I used to mark the boundary lines between who belonged and who might not. I used to treat beliefs like the currency of community. Sure, I was tolerant and read widely. But when it came down to it, I subtly traded dignity and holy doubt for the dollars of belonging in the evangelical, reformed world.
And in all that boundary-marking and belief-spouting, I was actually becoming boxed into a religious community that only let part of me — and everyone — belong.
It took years for my husband and me to be honest with ourselves that working for a church that asked for more and more of our certainty, compliance, energy, and loyalty was making us less healthy and less whole. Having to be right bullied us and so many others into being less than beloved.
We decided that losing our livelihood and belonging in that local body of believers was worth gaining the belonging of being healthy in body and soul. I don’t know your church story, but I know mine broke my heart in half.
Four years ago in June, while the afternoon sun stretched across a cloudless sky, we hit send on our resignation letter to the church’s leadership. It was our eighth wedding anniversary.
Yesterday we worshiped alongside our friends at the cathedral downtown in preparation as their son’s godparents for his upcoming baptism, which will be the same day as our wedding anniversary. By the time you’re reading this, we will have stood by Jamie’s side under the massive buttresses of the cathedral’s nave and together with his priest and parents named that he is God’s own child, sealed with a belonging and belovedness that no one can take away.
On our wedding anniversary four years ago, we trusted through tears that even though we were leaving a church behind, God was not leaving us behind.
This year, I get to see and name that in all the long, lonely days since that June, Goodness and Love have been chasing us. Harm tried to hound us into believing we didn’t belong in the church unless we kept giving the currency of our belief and loyalty to powerful people who didn’t give us respect and safety in return. Goodness and Love have chased us farther than Harm ever could.
Yesterday, after receiving the bread and wine, I sat back in wonder at how the expanse of the cathedral echoed the broadening expanse in myself.
My belonging is no longer bound to being right.
My belonging in the Body of Christ is no longer confined to the small box of some White men’s ideals of what a Brown man in Israel said and did over two thousand years ago.
My belonging and well-being are bound up in the broken, risen, and reigning body of Jesus Christ, by whose Spirit I hear the Father’s words at Christ’s baptism as mine: “You are my beloved child. With you, I am well pleased.”
While religious people build barriers to belonging — demanding certainty where there is mystery and compliance where Scripture isn’t black and white — baptism brings the bar for belonging remarkably low. Our belonging is less contingent on certainty of beliefs or conformity to religious norms than on being brought forward and blessed with water we couldn’t obtain ourselves. Baptism brings us low, to waters that remind us we belong because we were born and we are loved because we exist.
— K.J. Ramsey, The Lord Is My Courage
We can detach from the dollar signs of a belonging that is based on more beliefs than the Nicene Creed. We can untangle ourselves from the cords of consumerism that reduce our place among God’s people to our utility. We can burst out of the boxes that attempt to confine human bodies as things to control, use, or condemn.
Today, the church is bigger than I once dreamed. She is local and global. She is brutal and beautiful. She is found in cathedrals and across coffee tables. She is both less and more than I was ever taught.
With the taste of communion still on my lips, I joined my voice in unison along with the saints by my side to confess the mystery of belonging, echoing 1 Corinthians 10:17, “We who are many are one body, because we all share in one bread, one cup.”
Each week as I receive communion from the outstretched, still-scarred hands of Jesus Christ through priests, friends, and in the interior sanctuary of my soul, I am broadened to trust that there is a belonging in the Body that will not brutalize our bodies and souls.
May this broadening be yours as well.
Goodness and Love are still seeking you, in the places you might not expect, among the people you might have previously judged. There is a belonging that is better than being right and a belovedness that is yours no matter how many times you’ve gotten things wrong.
May the hope of Christ’s kindness stretch over all your scars. Our story is not done.
Betsy Wisler says
This echoes the wonderful message our guest pastor delivered yesterday. Thank you and blessings.
How courageous- your actions and sharing this story. I have done my share of church shopping. I realize I should feel joy during worship, joy at the prospect of spending time at worship. I should want to be there on Sunday with all my heart. It wasn’t always so. And church/worship can take different forms. The sermon message yesterday mentioned breaking the box that we have put God in and what we have made the church look like. I am reading through Paul’s letters and I think about the early church – small groups gathering in homes and taking care of one another in an intimate level focusing on what Christ had been teaching- what was really important. I am moving soon and will once again be searching for a place to share communion but the older I get the more I know what church should look like for me and I will not settle.
K.J. Ramsey says
Grace to you! It can be hard to find a safe community. May God provide what you seek and need.
