I used to mark the boundary lines between who belonged and who might not. I used to treat beliefs like the currency of community. Sure, I was tolerant and read widely. But when it came down to it, I subtly traded dignity and holy doubt for the dollars of belonging in the evangelical, reformed world.
And in all that boundary-marking and belief-spouting, I was actually becoming boxed into a religious community that only let part of me — and everyone — belong.
It took years for my husband and me to be honest with ourselves that working for a church that asked for more and more of our certainty, compliance, energy, and loyalty was making us less healthy and less whole. Having to be right bullied us and so many others into being less than beloved.
We decided that losing our livelihood and belonging in that local body of believers was worth gaining the belonging of being healthy in body and soul. I don’t know your church story, but I know mine broke my heart in half.
Four years ago in June, while the afternoon sun stretched across a cloudless sky, we hit send on our resignation letter to the church’s leadership. It was our eighth wedding anniversary.
Yesterday we worshiped alongside our friends at the cathedral downtown in preparation as their son’s godparents for his upcoming baptism, which will be the same day as our wedding anniversary. By the time you’re reading this, we will have stood by Jamie’s side under the massive buttresses of the cathedral’s nave and together with his priest and parents named that he is God’s own child, sealed with a belonging and belovedness that no one can take away.
On our wedding anniversary four years ago, we trusted through tears that even though we were leaving a church behind, God was not leaving us behind.
This year, I get to see and name that in all the long, lonely days since that June, Goodness and Love have been chasing us. Harm tried to hound us into believing we didn’t belong in the church unless we kept giving the currency of our belief and loyalty to powerful people who didn’t give us respect and safety in return. Goodness and Love have chased us farther than Harm ever could.
Yesterday, after receiving the bread and wine, I sat back in wonder at how the expanse of the cathedral echoed the broadening expanse in myself.
My belonging is no longer bound to being right.
My belonging in the Body of Christ is no longer confined to the small box of some White men’s ideals of what a Brown man in Israel said and did over two thousand years ago.
My belonging and well-being are bound up in the broken, risen, and reigning body of Jesus Christ, by whose Spirit I hear the Father’s words at Christ’s baptism as mine: “You are my beloved child. With you, I am well pleased.”
While religious people build barriers to belonging — demanding certainty where there is mystery and compliance where Scripture isn’t black and white — baptism brings the bar for belonging remarkably low. Our belonging is less contingent on certainty of beliefs or conformity to religious norms than on being brought forward and blessed with water we couldn’t obtain ourselves. Baptism brings us low, to waters that remind us we belong because we were born and we are loved because we exist.
— K.J. Ramsey, The Lord Is My Courage
We can detach from the dollar signs of a belonging that is based on more beliefs than the Nicene Creed. We can untangle ourselves from the cords of consumerism that reduce our place among God’s people to our utility. We can burst out of the boxes that attempt to confine human bodies as things to control, use, or condemn.
Today, the church is bigger than I once dreamed. She is local and global. She is brutal and beautiful. She is found in cathedrals and across coffee tables. She is both less and more than I was ever taught.
With the taste of communion still on my lips, I joined my voice in unison along with the saints by my side to confess the mystery of belonging, echoing 1 Corinthians 10:17, “We who are many are one body, because we all share in one bread, one cup.”
Each week as I receive communion from the outstretched, still-scarred hands of Jesus Christ through priests, friends, and in the interior sanctuary of my soul, I am broadened to trust that there is a belonging in the Body that will not brutalize our bodies and souls.
May this broadening be yours as well.
Goodness and Love are still seeking you, in the places you might not expect, among the people you might have previously judged. There is a belonging that is better than being right and a belovedness that is yours no matter how many times you’ve gotten things wrong.
May the hope of Christ’s kindness stretch over all your scars. Our story is not done.