I grew up in a group that had a lot of beliefs. Beliefs about what happens when you die, the right day to worship, what sin is, how the world was made, and that God was Christian. I breathed in these beliefs at home, school, and church. Believing these beliefs mattered about as much as how I behaved. Concerned group member felt compelled to finish the work, ie: get their beliefs (and behavior) in order and get others to believe the beliefs (and behave) too.
We believed that the world would end. Soon! Just look at all the wars, earthquakes, famine, television, drugs, rock and roll, and Watergate! No one I knew wore sandwich boards emblazoned The End is Near. Repent!
Instead, my group offered solace and peace with pictures like this:
and simple charts like this:
Jesus was coming soon and there were two big questions:
- Are you ready?
- Who is gonna rat us out?
We knew that before earth’s grand finale our beliefs would make us targets. Our obedience would be our undoing. Entwined with the mission to spread Truth was the conviction that whoever didn’t accept it could one day hand us over for a reward or just for spite.
Heaps of people didn’t accept Truth even when it was clearly illustrated and charted. So there were heaps of people to fear and suspect. We had to watch our backs.
Group membership came with a winsome combination: 1) we were right. 2) we would be persecuted.
Fear and suspicion came at no extra charge.
Behavior, Belief, & Belonging
The graduate class Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, introduced me to the definition and problem of the concept of “the other” for the first time. I was 46 years old.
I can now define and opine about insiders and outsiders and others, but I don’t often think about the politics of belonging. Until now. Like a houseguest from Uzbekistan, I’ve entertained thoughts on the politics of belonging for weeks. Awkward. Fascinating. Foreign. Limited vocabulary. I feel vulnerable processing my thoughts in public. Here goes.
There is no “other”. There is no them or those people. There is only us.
Belonging is our deepest, most human desire. The need to belong drives everything we do. We work, speak, defend, pretend so that we feel worthy of belonging. On good days we do these things so that someone else will feel he or she belongs. On bad days we withhold belonging to discipline, censure, and wound another. Ironically, we cut off approval, kindness, and connection for ourselves when we feel unworthy of belonging.
My behavior and beliefs do not align with the group I grew up in. Because the group is about proof and argument, I’ve been grilled about my behavior and beliefs to the point of tears. Many times. But my personal anger is about the fear. For years I feared that if the group didn’t approve of my beliefs and behavior, I would be lost and alone. I performed, behaved, and tried to believe so that I would belong. I was taught that love casts out fear, but I felt the fear of abandonment for most of my life.
The need to Belong — to be heard, seen, accepted — underlies the way each of us voted in the recent election. We may have voted in hope, but now we fear that we have not been heard, seen, accepted.
It’s tempting to say we no longer identify with this system or with people who voted a different way. Give up and move to Canada.
I no longer identify as a member of the group I grew up in. I just about gave up. But I love the people where I worship. The other worshippers and I don’t behave or believe alike. But I belong to them and they belong to me. We need each other. Especially now. Since the election I wonder how I can possibly make a difference. How can I extend belonging? The needs are enormous! I want to join my energies with others involved in a focused effort to creating belonging — not based on behavior or belief, but on the common need to be heard, seen, accepted. The congregation I attend is out to do this.
My daughter called me in tears the day after the election. She sees the future as dark and scary. It may be. I offered her the tiny light that keeps me going. Do something radical. Listen, stay close, extend respect and kindness to one person at a time whether she agrees with your beliefs or not. And if you’re lucky, you do this in concert with other people.
No matter how we behave or what we believe, this is the hard and beautiful truth: We belong to each other.
Over to You
Where can you join forces to create belonging beyond behavior and belief?