The Edge of the Inside
Listen to the Introduction of “The Edge of the Inside” by Fred Smith
Good day, friends. I am writing to let you know my new book is out and is available on Amazon. In a way, it is the result of 40 years of teaching Sunday School. However, it should not take nearly that long to read. It is my take on characters, stories, and themes in Scripture. You can pick and choose what looks interesting to you.
These are my thoughts as one who lives on the edge of the inside. The teacher, while not an insider, loves those on the inside while keeping a foot on the outside. We do our best work by remaining just on the edge of the inside.
For those interested, I have included an excerpt from the Introduction below. I hope you will pick up a copy.
Many years ago now a friend asked me, “What do you think your best contribution will be? For what would you like to be remembered?” I did not need long to think about it. “I have been a Sunday School teacher for the largest part of my life now, and other than being a husband and father, I think that is the answer to your question. I am a Sunday School teacher.”
Granted, it doesn’t always feel that way when the alarm goes off at 5:00 every Sunday morning. That’s when I put together the notes I’ve worked on all day Saturday. Some mornings it feels like a calling and other days more like a job. I suspect that is true for thousands of other teachers waking up early to prepare. We are not official ministers with a parish but there is something about the work – even when it feels most like a job – that carries the sense of being ordained to it.
Eugene Peterson said it well in describing the commitment of ordained pastors in congregations:
“This is not a temporary job assignment, but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like we are believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know that there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you.”
Scripture is full of instructions for teachers but sometimes we need a short list about our work. We need a reminder of the essentials and especially in times of head spinning change we must face up to new realities. It means starting with the question: “What is the world really like?” rather than the assumptions that made sense only a few years ago.
A teacher is not a harbor or an anchor, a sail or a rudder. We are keels. We help people manage in turbulent times by keeping them stable in the truth and in reality. In times of instability, people attach themselves to easy answers, sure things, strong leaders, institutions that promise security, heresies, novelties, cults, movements, extreme beliefs or no beliefs at all.
One of the few items on the short list for me is found in Ephesians 4. We are to prepare people for maturity and works of service. The word “prepare” can mean several things. It describes mending nets, refitting a ship or resetting a broken bone. It’s not about making people perfect and it assumes we’ve been through some wear and tear in our own lives.
Mending nets is constant. It’s done after every use. It is daily and routine. Even tedious.
Refitting a ship is periodic. Barnacles accumulate. Wood decays. Holes are punched in the hull.
Resetting a bone is extreme and once in a lifetime for most people.
The work of a teacher in preparing people is all three:
It is sitting around stitching—talking and working together.
It is working with people in drydock and out of service for a time.
It is the emergency room.
But it is not preparing people for being museum pieces or door prizes or merely pristine and pious. It is preparing them for works of service in a turbulent and changing world. A world that is going to bang them up, put dents in their hulls, tear their nets and, sometimes, put them out of service for a time.
Richard Rohr wrote living on the edge of things is to be a doorkeeper and where a teacher serves best. “When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position. You are free from the central seductions. When you are at the center of something, you usually confuse the essentials with the non-essentials, and get tied down by trivia, loyalty tests and job security. Not much truth can happen there.”
The teacher, while not an insider, loves those on the inside even while they cannot be an insider. The teacher must remain on the edge of the inside. “A doorkeeper must love both the inside and the outside of his or her group and know how to move between those two loves.”
And that’s what I think about every Sunday morning – moving between those two loves. That’s my job and these are the people God has given me. So, yes, I do believe being a Sunday School teacher will be, for me, what has defined my life and I think this is true for so many of us in the “5:00 a.m. fellowship.”
So, this book is not intended to be filled with brilliant insights into Scripture or shaking the roots of our beliefs. Instead, it is a selection of what I have promised to do from the start: to prepare people for works of service while living on the edge of the inside.