Joy and Belonging

The last thing I’ll say on joy is this: you’ll find it where you find acceptance and total belonging. You’ll find it where you find grace, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.

In the Western world, we live an increasingly isolated existence where our primary sources of connection are digital (social media) and we think of television personalities as the mouthpieces for our views- for the real “truth.” We don’t find belonging on Reddit, or in the comments sections of Facebook posts or news outlets. These things do not connect us- they isolate us. We will find no joy without belonging.

So, find a place to belong. Truly belong. Find a place where the people, when you expose a dark piece of yourself, do not react. A place where people do not tear you down but build you up. A place where you are not rejected because you haven’t grown fast enough or, even better, where you are not rejected because you’ve gotten worse! Sometimes we will get worse- and we need a place that allows us to belong even then.

There is no joy where there is no belonging. All of the rest of the posts this month are moot if you do not belong.

Find a place to belong and you will discover joy.


I have not always appreciated generosity for the gift it is.  Generosity isn’t just about sharing the last cookie or perhaps making a sacrificial financial donation to a worthy cause - I understand that kind of generosity and have myself been the grateful recipient of such generosity.

Generosity from Brown’s perspective is new to me.  Here’s what she says, “Learning how to set the boundaries that allow us to be generous in our assumptions about others.  The challenge is being honest and clear with others about what’s okay and not okay.”  p. 150 Braving the Wilderness

What does this mean?

Here’s how it works with me.  If my husband does something that irritates me, I am quick to assume the worst.  I might think - he did that to irritate me.  He doesn’t care about me.  He doesn’t understand me.  My husband is a jerk.  This is the opposite of Brene’s call to generosity.

When my husband does something to irritate me and I remember to be generous in my assumptions - I might think:  Huh.  What’s that all about?  I wonder what he was thinking and I am curious to ask him about his choice.  Is he doing okay?  Is he tired?  Does he need help?

Generous assumptions result in curiosity and inquiry, not judgment.

As I am learning to practice Brene’s kind of generosity, our conflict has decreased and my sense of love and well-being has increased.  It’s really lovely.

For the most part, my husband does not wake up in the morning and set out to drive me nuts.  He is doing the best he can and it is quite wonderful.  Living generously, I can say the same about me.  

Why not live more generously?  How can it possibly hurt?

Giving and receiving

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is actually a by-product of practicing the spiritual discipline of not judging.  I don’t know why, but I am often astonished at how quickly someone is able to help me if I ask.

Problems that seem confounding to me often have clear, often simple solutions that others can explain to me.  I hope this is also true in the reverse.

Once I learn, through trial and error and often a fair amount of failing, who can be helpful in situations that I find impossible to understand, the beautiful side-effect is a deepening cache’ of folks I can call on in my time of need.

This frees up my time for the things that I can help someone else with - time I previously wasted spinning in uncertainty and a skills deficit in areas of life where I really, truly need to ask for help in order to resolve an issue.

This doesn’t have to be major stuff.  For example, when I study and prepare for a message series, I always cram too much into a single outline for a weekend message.  I will ALWAYS have this tendency.  Twenty years in and I STILL CRAM TOO MUCH IN TO A SINGLE MESSAGE OUTLINE.  What I have learned is that Scott, our co-pastor at NSC, can read my notes in 3 minutes or less and suggest to me what he thinks is my strongest point, what is extraneous information, and where in the outline I stop one message and go on to a completely new message.  I rely on Scott to help me in my weakness.  He never has this problem, and that’s great, because I could not be helpful in solving it for him.  But he has another area of message delivery that I can sometimes provide advance feedback on and I hope he finds it as helpful as I find him in my own preparation.

This is no big deal.  The world will no crash down around us if we do not practice this exchange of feedback.  If I go way too long in a message, the checked out faces in the room will teach me to stop talking.  But this kind of mutuality is helpful.  The scripture refers to this I think when it says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  It is not suggesting a cover up.  But it is saying, I think, that when we love and trust one another, it is a natural thing to rely on one another to cover our perennial weaknesses.  This strengthens the whole of a community.  It is helpful.

