kinship, countryman, exile-

April 1, 2014

when I was fourteen, or sixteen, or twenty, I sat in an old train and argued with God about belonging. The walls were lined with mattresses  and the floorboards were weathered wood; bright trees brushed the windows and tried to grow in through the doors. Later, I’d come here and blow shiny purplish bubbles with two girls I’d somehow fallen into a friendship with. It was camp. I was sixteen.

Or fifteen. Or twenty. Really, it doesn’t matter. I was young enough to this country to know my presence here for what it was: exile. I had no name for it then, but it was the same thing; I had been torn up by the stalk and left my roots in the ground behind me. I was thrust into the clean soil of a new place with neither choice nor comprehension, and told to grow and like it, because this was home now. It simply happened to me, like most of my life. And later, when I turned to go back, I was to find that the ground had simply swallowed up the places where I had been, and there was no space for me back there, after all. I had been too long away, and nothing was the same. Home was the past, and the past wasn’t a thing that existed anymore.

I know no other way of being, now, and I have found my own tentative, shallow-rooted fondness for a city bright with wind and saltwater and streets I know. But back then I still didn’t understand, and so I sat in an old train and argued with God out loud about belonging. I may have cried; I appear to do a lot of crying. I was at a camp for Christian teenagers and I felt as if I didn’t belong.

 

I rarely, rarely feel like I belong. Anywhere, and to any one organisation, or to any particular group of people. I don’t know precisely why this is. But it was so during my university courses, and it was so in theatre, and in choir, and in high school, and in my high school Christian group, and in all the New Zealand youth groups I attended, and in all the New Zealand churches I attended before I stopped attending churches. Sometimes it’s so here, too, at Carey; small things happen, and I remember, and I am left a little unmoored because most of the time, most of the time I do belong here, at least a little. But it’s a shallow rooting at best, and sometimes I see just how shallow it can be, and how little I might matter, in the end.

Perhaps that’s what it is. I hadn’t realised it until I’d written it above. In some places, in many places, I don’t believe I matter at all. And that may be a fault in my own perception (not the soundest by any means), but it may equally well be true.

I think- I’m beginning to think that belonging is to be important in some way. Not important as in necessary but important as in wanted. As in desired. Because I think to be welcomed is to be desired, to be wanted somewhere; welcoming is never just the act of being Extra Friendly or greeting people with a smile at the door, as much as we’d wish it were ever that easy. To truly welcome is to be genuinely pleased that this person is here, to genuinely want this person here and truly feel that there will be something missing with them gone. Maybe, sometimes, that’s what we as a church don’t understand, when we talk about welcome and belonging.* To belong is to make a dent in the landscape. To belong is to have significant emotional, relational value and weight to the persons or groups you belong to. To belong is to matter, and to be wanted there.

… this is making me think about how many people I may possibly cause, in my daily blunderings, to feel as if they don’t belong, as if they aren’t welcome, as if I don’t value them. Even among the people I belong to. It’s not a pleasant thought, because I’m well aware I often do things that may come across so, in my frequently mad dash for self-preservation.

If I have ever made you feel as if you carry little weight in my esteem, if I have ever made you feel unwelcome or unwanted, I’m sorry. Forgive me. I’m still learning what it means to love you, and how to do it, and I’m terrible at it. But I’d like to keep trying, if you’ll let me.

 

On that note, I’d like to add that there are people I belong to, who also belong to me. Most of them are veterans of older circles or communities I also felt like I belonged in, for the length of time I was in them (because these places are often, sadly, transient places): Christian Union, the Catholic Chaplaincy, the online game I played for years and continue, sporadically, to play. The best friends I have made, I made in these places, and I belong with them. If I am at home anywhere, it is with these people who have genuinely wanted me in their lives, who apparently believe I matter, and who I genuinely want in my life, and who I believe matter. These people are, in many ways, home.

 

When I was sixteen, I sat in a deserted train and cried and told God that I didn’t feel at all like I belonged with any of these other Christians. And he more or less told me that because I belonged to him, and they belonged to him, we belonged together.

This was supremely unhelpful at the time. Now, knowing a little bit more about the Body of Christ, about the Kingdom of God and the work of the Spirit, I understand a little more, although I still think it’s supremely uncomforting. But perhaps it’s because I still haven’t worked out how I belong to God just yet. Just that I do.

I still don’t know how any of this works. I don’t even know where I was going with this post, except to say that sometimes I still don’t feel like I belong anywhere and to anything, and it hurts, especially in this place where I am with the people I’m meant to belong with but don’t. But I know, sometimes, the people I do belong to, even sprawled out across the world as some of you sometimes are, and I am truly glad to have you in my life. Maybe that’s all I wanted to say.

 

 

 

* Well. By ‘church’ I mean ‘some churches I’ve been to’ which is unfair. There are definitely excellent theologians who talk about belonging and exclusion (or ‘exclusion and embrace’), Volf and Vanier among them, who I really want to read. I’ve never actually thought through what it means to belong, but it’s a deeply significant issue for the church.

 

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