On Being a Border-Stalker

In his book Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Failed a Generation, journalist and Christian Jon Ward writes about how he never felt completely at home in his conservative Christian environment. He writes,

All my life I have been a mearcstapa, or a border-stalker. Mearcstapa is an Old English word used in Beowulf. Painter and author Makoto Fujimura used this term, and his modern translation of border-stalker, to describe those who “are uncomfortable in homogenous groups” and yet are still present in them, and thus they live “on the edge of their groups, going in and out of them.

Every so often, I stumble across a startling mirror of myself in another religious tradition. The distance between myself and the other religion can enhance the experience, allowing me to see my own condition more clearly. I don’t believe I will ever be a Christian — that life is behind me — but Ward’s earnest exploration of his religious experience helps me live more fully within my own.

His words are a description of my Satan who resists purity, passes through porous social boundaries, and invades paradise. I have shaped my entire religious life around this experience of being a border-stalker. I have made my home in not being at home and enshrined that reality in the figure of Satan.*

Ward has some words of encouragement for border-stalkers, arguing that we have a special place in society:

Fujimura’s writings have shaped my thinking about how to be a Christian and live in the world. His book Culture Care lays out a vision opposed to “culture war,” and in this vision border-stalkers have an important role: ‘They can become good Samaritans to a divided culture,’ he writes. They do this through ‘Overcoming caricatures and injecting diversity, nuance, and even paradox into the nature of the conversation, and then moving on to teach society a language of empathy and reconciliation.’ As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do that: reduce confusion, build bridges, tear down lies, slow down the rush to easy answers.

To those who have battened down the hatches in their respective ideological bunkers, this attitude can be seen as a dangerous, lazy compromise. The internet abounds with harsh words for “enlightened centrists.” Many of those criticisms hit home and shouldn’t be dismissed entirely.

But when done well, being a border-stalker is anything but easy. In fact, it might be the hardest project I’ve ever taken on. Extremism, fundamentalism, and certainty are easy; holding your convictions in one hand and your compassion for others who aren’t like you in the other is a masterful balancing act. It is the emotional, social, and spiritual equivalent of a gymnast balancing on a pole.

Ward agrees, writing,

I thought, naively, that this was a straightforward task. It never is. Dishonesty pays — and pays well. These have been especially hard years for the pursuit of truth. The modern world is a violent environment for a border-stalker. It is now the norm to be intolerant of opposing views, to see others as the other: to fear them, to hate them. Black-and-white thinking is everywhere. Nuance is vanishing. Complexity is demonized.

As someone who thrives in liminal spaces and enjoys trespassing ideological borders, I’m heartened by Ward’s encouragement. I don’t expect everyone to be a border-stalker. It’s hard work and frequently lonely and uncomfortable. But it is also meaningful work, and rewarding both to society and those who engage in it.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below or on my Discord server. If your comment is excellent, I might feature it in a blog post. And, if you enjoy my work, please consider becoming a patron and signing up for my newsletter.

* Satanism is generally a nontheistic religion that does not believe in an afterlife, god, a literal Satan, or hell, though theistic forms of Satanism do exist. I am personally a nontheistic Satanist, and my symbolic Satan is not the representation of all evil and destruction in the world. To learn more about Satanism, check out my podcast or the Satanism category on my blog.

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “On Being a Border-Stalker

  1. I am a sympathetic border- stalker, one who inhabits the liminal space between my centrist evangelicalism and the new religious movements. I am more interested in the relationship to the center of what is bounded in my faith than in reinforcing the borders. Challenging but invigorating. Great post.


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