No One Can Take You Away From the Place You Always Belong

Longing.

The longing to belong.

The longing to be loved.

The longing deep within.

Everyone wants to belong.

Band Geeks Belong

Not fitting in comes easy to me. Or at least the feeling that I don’t fit in comes easy to me. I can fake fitting in with the gang well enough. I learned how to do that over years of awkwardness and being on the outside when it came to the cool kids. Who knows, maybe they felt like they didn’t really belong, too.

It’s easy to feel that way. You’re in a group that largely does one thing, let’s call it X. In fact, X is part of the group identity. But you don’t do X. You do Y. By not doing X, are you no longer part of the group?

In high school band, almost everyone played a wind instrument. There were sixty band members and fifty of them played either a woodwind or brass instrument. Flutes, trumpets, trombones, clarinets, saxophones (yay me!), even the lone tuba player. Fifty out of sixty played something that required blowing into a mouthpiece.

Cal Aggie Band-Uh! (My local university’s marching band.)

What about the other ten? They were the percussion section, the drummers. Yet even though they did not fall into the group’s majority by playing wind instruments, not a single person thought they weren’t part of the band. Besides, they were drummers. You can’t get much cooler than that.

Stereotypes abound

Do you have an image that automatically comes to mind when you think of people from England? (“Pip pip, cheerio, fancy a spot of tea?”) Or perhaps Bavaria? (“Liebchen, have you seen my lederhosen?”)

What comes to mind when you think of an introvert or extravert? (“I need to be alone” vs. “Hey, let’s get everyone together in the same place!”)

What comes to mind when you think of women? Of men? What about Christian women or Christian men?

The problem with stereotypes is that they are not necessarily true, not for the group nor for individuals within that group.

If you are an introvert in a family full of extraverts, you are still a member of the family. You’d be invited to weddings and birthday parties (assuming that’s what your family did), help out when others are in need (assuming yours is the type of family that does that), and so on.

And for people who insist women and men, particularly Christian women and men, must conform to stereotypes, the same thing goes. The stereotypes might be wrong (they often are) and even if they are grounded somehow in reality they still are not definitive. Let’s say that again.

Stereotypes are not definitive.

They may not even be true.

And when they are applied to group identity, they can exclude. Maliciously and hurtfully, they can exclude. Like this video, or the assertion (below) about falling uteruses:

 

 

In the 19th Century people thought that women riding trains were at risk of their uteruses flying out of their bodies (Here’s What People Used To Think Would Happen To Women’s Bodies During Train Travel), or that women engaging in sports was a sign of degeneracy, and that competitive actions could lead to sterility or at least passing along degenerate characteristics to their children. (The Myth of the Falling Uterus: Where did the myth that a woman’s uterus would fall out if she participated in sports come from?) The result? Women were banned or strongly discouraged from taking part in social and professional endeavors open to men.

Bad science leading to mistaken social practices is one thing. But does this really happen in the Body of Christ, the Church that God has called together through the Holy Spirit?

Yes, and it has for millennia.

Everybody Belongs

Does the stereotypical high school band member play a wind instrument? Yes, at least in my high school band. Does that mean someone who doesn’t play a wind instrument is not a true member of the band? Don’t tell that to the percussionists, nor to the rest of us. We need them and they need us. That’s how bands exist. It’s the same in the Body of Christ.

Paul dealt with exclusive thinking and practices 2000 years ago, as he explored the reality of belonging to God by analogizing to the human body:

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Corinthians 12:15-21.)

It is because of this diversity – this lack of conforming to stereotype – that we are able to truly be one Body in the Spirit of God.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27.)

The Good Shepherd, Jean Baptiste de Champaigne 17th C. (Wikipedia)

You think you don’t fit in because you don’t conform to a stereotype someone else has laid on you? Jesus says you do. You are part of him because you are a part of the Body of Christ. There is no stereotyping here. There is only belonging. As Jesus said when he used another analogy, that of a shepherd and sheep:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28-30.)

Where you belong is with Jesus and that’s where he longs for you to belong as well, now and forever.

