I am trying to learn about some stuff in preparation for a book I might try to write one day. It goes like this. My book ‘More than Bananas’ tried to show how the gospel is compatible with the world that science describes – physical reality.
Now I’m trying to think about how the gospel can be a good fit with our emotional landscape – ’emotional reality.’
In this, the idea of ‘belonging’ is so haunting and interesting.
Belonging before believing
First:I think I have seen men join our church men’s breakfast group just because they had an overwhelming desire to belong to it. They just wanted to be a part of it. The things we evangelicals worry about (belief, truth, discipleship) came along later. This is not what our evangelical procedures lead us to expect.
(What’s supposed to happen, according to some orthodoxy that I have yet to find written down, is that people hear the good news that God loves them, put their faith in Jesus, and then sign up.
What actually seems to happen is that some people see something, want it, join it, and then figure out what ‘it’ is. They are basically the only people who have joined our group over the years. )
2. Dying unwanted
Second: I think I have seen people die because they don’t belong and nobody wants them, and they don’t seem to be any use any more. They just shut down. Earlier than they need to. Not belonging sets off a kind of self-destruct routine. One old colleague of mine, alone, no-longer needed at work, and not endowed with close friends or family, went into hospital with something not very serious, and just died. Interesting.
3. A root of crime
Third: I work a bit with young people involved in crime. Everyone knows these youth share a lot in common, for example: low educational achievement, poverty, broken homes, ADHD. But now I think about it, isolation, unwantedness, not belonging, is central to these kids’ experience. Nobody loves them. Some were chucked out of their mum’s home at age 16, no longer welcome. Others have lost the last stable person in their life, a grandad say, and fallen off the edge.
4. A source of healing
Fourth: when I was ill and at my most totally infirm and paralyzed, the fact I was loved and mattered to people was the most astonishing tonic. I belonged; I mended.
5. The state doesn’t offer ‘belonging’
Fifth, our country will, with a bit of duct tape, and on a good day, provide an abandoned 16-year-old with shelter, a little cash, some help with jobs and education, and free health care. It will do the same for mentally ill person or the old (in fairness, the government also pays for initiatives like a day centre, such as the one our church runs). But belonging to someone? Mattering to someone? Much more complex.
Preliminary conclusion: not belonging/not being loved is more dangerous than the most aggressive cancer. Belonging is better for you than a superfood salad.
Love to hear comments. Sorry if all this is obvious to you.