On belonging

“I go to some meetings and think ‘Thank goodness, there are many rooms in my Father’s house, because I don’t want to share'”

I have taken to referring to the church as both my greatest source of hope… and my greatest source of despair. Over the past couple of years working with churches, I have heard my fair share of conversations about candlesticks, flower arranging, and – more seriously – exclusion and hurt.

And, in the process of seeing YCCN grow and change, I have grappled with our great need for community and our total inability to deliver on it. Uniformity is not unity, and yet so often our places of community default to the lowest common denominator, and we inadvertently marginalise those who don’t fit the invisible criteria we’ve set for belonging.

Personally, in opening up a space I have been surprised at my own discomfort in needing to let go of the ways in which others would like to do things, stumbling upon areas in which I don’t have the language or sensitivity I need, or times when situations expose my impatience or unhealthy drive. I’ve reflected on the many ways in which belonging has not been a struggle for me and how that informs the ease with which I feel able to voice an open or steer conversation in a particular direction. I’ve been grateful for the sardonic humour of someone who is now a friend making jokes in these contexts about ‘Commander Mander’ which at times have served to keep me in check and dismantle my pride.

How often do we lead coercively, imposing our decisions on others? Using our social currency and power to force the hand that’s dealt? And do we really love others if what we love about them are the ways in which they are like us, agree with us, understand us?

The call to love is one of forsaking ourselves and acting generously towards otherness, expanding and enabling belonging and using power carefully, knowing that love cannot be coerced. It is a call that demands commitment in place of comfort.

Otherness means not-of-ourselves.* And it often involves giving power away since is defined by those with the power to exclude, and power operates within systems of structural oppression.

I recently read a beautiful piece by Joanna Hollins, who was baptised into 2 different denominations. It wonderfully explores belonging in contexts of difference. Her piece is called: Where there’s a will, there are at least five ways: thoughts on growing up Christian and being interchurch. In it she says –

The essence of our faith is in our shared life, and our journey alongside each other.

I feel like this is a continuous source of learning for me at the moment. Faith in Jesus can only be live out in our commitment to one another, and requires opening ourselves up to reshaping, reforming, redefining of all we consider we are as we truly encounter and reckon with building relationships with otherness.

It’s why Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is for church unity. Jesus died for the sake of belonging, for our reconciliation. We are called to belonging and to bring others into belonging.

It’s a life’s work.

*This ‘otherness’ is part of how wider creation + seeking God in the wilderness has taught me so much about love and enriched my faith.

(Reading recommendation: Samantha Slade’s ‘Going Horizontal: Creating a Non-Hierarchical Organization, One Practice at a Time’. The best book I’ve found for practices which lean towards allowing others to belong)