It’s a word that feels really good. It carries a sense of belonging, of warmth, safety even.
Unless you’ve been traumatized.
Even if the word itself doesn’t carry the same feelings for everyone, belonging is universal, I think. We all long for a place to call our own, and people who belong with us. Many of us find exactly that in our family, our social circles, our churches.
I thought I had found mine.
In 1997, I was 10 years old discovering the strength to tell my dad that what he was teaching couldn’t be found in the Bible. In 2000, he tried to kill me, twice. The thread of my rebellion and processing the rejection, abuse, and dysfunction at home was to turn to skepticism. Question everything.
Which brought me to believe the Christian Scriptures.
Sure, everything I had been taught from a very young age claimed to be from that book. Being skeptical, rebellious, taught me to look at it critically. I examined the scriptures of my own faith and the faiths of others and made up my mind. Eventually, I went to Bible school and took all my baggage with me. But after all those years I had found my home in Evangelical Christianity.
That’s when things really began to change.
Throughout my life, I had made friends with people of many different colors and cultures. My mother had taught us from a very young age to be anti-racist; make friends with people who don’t look or think like you, and act in ways to encourage and build those people up. Adulthood, however, expanded that. I met people at college from a variety of identities and persuasions; gay, lesbian, bisexual, liberal both theologically and politically, feminist.
Every single one of those people either hid that part of their lives, or was ejected from the Bible college.
I’m not going to name those people, but they helped me continue to question everything. Every book I read, every conversation I had, was spiritual formation that took me back to the Bible to ask questions. The authorities at churches and many instructors at the college would reinforce the things they already believed and repeat them to me. A few stood out, encouraging my questions and giving me more resources, constructively criticizing and spurring me on.
Thank you, Dave Glock, Dr. Smith, Ethan Young, Matthew Johnson, Ryan Alderson, and many more for this.
Growing up, I was republican. In college, I became an anarchist. Afterwards, I became a libertarian. Simultaneously, my vision of God and Christianity became expanded, my understanding of Jesus became more open, and my belief in his grace for every circumstance and the specialness of each person bearing God’s image became more solid. Yet, I held on for dear life to modern conservative Reformed Evangelicalism. I was wrong to hold on.
I lost my home every time I criticized or held people accountable.
The political climate only accelerated things. It didn’t matter that ancient Christianity teaches us that we are made in the image of God, that Jesus came to save us both from our present reality and our future reality, that communities and systems can be as sinful as individuals and families. It was labeled postmodern to insist that the love of God and grace of Christ call us to view our enemy as a person whom God himself loves. Nevermind the very Pauline and Augustinian teachings which predate the Reformation, mid 20th century Fundamentalist movement, and Postmodernism itself; and damn the fact that Jesus told us to bless those that persecute us.
They call themselves traditional. They call themselves Evangelical.
But they deny the power of Christ to change them and change systems.
So, I’m homeless culturally. Most of the people I spent 30 years with, trying to study the word of God, understand it, grow, and mature with, reject my beliefs and my reading of Scripture. The groups they circulate in use manipulation and group thinking to maintain the status quo.
I’m homeless theologically. The leaders of those groups are dismissive and rooted so deeply in their own understanding of Scripture with no concept that their beliefs only 60 to 130 years old and divorced from the greater community and historical understandings of Christianity. Many of the alternatives I’ve found to these leaders lean to another extreme that eliminates the divine from Jesus, or overemphasizes collective to the detriment of the individual.
This is not the end. It’s popular to use the word “deconstructing”, but if that’s true then I’ve been deconstructing my whole life. This is hard, it is full of doubt, and anger, and rage. It is work to get to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. My discipleship will continue. God seeks us out. I consider myself to be constructing, to be conforming myself to the likeness of Jesus.
Maybe home is on the road towards Jesus, and not the feeling of belonging to a group.