I heard someone say something this week that really struck me. During the course of the conversation, someone mentioned that someone belongs to XXX church. I am accustomed to hearing that someone is a member of XXX church, not that they belong to said church. Belonging was a new turn of phrase and it has stayed with me.
It has stayed with me, of course, because I have been talking with you these last three weeks about belonging. Belonging leading to connection. And connection leading to purpose. And purpose leading into the very heart of God and a life of joy. It is not always so linear but I do believe that these three attributes help to awaken us to a big, generative and meaning drenched life. Take away any one and we feel diminished.
So when I heard “they belong to the church in XXX”, it stayed with me.
I have lots of memberships. I am a member of the YMCA. I am a member of my local pool, WGBH and a whole host of other charitable organizations. I am happy to be a member of these places. I am happy to pay the membership dues, celebrate the good work that the organizations do and partake of what they have to offer. I feel enriched by what my membership entitles me to enjoy and am quite loyal to the organizations of which I am a member.
But belonging has a qualitative depth that membership does not in the secular parlance of today. Belonging is what we celebrated last Sunday in the baptism of RJ. Membership I think has taken on the connotation of what one is then entitled to. Only members of WGBH can watch all the back episodes of Downton Abby or Poldark. Belonging does not carry this connotation of special entitlement. Belonging is something all-together different.
First to be clear (and here I borrow wisdom from Brené Brown) belonging has nothing to do with fitting in. In fact, belonging may very well may be the exact opposite of fitting in. Fitting in is conforming oneself to meeting the expectations of another. It breaks my heart now when I look back and see how much time and energy I have wasted in my life trying to fit in. Fitting in is about trying to find acceptance by striving to meet the standards set by someone else and fitting in is inherently unstable. Why? Because, fitting in only works by exclusion. It is not possible to fit in unless there are also those who do not, who do not fit in.
We saw this a few years back when the Engine 6 proposal came on line in Waban. We heard by some that those formerly homeless people who would have been housed in Waban would not fit in. They would not fit the standard or mold of what Waban was all about. What it takes to fit in was reinforced and made clearer by the exclusion of others.
Belonging is something totally different. Belonging is having the courage to show up as who we uniquely are and find acceptance. Belonging begins, I believe, with showing up in our relationship with God and accepting that we are loved even when we ourselves may feel unloveable.
And then belonging begins to work on our relationship with ourselves. Can we love ourselves enough to accept ourselves for who we are? Can we come out of our hiding, die to deception and defensiveness and step into the grace that awaits us on the far side of forgiveness? And then can we extend that grace to those around us? Can we create a community where grace is the connective tissue that binds us one to another in love?
The other thing about belonging is that it is not defined by exclusion. Belonging is not made clear by scarcity, limits or fear. Belonging is inherently stable in and of itself. There is a generative roominess to belonging. Because there is a gravitational pull at its center. Belonging draws us in to God, ourselves and each other and in doing so meets our deepest need. At our mission meeting last month, one of those gathered said that they loved the word “belonging” because it meet the hearts longing to be. Isn’t that perfect!!!
It is my greatest hope that we can let ourselves be a place of belonging. I say “let ourselves be” because belonging is not something we need to create. It is already what is if we can find the courage to set down our defensiveness, judgment, desire to fit in, fear of scarcity etc. To walk in the way of Jesus is to walk in the way of belonging. It is a pathway of freedom that enables us to redirect all the misspent energy of trying to fit in into reaching out to others and welcoming them home.