By MAGGIE ROWE
TV writer and author
One day when I was a student at Hoffman elementary school in the suburbs of Chicago, an “in group” and an “out group” arose in Miss Macaulay’s 2nd grade class.
Before this point, we had just been kids; kids on the playground, kids drawing pictures, kids eating paste; but now, as suddenly as a stomach ache can set in from paste ingestion, my second grade class was felled into two distinct groups. The “in group” had nicer clothes, richer parents, blonder hair and were better acquainted with the songs on the top 40 radio station B96. The “out group,” of which I was a member, desperately wanted to be part of this “in group,” but the line was clear.
And I was on the wrong side of it.
My parents told me that when I was older, there would be no “in group” and “out group.” The kids would outgrow it, they said.
But they were wrong. The “in group” and the “out group” lived on. The criteria simply changed. In some of the following grades—in camp one year, a dance troupe in another—I was “in,” but mostly I was “out.”
I thought that at church at least these divisions would not exist. Religion I figured was about coming together. But the “in group” and “out group” were even more fiercely delineated at Trinity Baptist Church than in Miss MacAulay’s class.
We actually sang a song with the following lyrics…
One door, and only one
And yet its sides are two,
Inside and outside,
On which side are you?
Christians were the “in group” and all other religions were the “out group.” This divisiveness and superiority is what eventually drove me away from my childhood faith. Until I realized this attitude was not a fault of Christianity, but an outgrowth of the faulty interpretation of many of its followers.
A Muslim friend of mine named Aleema was instrumental in this discovery. Aleema was a roommate of mine in college and she shared with me her belief that all religions were trying to describe the indescribable and could be measured by their efficacy in promoting kindness and acceptance of all beings. She didn’t like the word “tolerance” because she felt the word implied a stomaching or enduring something. She preferred the word “embrace,” a word that carried with it no sense of resistance or distaste.
To Aleema, I was not someone in the out group she was enduring for the sake of propriety, I was a friend and fellow seeker she could embrace wholeheartedly. The essays in this new book, Friendship & Faith, do more than tolerate other faiths and their practitioners.
They celebrate and embrace friends bound together on a spiritual path.
There is no “in” and no “out.”
Care to read more?
Maggie Rowe is a writer for film and TV, including work on the hit series Arrested Development. She also produces the live Comedy Central stage show SitnSpin, Los Angeles’ longest running spoken-word series. And, she is the author of a critically acclaimed memoir Sin Bravely about her struggle to overcome the religious rigidity of her own upbringing. In April 2017, ReadTheSpirit online magazine featured an interview with Maggie about her book and her ongoing work.