I recall my first experience with the Korean shoe custom. It was 1979, for I was not yet married to my Asian husband. About to enter the apartment of a couple he knew, I stood at the door sizing up the situation: Everyone inside was shoeless; neatly paired footwear sat at the threshold; I was a first-time visitor. As a friendly voice within beckoned me enter, I made a split-second calculation-and guessed wrong. I plowed into the house with shod feet, thus desecrating the showroom-pristine carpeting.
In ignorance of Korean culture from the inside, I had erroneously ascribed to the shoe rule a significance of which I was quickly disabused. I had made the assumption that the removal of foot apparel was: (1) a mystical practice rising from the mists of Oriental history; (2) an honor reserved for family and close friends. Come to find out the purpose is to keep the rugs clean.
Things always look different from the inside than the outside. Everyone remembers being a high-school freshman and gazing up through cirrus clouds to senior nirvana, only to discover three years later that it wasn't what you thought. Fifty-five years old looks nothing like it did when I was 20, now that I inhabit it.
C.S. Lewis, a self-described "middle-aged moralist" addressing an assembly of graduates, warned of the dangers of wanting too badly to be "insiders" of a certain kind: "Your pleasure will be short-lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic." (Groucho Marx: "I don't want to be in a club that would have me as a member.")
Mexico or Mauritania are just useless coordinates on a world map until you meet a Mexican or Mauritanian and are fond of him. All at once the whole country is beautiful.
A perennial question I have is whether I see a matter more clearly when I just know "the facts" or when I know the person to whom the facts pertain. Is relationship an inhibitor or enhancer of good judgment? Does being "in love" distort vision? Lady Justice dons a blindfold and scales, signifying that justice is no respecter of persons (Leviticus 19:15; Exodus 23:8). I have a friend who wants a divorce, and I have more sympathy than if she were a "case study" on paper. Am I too sympathetic? Has friendship blinded me?
Eve wanted to be an insider to the most prestigious Inside in the universe-the Trinity. The Serpent promised an insider's perspective on "good and evil." She got it, but it didn't look the same from the inside as she'd hoped while on the outside. Adultery sometimes looks appealing from the outside, but the view from the inside is of a hotel for the dead (Proverbs 9:18). Sin looks like freedom (Jeremiah 2:31) till you find yourself its slave (John 8:34).
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy came upon a Magic Book and tried a spell "which would let you know what your friends thought about you." Some inside knowledge is better not had (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22).
On the other hand, a man cannot be a good husband unless he has tried to get inside his wife's head. This will be culture shock as severe as any trip to Mexico or Mauritania, but worth the journey (1 Peter 3:7).
A Popeye cartoon that captured my imagination in the early '60s was of our unlikely hero dashing for cover into a small tent in the desert, only to discover, once inside, an impossibly palatial celestry dripping with jewels and treasure. The delightful dissonance of small outsides and large insides prepared me for a lifetime of similar surprises.
The Christian life looks boring and constricted to outsiders. But open the door and it ushers into room after room of delights.
One of the best things that's happened to me in the last three years is finding Christians from Christ's other "fold" (John 10:16). They talk differently, they notice Scriptures that slipped my net, they sing different songs in a different tempo on different instruments. They have unquenchable optimism. Praising the Lord with a heart enthralled with Him once looked, from the outside, like fanaticism (ask David the King). But it sure does look different from the inside.