If Scott were to judge my over-preparedness, then I could not ask him to help me and in fact, he wouldn’t be very helpful even if I asked.  His judgment would negate his capacity to help.  

Is judgment getting in the way of love in your life?


Integrity requires that we choose to live courageously by our core values over the comfort of taking the easy way out when faced with a tough decision that calls our values into question.  Recently someone offered me a high profile speaking engagement that may have helped our local community spread the word about our ministry.  They also required that I sign a release form that gave them ownership of the content I would present.  I chose not to speak.  

In past years, I might have been distracted by the perceived opportunity to share with our larger community all the wonderful things that I believe Northstar Community participates in out of my unbridled enthusiasm for our mission.  I wouldn’t have thought about the implications of willingly signing over my creative and proprietary rights in the process.

Today, I realize that this was not a respectful request when the speaker (me) was not being paid or even acknowledged for their work.  This is not an integrity move, and it took more courage than it should have for me to respectfully decline the offer.

Many carrots will be dangled in front of our faces that will tempt us to make decisions that are not consistent with our core values.  One way I am learning to distinguish a real carrot from fake fruit is giving myself time to make decisions.  All decisions.  Even small decisions.  Pausing to prepare, think about the implications of my choices, notice and acknowledge times when I want to avoid acting with courage - this time is necessary for me to live with integrity.

It’s not easy.  What shortcuts have you been tempted to take?  How have you allowed an “opportunity” to blind you to the cost of pursuing it?


In Brene’ Brown’s model of “B.R.A.V.I.N.G” - the first three things - boundaries, reliability, and accountability are fairly obvious and oft talked about concepts.  But  V is for “VAULT” really caught my attention.

The skill set she puts in this category goes like this:  “Learning how to keep confidences, to recognize what’s ours to share and what’s not.  The challenge is to stop using gossip, common enemy intimacy, and oversharing as a way to hotwire connection.” (p. 150 Braving the Wilderness)

These concepts are all ways Brene says we use fake connections to imitate true belonging.  When we gossip it feels all connected...until we imagine others gossiping about us.  Oversharing feels like intimacy until we realize that we shared with someone who was not safe and the sharing backfires.  Common enemy intimacy is when we experience a connective zing based on connecting with others based on who and what we are against.  This intimacy is particularly pernicious because it often joins us to people we with whom we share no common core values.  

This is why my Republican friends are rightfully upset because their Democrat friends are now labelling them a rascist because they voted for President Trump in the election.  My Democrat friends are devastated that their Republican friends say, “Hey, there is no way I could vote for crooked Hillary.”    The name calling and the connection each political party feels when they gather together and bash the other is an example of common enemy bonding.  Each is making assumptions that the other side believes are false.  But here’s the real problem.  We are making enemies out of people who are not enemies.  This is a problem.  

Folks, beware this kind of bonding.  It’s indecent.

Respectable Living

In yesterday’s blog, I told a story about a time when I set, held and respected the boundary of self-respect.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time.  I thought I was  mad and not going to take the belittling and insulting behavior of another anymore.

Resentment is the feeling we get when we think life is unfair; shame is the feeling we have when we believe that we are broken, wrong and of no worth.  People do not MAKE us feel resentment or shame.  

Which means, I believe, that the number of times we wrestle with both might just be related to how we treat ourselves than how others treat us.  Feel resentful, envious, jealous and maybe a pinch unworthy?

What better way to take a different path than to behave respectably.  Do good.  Be kind.  Work hard.  Learn from mistakes.  Live our life not constantly looking around and asking how others are evaluating our life.

This is the best boundary work we can ever do.  Boundary work, it turns out, is one of 7 skills Brene’ Brown says we need to strengthen our capacity for courage.

It isn’t about asking others to treat us as we hope to be treated.  We decide to live in such a way as to be satisfied and unashamed of the life we are making.  How others evaluate that?  That’s their problem.

