Q & R: I Never Fit In

Here’s the Q:

Full disclosure, I work for BP…I graduated w/ a degree in chemical engineering and entered the energy industry. I found your book everything must change very interesting w/ my great observations. I am not writing this in defense of anything, but as one seeking some advice…
Back in 2008, I attending an Emerging church conference in Albuquerque, NM hosted by Richard Rohr. Yourself, Shane Claibou\rne and Phyllis Tickle were speakers. It was an awesome experience. I am still trying to catch up w/ all the books I bought there – so much to learn!
But, I always felt like I didn’t fit in b/c I worked for an energy company, and that was before tragic events of April 2010. At one point at the Sojourners booth, the volunteer was so taken back by the fact that myself, and my friend, both of us employees in the energy industry, were looking at purchasing a “Green Bible”.
And then every Sunday at my church, I might not necessarily be judged b/c of my place of employment, but I would if they really sat down w/ me to hear how my heart beats. No offense,but in some conservative circles, saying you have read, appreciate and learned from Brian McLaren literature is slightly frowned upon. But maybe you haven’t noticed (wink, wink)…
So at it never seems like I can quite “fit in”. I am always on the outside. An “oil man” at an emerging church conference, or too “liberal” at my local church. Whatever either of labels actually means, I don’t know. Personally, I don’t think they define me b/c they are just so superficial.
So my question is, how do I stop feeling like such an outsider?

Here’s the R:

Thanks so much for writing. Your comment reminds me of one of the most interesting conferences I’ve participated in … A few years ago, at a gathering of mostly Mennonites on peacemaking, there were some military veterans present. It was the first time that had ever been the case, and I think everyone present would agree that their presence added a degree of reality to the conversation that it would have been tragic to miss.
So I’m so glad you’ve been willing to enter into spaces where you feel like you don’t fit. That’s good for everyone … even though I know it’s hard.
On the issue of sustainable energy – I think we’ll make much faster progress towards solutions when we have people like you in the room with people like me, because you bring insider knowledge of the way things are that can’t help but improve the ideas of others on how things ought to be. The key, as you said, is for neither group to be defensive. As soon as we’re defensive or aggressive, we’re seeing one another as the enemy, when that’s not the case at all.
I don’t have a great solution to the problem, at least not one that makes courage, humility, persistence, and graciousness unnecessary. But I have found that sometimes it helps for the potential outsider to go before the group in question (or its leaders) from the outset and say, “Here’s who I am. Would you rather I be here or not be here?” This puts the burden on the majority to decide whether their doors are open or not.
I was leading a retreat for a group of Evangelical Christian leaders once, and in the first session, one fellow spoke up in our discussion: “Well, I’m a gay Christian in politics, and I feel like a fish out of water here. But here’s what I think …” There was something about his openness that, after a brief minute of tension (for some), was disarming, and I think everyone was glad he was both there and outspoken.
Your attitude comes through with humility and honesty … so I have a feeling that if you’re open with folks, you’ll be accepted in most places, and where you’re not accepted, you may not need to be in the first place.