I may be in the minority here, but I see confusion as a useful tool.

Every group has its own slang. They have stories they retell, behavior they agree is The Thing. I was with some friends recently who are part of what I would call The Party Scene. I haven’t been a part of that scene for over 20 years, so there were several things they all did that were new to me. I found myself curious about the history behind things like everyone tapping their shot glass on the table/bar simultaneously before drinking those shots in unison.

Why do they do that?

It’s not that I need to fit in, but I also don’t want to offend people out of my ignorance. I’m both curious about the “why” behind all of the things people “just do,” and interested in who people are behind their behavior.

These “norms” can be found all over the world. When I’ve had extended visits to Germany, for example, I discovered that instead of drinking 7-UP when someone is sick (as people did when I was growing up in the USA), they drink Coca Cola. Also when sick, Germans don scarves. Now that I understand the reasons behind these rituals, they make sense to me and although I’ve never been one to drink soda, I do find myself sporting a scarf now when I feel under the weather.

If you’re a Christian you hopefully recognize these cultural idiosyncrasies also apply to you and your family or church.

Once a friend of mine came to church with me, though she had no interest in Christianity. She was super confused by how many people cried during the service. Why would anyone want to go somewhere that would make them cry- especially in front of other people?

Although I grew up going to church, there is something in my personality that motivates me to ask, “Why do they/we do that?” even about things I myself have always done. Why do we say the word “just” so much during prayer? Why do we dress up to go to church? Why do we stand during the singing part? Why is it normal for everyone to sing as worship, but only certain denominations involve other expressions of art?

It became more confusing for me when, having grown up in one denomination, I found myself working in a missions organization that moves in very different traditions, lives with nearly opposite beliefs about the expression of worship and the work of God in the world. It led me to a crisis when I first encountered these differences 12 years ago. At the time my world view stretched to let in these new things and I felt happy (after a bit of literal nausea) to see the bigger view of God it afforded.

But the differences don’t always make me happy. In fact, I have wrestled often with things my fellow believers take for granted as normal. My desire here isn’t to call out the things that confuse me, but to just admit that I don’t always get what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

I see this as a positive thing. Though it sometimes causes me to feel like an outsider, it opens my eyes to others who feel the same, others who want to be let “in.”

Most of us long to be insiders without considering how precarious and illusory is such a distinction.

The benefit of getting out of your own original environment is that you begin to appreciate and admire people who are very different from you. We all have the opportunity to show the hospitality of an “insider,” to see the new-comers and outliers around us, to share our inside jokes and vulnerable hearts. We have the chance to make this big strange world less like a smattering of secret societies and more like a pilgrimage full of new friends around every corner…. one inside outsider at a time.

Peggy Kelley

Peggy is a writer and photographer. She is currently volunteering with The Rise Campaign.