News from AllianceQ: March 2020

Be Longing: Reflections from the EDM

The Lord will be our God, and we will be God’s people. We belong to God, and we belong to each other.

The insides of my body burned when I observed two young children tell my toddler they didn’t want her to play with them. I wanted my daughter to be wanted. Instead of scooping her up and playing alone with her, I hope I helped shape the kids and their space so that there’s a place for each to play, to belong.

I’m aware that a conversation about belonging and inclusion is (a little) lofty for toddlers. As my 2-year-old tears toys from a peer’s hands and says, “mine,” I know we’ve got work to do on the sharing, caring and including. While it’s not toys, I too often see adults tear away from others a sense of belonging. Tearing others apart or tearing others down. Or not building up. A lack of affirmation and action.

There are organizations–churches–that clearly say “you don’t belong.” The message is received loud and clear when buildings and spaces aren’t accessible. Bathroom doors aren’t wide enough for wheelchairs; bathroom labels aren’t wide enough for the non binary. This is an aside, but:

from me.me

Within the church, is our language accessible? To the worshiper who isn’t churched? Is our language inclusive? Of the vastness of God? Do we use metaphors in our preaching or teaching that harm groups of people? “How could you be so blind?” In A Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability, Kathy Black offers a unique approach for preaching about disabilities. Drawing on the healing narratives or miracle stories, Black shows how preaching affects the inclusion or exclusion of millions of persons with disabilities. A Healing Homiletic provides a new method of preaching about healing that requires understanding the needs of the disability community.

Are we considering the needs of our diverse communities so that all of our differences are honored and embraced? How can we shape spaces and opportunities for belonging? To what or whom? do we belong? Are we not all longing for belonging?

I longed for belonging when a religious group told me I had to step down from leadership because I was gay. They forced interventions to help me recover from being gay. I’m still gay.

I longed for belonging when a church withdrew its call of me as its associate minister. The congregation voted and called me as its associate.  A wealthy church member threatened to leave and senior leadership chose money over my ministry. I’m still called.

I longed for belonging when my family was asked to leave a church service because of my son’s autistic behaviors. We were “disruptive.” We still disrupt the status quo.

I do belong to First Christian Church Greensboro. I belong with Salvage Garden. I belong to a moms’ exercise group (I don’t exercise with them often enough) and special needs parenting groups (I draw upon their support all the time). I can list communities to which I belong or in which I find belonging because I’ve worked really (really) hard at honoring my sacred worth, adapting my expectations of others and challenging systems and structures. There are also times when I wasn’t able to be or couldn’t be or didn’t need to be the poster child for change and I walked away from relationships or groups. I’ve also had really good therapists, pastors, mentors, friends and a gracious spouse.

Belonging + membership: this looks different in various contexts. There’s soul deep connection and organizational affiliation. There’s frequent engagement and annual subscriptions. There are groups where we have something in common with other members; there are groups where we find connection and meaning among our differences.

In some instances I’m actively involved in leadership of or events with organizations. In other instances, my name is on a roster and our family supports a group because we believe in its mission. We don’t have the skills or time to do the work they’re doing but we know our dollars help make the work possible. I conceded to membership with a local pet foster and adoption agency because the alternative was fostering and adopting more pets. My wife likes animals more than she likes people. Another aside:

We belong to God, and we belong to each other.

Because of all the places I didn’t find belonging, I am invested in shaping spaces of welcome and affirmation and inclusion. We belong when we’re not only invited in but engaged in the life of a group or community.

In a different context with my toddler she was playing alongside a peer. He picked up a ball, offering it to my daughter. “Play ball,” he said. For quite a while the noise that followed included laughs and “here, catch!” My daughter didn’t once catch the ball but they played together joyfully.

I was reminded that my daughter will find the people with whom she belongs and the places to which she’ll belong. And our world will take shape to meet our longing for belonging as we and our little ones honor one another and embrace one another.

Friends, those I’ve met, those I will meet, those of you I may never meet, do not let anyone tell you that you don’t belong. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and you are an important part of the Body of Christ. There’s room at the table. Pull up a chair, roll up in your chair, stand with us, slouch or rest your elbows on the table. You belong.

May we be longing until all know belonging.

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If you’re interested in membership + belonging, read more here. You’ll find stories and responses about why individuals all over are members of AllianceQ. We want to know why you’re a member. Complete this one-question survey about Y AllianceQ.

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About the phrase “We belong to God, and we belong to each other”:

I am a Salvage Gardener. Salvage Garden speaks those words together each time we gather together. We borrow them from First Christian Church Greensboro where I previously served. FCC Greensboro reshaped its Commitment Sunday (a part of year-end stewardship) and included not just financial commitments, but our commitments to God and the community and one another. The litany of commitment is beautiful. You can find it here.