As an adult looking back on that dinner table debacle, my family’s socio-economic status was barely different than the frat boy’s situation.  At that point in time I had an intact family and he had a family dealing with grief and loss and a new move to a new city and who knows what else.

His accusations were unfounded, but if I had been insecure, freaked out, emotional and neurotic, I might have believed every stinking word he said.  Not because it was true, but because I lacked boundaries.

A strong back is the result of knowing who we are, deciding to live congruently with the values we profess to believe, and sometimes be willing to stand alone when our boundaries are under attack.  It took decades before I developed a more consistently practiced strong back, but it is kind of neat to look back and realize that way back then I had one small spark of dignity within me.  To that young girl I say, “Way to go!"


One of my most shaming moments, in my whole entire library of shaming interactions, happened over a Thanksgiving meal during my Senior year of high school.  I had this boyfriend, and he had a family that was extremely different than mine.  His mother had passed away, his father traveled a ton for work, his older brother was off at UVA, and he had a younger sister who was a junior at our high school.  I was often outraged by the lack of adult supervision he and his sister had when his dad traveled.  I felt sorry for the whole lot of them, even the oldest brother who seemed like such a frat boy and pain in the neck.  I in no way felt inferior to these suffering people, so it came as quite a shock to find out that they viewed me as beneath them.  

Here’s what happened.  The older brother was rip roaring drunk by the time dinner started.  We were barely through the gourmet appetizers when he began teasing me.  The teasing quickly devolved into taunting.  He called me names.  He disparaged the neighborhood I lived in.  He suggested I was a social climber.  And just let me tell you, when I was in high school, I owned “social” and this guy I was dating?  He was new to the school and did NOT.  Just to be clear.

The father in this family of sufferers said not one word.  My boyfriend said not one word.  I realized I had no one to defend me and from somewhere deep inside me I realized that I may literally live on the other side of the railroad tracks, but I was better than this.

I stood up.

I walked to the kitchen and called my mom and said, “Come get me.”

I returned to the dining room and said something along these lines, “Let me tell you guys something.  In my house, this guy here,” I pointed to my boyfriend, “is treated with respect.  And just so you understand this point, no one really likes him that much.  And guests in our house?  They are treated with respect.  You do not deserve to have a guest at your table.”  And I walked out with what I hope was regal and righteous indignation.

Hold the clapping.  I ended up dating that boy with the bad family for three more years.  I should have called it quits that very day.  

But I had a moment when I belonged to myself and it was good.  I felt no resentment for my treatment afterwards, just continued sadness and not too much admiration for the family that would behave like that.  When you do the next right thing, there is less room for resentment or other hard feelings to fester.  Unfortunately, I did not use my good sense to break up with the boy or the family.  You win some; you lose some.  But here is something I am trying to remember every day:  if I do not belong to myself, respect myself by being respectable, and stand up for myself when others treat me with disdain - I need to first and foremost give myself a kick in the pants.  It is awful when people treat us as unworthy or less than but it is worse when we treat ourselves that way.  We, above all others, can choose to live in a way that confirms for us that we deserve to be treated well and require that as a condition of relationship.

Shame and Belonging

Sure, when the discussion at work devolved into a discussion of personality, my kid could have gotten distracted with feelings of inadequacy, shame or most likely resentment when told by the vendor that “I have never connected with you interpersonally.”  But this is counter to radical sacred belonging.  My kid had to dig deep and decide what was at stake.  Was their value at stake?  No.  Was this vendor’s livelihood at stake?  Yes.  Far better, one could even make a case that it is far more sacred, to not get distracted with petty insecurities to the detriment of helping another person keep their job.  In this way, whether or not these two ever “connect interpersonally”, my child has lived out of BEING by valuing compassion for another and considering the vendor’s need (she needed to know that her job was at risk due to poor performance AND learn what she could do to save her position) over any light and momentary freak out about interpersonal connection.  