Ariel Krienke says
Amen that was beautiful. My family has had a hard time finding a church family that not only preaches God’s word in entirety but also wants to live according it. When disagreements come up they won’t discuss. Just well if you don’t agree with us then you don’t belong here. It’s not the gospel according to me it’s the gospel according to God. Discussions are good to have. I pray God leads us to the right church for us. In the meantime I’m thankful for resources from places like Dayspring and devotions from places like Lifeway and others that help us to worship at home. God loves us and accepts us even if others in world and even churches don’t. Love this. Thank you sister
K.J. Ramsey says
I’m thankful this resonated with you, and that you are seeking a healthy community for your family!
Diane Bailey says
When we see His bride, not limited by the skewed view of others, then the massive greatness of God can be seen in so many fresh new places.
Good post. Thank you.
K.J. Ramsey says
Pearl Allard says
Beliefs being like the currency of community… Thank you for putting this into words. I’ve felt this in the past but never had words to wrap around it. While it’s not a good thing, I’m appreciative of being able to name it now for what it really is.
K.J. Ramsey says
I’m so glad this articulated something you’ve experienced. May there be healing for the harm you’ve experienced in not being allowed to fully belong.
Sue Ewan says
Thanks for your honesty – especially to yourself. May you continue to know God’s expanding blessings.
K.J. Ramsey says
This is so good! Thank you for articulating something I am also pondering and discovering.
K.J. Ramsey says
So glad this resonated with you!
Your words to my heart. Thank you so much. I feel strongly that religion is still like the Pharisees and would rather have a relationship with doing what some deem is “right”, than truly having a relationship with Jesus.
K.J. Ramsey says
I think you are so right. The religion of the Pharisees was so bent on control and certainty—getting things right. Jesus took that religion and turned it upside down by relating with love to those whom the Pharisees wouldn’t even eat with. Grateful.
God loves the unborn too so it isn’t because we are born we are loved!
K.J. Ramsey says
Hi there, Joyce. I’m not saying God doesn’t love the unborn. Not one bit. “Being born” is shorthand for the fact that we exist. Before we do anything amazing or awful, we are already loved.
This is truly phenomenal and breathtaking. I kept on reading and waiting for something to say BUT… and it never came. I’m so happy. I stopped going to church 4 years ago and even though I feel closer to God than ever I still have that voice in the back of my mind that tells me I am doomed because I am not doing enough. Thank you.
My husband and I stopped going to church many years ago and so you are certainly not alone. We feel that the structure is fundamentally flawed and that it should be about a group of God loving people getting together on equal terms (which we’re yet to find). There’s so much subliminal pressure to conform to the structure rather than on a relationship with God. We pray for God to direct us to Christian connections and know this will happen at the right time. We feel that our individual relationship with God continues to develop. Please don’t feel doomed as that certainly isn’t what God would want for you.
Brenda M. Russell says
I hope in Jesus and I hope in God. We often think we have the only answers to problems around us. We find out in hind sight that there is generally more than one route to a specific destination.
God is so vast. I don’t think I can ever get everything right because I am a created being and I have limitations. I pray that I am alive and in my sound mind to see some people enjoy the love of Christ and share that Word with others. I find that it is easy to make a decision but it takes courage to follow through will the new decision.
Authority and Power belong to God’s children. We can’t lord over fellow Christ followers to demand that they meet our personal standards. Jesus is our Standard.
There are many believers who have been hurt in order to feel like they are part of the “group” but that’s not what should be done to secure strength and unity. Love really does cover what we can’t cover.
One day all hurt, deceit, lies and pain will be gone. Hallelujah, thank the Lord.
God bless your steps
Thank you for your words which resonated with me. I’m becoming more and more certain that ‘church’, connection with others, should be about small groups of ‘God connected’ people meeting together on equal terms, rather than gatherings with a ‘leader’ at the top. The structure as it now stands lends itself to the bullying that you describe.
Beth Williams says
Some church leaders tend to be phariseeic in nature. They expect you to follow ALL the rules & laws they set. Nothing to do with love & caring. We should not be bound by denominational differences. Love should be the glue that holds us together. December of this year my pastor & his wife of 18 years are retiring. While I have enjoyed attending that church. It is starting to dwindle down. My hubby & I have decided to change churches-mostly due to the long drive out there. We will be going back to the church of his youth. Yes we will be changing denominations & doing things differently. One major thing binds both together & that is love. Both churches live out the gospel by helping others & showing God’s love to this world.