The grace margin exists between the “safe zone” and the “fear zone.”
The safe zone is what is familiar. The people who are in the safe zone with us are the people who agree with us and reinforce the ideas that we already hold and the practices that we already do. We all need a safe zone.
The fear zone is where we go when we are pushed too far beyond our comfort level. In the fear zone, we tend to lash out and/or to respond to challenges in hostile and legalistic ways. Our (often unconscious) goal, when we are in the fear zone, is to get back to safety as quickly as possible.
Law argues that truly creative problem solving cannot happen in either the safe zone or the fear zone: the one reinforces our current habits and the other is so uncomfortable that we shut down. The “grace margin” is the area in between. In the grace margin we can perhaps let go of our entrenched ways of thinking long enough to consider genuinely different options without falling into what feels like chaos.
In our culture, it often seems as if there is virtually no grace margin at all. Many of us talk and act as if others are either with us, meaning they agree with us in full, or against us, meaning disagree with us in any way.
By contrast, Jesus seemed to live in the grace margin. He was a holy man who socialized with sinners and tax-collectors. He constantly offered people a new way of seeing their world, which his hearers experienced as a new way of teaching, with unprecedented authority and truth. Many responded in fear, of course. But in Jesus others could hear God’s truth and God’s way and God’s life.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to seek out grace margins. More, we are called to do everything we can to expand grace margins by developing relationships with those who differ from us, listening to the voices of those who are sometimes silenced or ignored, speaking truth with courage and love.
If we could expand the grace margins in our own lives even a little bit, and if we could join with others who are doing the same, we would be offering a powerful and much-needed witness in our world. May God give us the grace to do so!