In my case, I had to accept that my belonging in my family from my father’s perspective was contingent upon me denying my own conclusions about where I was most needed during a family crisis in deference of his preference.  This violates the core meaning of belonging.  What would happen if I chased after the approval of my dad at the expense of my own conscience?  I would then violate my own value of being a woman with a strong back and a soft heart.  This I cannot do.  And if I had - then that would have been on me.  

Listen up, this is very important:  I have on many, many, many occasions violated my own sense of right in a vain attempt to chase after the acceptance of others.  Oh the stories I could tell about my abandonment of core values in order to win over another person.  Hot shame courses through me as I think of times when I abdicated my own sense of goodness, rightness or fair play in order to feel the approval of another. I acknowledge the constant pull in both small and large ways to chase this high of perceived acceptance.  There are no guarantees that I can remain self-aware enough to consistently maintain a strong back and tender front approach to life.  

But here’s the thing.  It does not deliver.  It’s a sham.  Better that we lose belonging in some situations shooting for authentic expressions of who we BE then falling into the pit of shame when we realize that even our best efforts to chameleon ourselves into the good graces of others doesn’t produce true belonging.  In my opinion. ( But you should listen because I have a ton of experience with losing for all the wrong reasons!)

Maybe tomorrow we will talk about what I learned during one of my most shaming interactions EVER

Fake Belonging

If resentment is bitter indignation over a perceived treatment of unfairness, if what we desperately fear is disapproval and rejection, then all of us are vulnerable to succumbing to the temptation to belong.  Honestly, belonging is a big deal and we should all work diligently in the pursuit of both accepting others and providing a place for them to belong AND being people who behave in ways that make it possible for others to accept us into their circle of trust.  

But at what cost?  Again, I turn to Brene’ Brown to guide my thoughts on what I believe is a core spiritual principle:  imitate God by being caring, inclusive and relationally present AND respect yourself in the process.

True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.  True belonging doesn’t require you  to CHANGE who you are; it requires you to BE who you are.  P. 157 Braving the Wilderness

And this:  it means that not everyone will embrace belonging as a spiritual practice.  Think about what it requires to value belonging in this sacred way.  It means that we must NEVER EVER ask others to change who they are in order to make us feel more comfortable.  It requires us to BE who we are even when it puts belonging at risk.  If we change who we are in order to fit into a system that demands that we change, did we ever belong?  No.  We never belonged.  In any system where power is used to manipulate even one person to change in order to gratify another, this is a system that cannot handle sacred belonging.  

How many of us have chased after belonging only to discover that belonging in its most sacred sense was never going to be something the person whose approval we craved could give?  What has that cost us?

Power and Belonging

Since the decision I made two years ago to return home to my daughter and trust my mother into the care of others my family has experienced some major relational shifts.  When I told my dad I was leaving, he stopped returning both texts and phone calls.  The only communication I have had with him since that day has been angry written communication clearly expressing his disappointment in me.  For my part, I have accepted this loss of belonging as necessary for my own mental health.  He says I abandoned him in his time of need; I would say that he made it impossible for me to belong.

In Brene’ Brown’s book, Braving the Wilderness, I gained some vocabulary for what happened when I made the tough call of having a strong back and soft front.  First, let me explain what that means to me.  I practiced having a strong back when I dug deep inside myself, through prayer and contemplation, to make my decision about whether to stay with or leave my mom on her deathbed to return to my daughter laboring away for days in a hospital bed. (And I asked all my loved ones and friends what to do and they told me to go home.) I took responsibility for deciding what the right decision was for me.  Second, I opened up my heart and was vulnerable enough to ask my family, my dad in particular, to grant me grace and mercy when I made that call.  I did not ask for approval, I asked for belonging.  I asked to belong in my family of origin even if I could not say yes to what my dad preferred - me staying on in Atlanta as my mother transitioned into her new life.  

