Sketching Belonging

 Sketchbook -- BelongingThis is part of a developing series – consolidating, clarifying, and (perhaps) expanding ideas presented in this blog. These posts are, as it were, pages in my sketchbook on faith and theology.

While I draw deeply from the wells of a host of significant thinkers and writers, this is a very personal undertaking for which I bear full responsibility for any distortions or mis-use of their ideas.
   Part 1 — God
   Part 2 — Bible
   Part 3 — Yeshua
   Part 4 — Crucifixion
   Part 5 — Resurrection
   Part 6 — Ascension
   Part 7 — Faith
   Part 8 — Salvation
   Part 9 — Trinity 

Sketching Belonging

What started as a band of roving disciples, continued as a movement within Judaism, and then morphed into the Christian church. The early church started as a gathering of house churches but was dramatically changed by the Constantinian establishment and the development of the cathedral. The Christian church continued to evolve through a variety of schisms and splits – East and West; Catholic and Protestant; development of state churches; proliferation of denominations. Each of the changes in institutional structure was accompanied by a new understanding of what it means to belong.

As Protestant denominations, previously known as mainline churches, have been losing significant numbers of their members; as the numbers of those who declare themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious” grow dramatically; as long-term commitment and affiliation decreases in favor in our culture; belonging has taken on a multiplicity of shapes and forms:

1. Belonging as membership in a community. For some that membership is inherited (born of a Jewish mother); for others, chosen (membership in a denominational congregation).

2. Belonging as a commitment to either a system of belief (evangelical) or a way of life (Amish).

3. Belonging as protest (or dissent) vis-à-vis the culture (wiccan) or vis-à-vis the church (spiritual but not religious)

While each of those belongings can decay into an enfeebled and spiritless practice, they have remained as the normative expressions of religious belonging. There are however other expressions of religious belonging that are more problematic – for example, civil religion, bibliolatry , tribalism, and churchism (our church, our expression of religion is the only valid one)

I am more interested in an alternate form of belonging – namely, belonging to a radical, insistent call which often leads to insurrection. I believe that Yeshua embraced and inhabited such a call, binding together those responding to the same call in a basileia theou (a commonwealth shaped by the influence of the divine mystery). Responding to that call put Yeshua and his followers at odds with both Rome and the Temple.

Culturally, we are defined by our associations, our attachments, our belongings – Where did you go to high school or college? What is your religious background? Where do you work and what do you do there? Are you a Republican, Democrat, or Independent? How many Facebook friends do you have?

Following the radical, insistent call is just as touchy and risky today as it was for Yeshua’s first followers, because those who respond to the call will likely find themselves acting in ways that contravene the norms and regulations (laws) of both church and society. Insurrection is resistance from the inside. Insurrection calls into question the norms and practices of church, state, and society. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood his call to include participating in an assassination plot against Hitler; Gandhi defied the British Raj with his 240 mile salt march; Oscar Romero was assassinated for his outspokenness against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture in El Salvador.

The basic issue for Western Christians today: Is your faithfulness shaped primarily by membership in a community of faith, by participation in a system of beliefs, or by a dissent from them? Or has your life been invaded by an insistence, a calling that has taken up residence within you? Can you abide with that which abides within you, summoning you to resist imperialism in all its forms? Do you find yourself at odds with state sponsored violence and marginalizing of groups of people? Are you frustrated with institutional religion’s failure to provide a dynamic and creative engagement with the world? Do you long for a world at peace, a compassionate society, and merciful justice for all? When you hear insistence calling, will you discern your appropriate response and persevere in action!

The dilemma is that belonging to such a radical, insistent call will likely alienate you from much of what you had preciously considered your communities of belonging. Will you stand with those associations and attachments that define who you are culturally or will you abide with that inner insistence that calls you to become more fully, more completely, more wholly, what you already are, though now only partially and incompletely? Where will you abide?

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