray our humanness. And while the innate longing for something more isn’t implicitly evil, it is dangerously misguided. It shines a light on our blind spots, demonstrating our refusal to behold the miracle of ordinariness, the mystery of being a creature. The challenge for the Four, and for anyone who feels that they don’t quite fit into the mundane nature of the world, is to fulfill the goal of the Enneagram, which is to see. This world, this being, this life, is a miracle. These tasks are blessed, this body is magnificent, this ground is holy, these people are sacred, this God is infinite. The reality of living must plant our feet firmly on this earth.”

Disdain for the ordinary can certainly magnify our sense of being misplaced in this world. But sometimes we must shun the ordinary to walk in faithful obedience into all-out misfit territory, as Joshua Heavin presents in his feature, “Following in the Footsteps of Sophie Scholl’s Misfit Messiah”:

“[A]gainst these forces and the anti-God powers of dehumanization, there is a particularly tender place for the weak and the vulnerable in God’s economy of worth. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28–29). In an honor-shame culture that valued prestige, nobility, wisdom, and might, God’s saving power and wisdom are revealed in the lowest of all possible social places, in the folly and weakness of “a crucified Messiah” (1 Corinthians 1:23), cutting across any prior notions of human worth. As pronounced ironically, but nonetheless truly, in Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the murderous villain named “the Misfit” decries that “Jesus Thrown Everything off Balance.” Jesus was not abstractly mortal like all humanity; he took the form of a slave and was obedient to the point of not only death, “but even death on a cross,” a law-cursed death that the new creation blessing promised to Abraham might extend to the gentiles (Philippians 2:6; Galatians 1:4, 3:13, 6:15). If, as Gregory Nazianzus wrote in his First Letter to Cledonius, “the unassumed is the unhealed,” by faith we perceive on the cross the Son of God who freely determined to be made a misfit with us and for us, that his cosmic healing is presently hidden but soon to be revealed.”

Jesus is the model misfit for us, of course, the one who calls us to be a misfit for the sake of the Kingdom. In “Rory Williams Is a Misfit Refined by Love,” Nicole Eckerson peels back the way Rory Williams exemplifies the misfit love of our Messiah in Doctor Who:

“We live in a world of confusion, a time of misunderstanding that leads to hatred. A time of Other versus Other, Us versus Them, Me versus You. The lines are drawn hard and fast in some places, stern lines carved in stone, unyielding and unmoving. And yet we are called to show up in the difficult places, called to be near broken people and called to uncomfortable situations. Most importantly, we are called to love in the midst of it all.

“Doctor Who tells the story of Rory, who left his place of familiarity and comfort because of his great love for Amy. The gospel tells the story of God, who willingly chose to leave his place of familiarity and comfort because of His great love for the human race. This perfect God-man chose to associate and be with us although He was not like us. Although clothed in skin like us, He was and is different. And yet He loved so deeply, even to the point of death. And so we too, as His followers, are called to walk in that same love (John 13:35).”

More than anything, our status as misfits should be earned in the way that we love others. Such love breaks down the barriers determining who’s in and who’s out. It makes us the sort of people who refuse to exclude and always make space for others. Such is the unexpected love of a misfit Messiah who welcomes misfits like us.

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In This Issue

Not Like Me: The Irony of Heeding the Tragic Hero

Simply upholding these tragic hero figures as warnings ultimately cheapens our understanding of both human depravity, and, more consequently, the extent of grace.

by Jared Bier

Notes from the Ultimate Misfit, an Enneagram Four

We all, especially Enneagram Fours, must not sacrifice the sacredness of the mundane on the altar of self-actualization.

by Amanda Wortham

Following in the Footsteps of Sophie Scholl’s Misfit Messiah

The film’s intentional depiction of an all too real history invites reflection on the nature of the conscience and urgency of becoming a misfit.

by Joshua Heavin

Rory Williams Is a Misfit Refined by Love

Like Rory Williams in Doctor Who, we are called to show up in the difficult places, called to be near broken people and called to uncomfortable situations.

by Nicole Eckerson

Dear Evan Hansen Addresses Our Culture’s Pervasive Loneliness

Dear Evan Hansen teaches us there is no substitute for true community.

by CJ Quartlbaum

This Coke’s [Not] For You: Life on the Margins

We are all strangers.

by Tyler Glodjo

Outside the Camp: Ferguson and Unity of the Faith

Am I ashamed of what my white ancestors have done to our black neighbors? Do I take pride in exceeding my white friends’ capacity to admire and understand others? Probably so.

by Cray Allred

New Super-Man Reinvents the Superhero Redemption Story

New Super-Man offers hope to the marginalized and gives a voice to the outcasts of twenty-first century society.

by Blaine Grimes