Jen Hatmaker, a writer, pastor, philanthropist, and community leader (as described by Brene’ on p. 150 of Braving the Wilderness) is quoted by Brene’ in a written response to Brene’ Brown’s inquiry to Hatmaker asking Jen to describe her own experience of receiving a hostile response from her own tribe when she addressed her support of LGBTQ rights and inclusion.  Here is what Hatmaker wrote:

Speaking against power structures that keep some inside and others outside has a cost, and the currency most often drafted from my account is BELONGING.  Consequently, the wilderness sometimes feels very lonely and punishing, which is a powerful disincentive.  

Page 151, Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness

Power.  It shows up in many forms.  Pay attention.  Parents have power.  Bosses have power.  Anyone who has the capacity to strip you of your “belonging” card has power.  Let’s get real - sometimes it is necessary to detach from relationships.  That’s not the point of this post - although it is a crucial relationship issue that is worthy of thoughtful consideration. (I’ll tackle that one tomorrow.) Today’s point is this:  notice how we use BELONGING as a way to keep people “in line”.  Notice how we use it as a weapon to disincentivize conversations that challenge the status quo.  The vendor tried to use the power of belonging to distract from a crucial conversation about her job performance by suggesting that there was something relationally disconnected between her and my kid. (They didn’t have a relationship, get it?  But it is still a powerful weapon to use against people who value relationships.) My father withdrew relationship as a punishment for my failure to do what I had habitually done - come running when he called.  Belonging is a beautiful thing, but sometimes our ASSUMPTION that we belong is proven to be an illusion when we exercise our strong back and make tough calls that are not popular.  


Building a Tribe

Throughout the scriptures, God is all about the tribe.  Unfortunately, we forget that and try to over personalize some of what the bible teaches.  But take another look. His message is around tribe. Rarely does God call out an individual, he works primarily through the tribe.  Yes we know the names of the individuals that God has called to serve - but the vast majority of God’s people throughout history have worked in small, steady, faithful ways to serve him and their communities.  



The beauty of a tribe is that we don’t all have to be believing and behaving well on the same day.  My son and I co-pastor a community called Northstar Community. We have our off days. Heck, in 2017 we had an off year filled with family suffering and heartache (and a new and amazing grandson - do you want to see my pictures?).  


But what I have observed is on the days he or I were at our lowest, someone in our community was faithfully stepping up to fill the gap that our inability to be fully present created.  I like to think that we do the same in return. A family will get all out of sorts with one another - over a serious issue, not just petty stuff. We have had times when either Scott, me, or another community member was invited into the family to help work through the issue.  Many times this calms down the chaos and allows for healing.


This isn’t some grand thing.  It’s just tribe doing its thing.


Build the tribe.  I do not know how we survive without it.


What I do not know

I do not have a bunch of answers for the issues that arise from our human limitations while we simultaneously desperately want to believe.  For Christians, we wrestle with the notion that we are created in the image of God. We are taught that we have the capacity to “bring it” - which to me means that when God calls us, we can respond in obedience AND participate in his bigger story.  And I love the story. It’s a story of God’s presence and love for his people. It’s a hope for tomorrow as we wait confidently for God to do his thing.



I have so very few answers.


But I suspect that this “not knowing” can be a beautiful thing, although scary to admit.  It goes back to Brene Brown’s work. She encourages us to be step into vulnerability even as we brave the wilderness of sometimes standing alone for what we believe to be right and true.


What is more humbling than “not knowing”?  But we do not know. That is a truth.


Historically we can look back and name all the times we did what we thought was right, only to learn that we were wrong.  How many times have well-intentioned men and women tripped up and ended up on the wrong side of history? Too many times to count.


Why would we be different?  


When we get real about all the things we do not know, could be wrong about, etc. etc., then we are free to get curious.  Lose judgmental opinions. Gain empathy and compassion. Or, experience the very word of God:


Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1 NIV


We are coming to believe that God loves us and doesn’t leave us; we hope for His work in our world; we are certain that the future is still in process; just because we cannot see and do not know does NOT mean grace is not happening.  How can you get more curious?


