We begin, belonging.
We don’t ask to be born. We don’t audition for family. We don’t try out for life.
We just begin.
And most of the time, if things go well, we begin in the company of others who accept us, embrace us, love us for no other reason than the mere fact that we have arrived; that we exist.
I mean think about it. Most of our hearts simply melt at the birth of our children or grandchildren. I know mine did. When my sons were born, I was a blubbering mess. I’m telling you, at the very first sight, holding my sons for the first time, a title wave of love; a tsunami of affection swept over me with no warning whatsoever.
And I was done. Finished. Toast.
I remember feeling in that moment, that there was nothing…nothing I wouldn’t do for this marvelous and mysterious being I held in my hands. Not because of what he had done. Not because of what he would contribute to our family, or to world citizenship…but because of who he was.
And one of the first things we got to do as parents, was clothe him. Not with a blanket or a diaper or a onesie…but with a name. By God’s grace we were able to swaddle him with identity. Regardless of the story that would yet to be written of his life. Nevermind what successes or failures would be sure to come. I didn’t care. In that moment, right then…he belonged.
Church Historian and Theologian, Diana Butler Bass has made an interesting observation about what it means to “belong.” Throughout the history of the church, the idea of “belonging” has been understood differently from time to time. In our recent memory, belonging has typically been defined as something that happens after a person agrees to believe a set of doctrines or statements and after one commits to a certain set of religious practices or moral behaviors.
In other words, first came belief. Then came behavior. And last came belonging.
But what if we’ve gotten it all wrong?
What if imbedded in the very mystery of birth and life itself, we are shown where the journey of truest and best faith actually begins.
In the New Testament book of John, Jesus is approached by a man at night, who by every outside evidence, belonged. He was a expert of the law, a member of the Sanhedrin (the highest governing council of elders in Judaism). He had believed in all the right things, and behaved in all the right ways. And yet, there was still something missing…place of true belonging.
And of all the images, metaphors and teaching tools at his disposal, Jesus said to him, “For you? Be born again.” Discover a place of unfettered beginning…and belonging because of God’s immense love.
And from there?
Let life loose.
What would happen if the church were to rediscover the simple and mysterious power of belonging? What would happen if, instead of waiting for people to say the right words, take the right steps, jump through the right hoops, she actually proclaimed the extraordinary news that here, at church you are welcome and at home.
When we start with an awareness that we are beloved and that we belong,
then a true and genuine faith can emerge. From there, all our religious behaving and all our theological believing flows naturally and freely.
This week may you simply rest, cradled in the Grace of your belonging.
Johns Creek Baptist Church
* Picture is of my new nephew Parker Allen Beeler, born yesterday (November 3rd, 2014) to Mark and Mary Kate Beeler, of Knoxville, TN.