Heroes of Faith

Once I grew up and took responsibility for studying the scriptures for myself, I discovered a wide world of opportunity to learn from a variety of scholars and theologians.  This reading and studying has been a regular practice for me since Pete and I joined the church as young newlyweds.



Here is one thing I know.  I know this without a doubt.  God uses messy people. Here are a few examples.


Yes, Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden.  BUT God went with them. He gave them a consequence, but he neither stopped loving them or abandoned them.


Noah built a big boat that allowed for many to survive the flood.  But he disembarked and got wasted, bringing shame to his children.


Moses was both a murderer and a rescuer of his people.


Rahab was both a prostitute and a protector of God’s people.


Paul persecuted Christians and then became one.


Peter was the first to name Jesus as Savior but Jesus also told him to “Get behind me Satan!”


And then there is Hebrews 11.  Paul writes it as a recounting of the heroes of faith - -and just look at the list!!!  They are all a mixed back of messy humanity.


So why.  Why would we ask people to live under the heavy blanket of shame associated with telling people that if you believe you can only belong if you behave?


This has tremendous implications for how we teach, how we build community, how wrestle with our own limitations and especially how we deal with the limitations of others.


What are some of those from your perspective?

God is not like Santa

With all the love I can hold in my heart, I say unto you:  my early church experience was fraught with misdirection. Even the paintings of Jesus were more reflective of the neighborhood my grandparents inhabited than the real Jesus.  We can forgive our narcissistic tendencies to turn everyone into reflections of ourselves, but what is much more difficult for me is to deal with the wounding of what I was taught.  



I was taught that God was a lot like Santa.  He only loved you if you were good. I have never been particularly skilled at goodness.  From my earliest years my own self-image was one of a little girl who wanted to be good but kept getting put in tough situations where she had to speak up and out against corrupt authority figures (I know - grandiose!  But I’m trying to present my child’s perspective.). Or, as my brothers say, “She is so bossy.” But no one ever told me I was good.


Can you see the problem?


When we teach people that in order to belong we must believe and that if we believe properly we will be good (as defined by the behavioral constructs of the culture and church we belong to), the inevitable outcome is that even the most sincere among us will regularly doubt whether or not we belong.  Or believe “correctly.” This discourages honesty. It creates a vacuum for teaching real life skill sets and I believe decreases our capacity to embrace and support transformation.


What were you taught (or not taught) about belief and belonging?

What must I believe to belong?

It is incredibly confusing to folks when what we say does not match with what we actually do.  Of course, we are all inconsistent at times. But you know what I mean! If you are a pastor and you talk about prostitution as a sin (in practically every sermon you preach) but get caught in a hotel room with a prostitute and it turns out you have spent $50,000.00 of your church’s money on prostitutes over the course of your career - that’s a problem.  



If on the other hand, you behave like a human - desiring to love Jesus and others and respect yourself and messing that up in a variety of ways on a regular basis, well, that’s human.  When you mess up, after a bit of defensiveness maybe, a time or two of blaming others, if eventually you start talking about how you messed up and what you are responsible for and how you plan on making amends - again, you are not only a human but you are practicing believing in the sacred act of humility and repentance.  Who wouldn’t want to belong to a tribe that lives like this? I think there are some hints about belief and belonging in these two illustrations.


Before we get to that, let’s take a few moments and consider when we have personally acted in ways that seem to contradict our beliefs.  What did we do? How did we feel? What were we thinking? Did we have a path forward? Was it littered with shame? Was it restorative?


If we are going to be part of a faith community, these are important questions to ask because they will define in many ways our faith experience during times of crisis.  Whether we are community members or leaders - these questions will impact our capacity to love humans and participate in their healing.


Believing and Belonging

From an early age, I have been confused about the criteria for believing in order to belong to a faith community.  My early exposure to faith was a mixed bag. My parents did not attend church or ever speak of spiritual matters. (Other than when my dad was cursing.)  My maternal grandparents were Baptist through and through so I went to church with them during my summer visits. It was in their church that I learned what white grape juice and stale crackers tasted like, Jesus was a white man with a long light brown beard, heathens were not to be trusted but if you got baptized all was forgiven and you could belong (My grandfather was deathly afraid of water so he was an outsider for 30 years before he screwed up his courage after a heart attack and took the plunge. However, he panicked and flailed around which resulted in the pastor taking a plunge and the two men splashing around in that baptismal pool for quite awhile before choir members rushed to their rescue.), all other denominations were heathens especially the Catholics, you don’t go to church unless you are dressed to kill (that was confusing), baptists drink (often excessively) but not together, and... baptist pastors have this habit of running away with either the choir director, pianist or church secretary (there was a stretch when they were three for three in that department).  I learned a lot of other lessons too, but who has the time to read all that?!? Anyway, all of this was going on with the backdrop of sermons that preached: behave. Behave. Behave. Like I said, it was confusing.



When my husband and I were newlyweds we joined a beautiful Southern Baptist church in our community and loved it.  Our Sunday School teachers became spiritual parental units for us - loving and encouraging us and seeing potential in us that we didn’t even dare to dream might be true.  They challenged us too. They taught us the scriptures and cast a vision for what it might mean to bear the image of God and take it with us in our daily lives. They sacrificed for us, serving our entire class Sunday lunches around their large farmhouse table made of pine and waxed until you could see your reflection in its surface so long as you moved aside the steaming plates of food and the baskets of Mama John’s yummy yeast rolls.  We met on Thursday nights as families for bible study (with the babies) and the women returned on Friday morning for a women’s study. These folks were NOT confusing. They were clear, consistent and oh so very kind. In their presence, everyone felt like a favorite child who belonged. If I have any instincts about what it means to love Jesus and follow him, it is because they planted them.


So what made one experience so confusing and the other so clarifying?  To be continued….


Belonging isn't easy

Brene Brown writes the most amazing books.  In her book Rising Strong, she provides the guiding principles that she has in her own organization.  I’ll get to those in a second, but here’s the main point for us to consider today:  she and her organization are operating by guiding principles.


This is uncommon but necessary for belonging.  There is this tendency to get sentimental about belonging.  “Hey, come!  We accept everyone!”  I love the sentiment but it can be taken too far.  In almost twenty years of recovery ministry I can count on one hand the number of times that we have had to respectfully ask someone to find another community.  Yikes.  I hate writing that sentence.  BUT and this is a big BUT – BUT for the welfare of the community, it is important to have thought about the conditions of belonging.  I am SO not talking about forming a club where people get along.  In our community we have conflict and petty arguments on a fairly regular basis.  This is normal for a tribe of people who love each other and form deep attachments.  I’d be concerned if we didn’t have issues to sort through.  But there are limits, and those limits are best not determined in the heat of a dispute, but forged through a discernment process over a long period of time and shaped by experience/failure.


Remember Sister Monahan’s discoveries:  truth, authenticity, and humility (another way to say that is finding her place in the bigger story as she discovered she was neither unique or alone). Add to that Brene’s five guiding principles and I think we end up with the start of a great conversation for ourselves, our friends, our families, our communities, and any organization we are invested in.


Here are Brene’s (paraphrased by me but available in totality on p. 257 in Rising Strong:


1.     Respect -  for all and everything.

2.     Rumble – value our tribe enough to be willing to wrestle with hard things.

3.     Rally – even in conflict, refuse to let go of collaboration, ditch ego, and practice the discipline of gratitude.

4.     Recovery – rest!

5.     Reach out – don’t isolate, stay connected, practice empathy, compassion and love.


I hope the connections are fairly obvious regarding Monahan’s and Brown’s perspectives.  More than anything, I pray that me and mine find ways to remember the 5 R’s and practice living them.  Which of these is most difficult for you?  Which one do you feel you could show up for your community and practice reasonably well?