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12 Responses to No One Can Take You Away From the Place You Always Belong

  1. Laura says:

    I am finding with my nieces, it is how we communicate with each other that helps family get along. I really never understood the fitting in because I always thought that family was family. I worked out when I was around five years old that I have to love myself to be accepted. I think and I speak generally, that a lot of people didn’t have the best childhood and they couldn’t really make attachments with their family. In order to fit in they changed themselves again and again and they can’t get back to who they really are because they are too ashamed etc. It has to come from them . Nobody can control them.

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    No stereotyping, only belonging … that’s beautiful, Tim. We need one another, in all our wonderful diversity.

  3. NJ says:

    I must have been in a more balanced high school marching band. We were our own little subculture, and within it the ‘coolest’ (or should I say brattiest) kids tended to be the brass players, at least to those of us in the clarinet section. Still, it was a refuge for nerds like me who loved music, and would never fit in with the jocks.

    Even though church has often been likened to a family, sometimes it can feel more like high school with all the cliques, especially if there is a dominant one, such as the married-with-children contingent. I don’t think anyone typically intends to exclude others like single adults, it just can happen by default. That can certainly change when leadership or lay folks take the initiative in ministering to all kinds of people, whether they fit cultural stereotypes or not.

    • Tim says:

      Ours had that as well. The first trumpet player one year was also starting quarterback and homecoming king. We were a mixed bag, but we all belonged.

  4. Linn says:

    I teach in a school where whites are minority, but we have many different groups from India and China, plus Eastern Europe. I have a family member who always bugs me about how i teach these children that are so “different.” I just smile and say, “They’re children, and like all the other children I have taught.” My church is starting to reach out more thoughtfully to others in our community, and I am thankful. The more we get to know each other, the more we will know we are not that different from each other.

    • Tim says:

      Your school sounds like a great place to work.

      • Linn says:

        I love it here, although it is the Silicon Valley elite. Flip side is that I work with my church’s Spanish congregation, which is totally the other side. of the economic equation. It keeps me balanced. Kids are still kids!

  5. Anu Riley says:

    There were tons of golden “nuggets” of wisdom and encouragement in this post! They all offered an incredible amount of hope and healing. For anyone and everyone who has felt slighted, snubbed or sent away—-just because they did not fit a “cookie cutter” mold.

    Bear in mind Who is at the top of the list for defying and refusing to conform OR support the stereotypes of His day: Christ Himself.

    It would take way too long to fully describe the many, many ways He bucked the systems of His time. But Christians in general would do well to keep that in mind when considering how we view ourselves, and equally important—-how we view others.

    If we were alive in His day, would we turn our nose up at Him as so many religious persons did? Or would we gladly embrace His openness and willingness to excluded because He “sat with sinners?”

    Stereotyping is widely acceptable, yet no one seems to stop to think the incredible amount of damage it does. And by the way, a stereotype does NOT have to be negative. It can be positive, but if it’s not rooted in truth—-it is invalid and needs to be thrown out.

    Stereotyping is based on nothing but the appearance of truth. It has no substance, no depth and no validity attached. It is based on shallow perceptions that we assume to be truthful, largely because everyone else seems to agree with them, or no one dares to challenge them.

    I am from a country that is largely stereotyped to promote the idea that the males don’t treat the females very well. It is widely accepted and almost never challenged.

    So let me get this straight. This is a country most of us have never visited, know very little about and probably don’t even know anyone from that country.

    You’ve put a horrible label on millions of men that you will never meet or get to know on a personal label. You’ve connected their ethnicity with their behaviors, which is beyond insulting.

    Every country in the world includes men who mistreat women in them. Ours is no exception, by the way. So before we start slinging rocks at those supposedly poor, third world, ignorant and “not like us” countries out there—-we would do well to look at ourselves, and stop looking down on others.

    Stereotyping is often rooted in a false sense of superiority. We revel in them because they tend to make us feel better about ourselves. It gives us great license to elevate ourselves at the expense of others.

    Coming back to the blessing of belonging: stereotyping puts nothing but distance between people. And you can’t promote or encourage belonging when we’re sure we already know what others are like. We look for ways for our stereotypes to be confirmed (who wants to admit their judgement is flawed?) rather than getting rid of them altogether.

    I was almost always the kid who did not fit in at the lunch tables at school. People grouped together at those ages as much as adults still do today. There is no room for you at their tables if you don’t conform to their image.

    Well, the Lord isn’t like that. In fact, He MAKES room for you at His table. It is, after all, HIS table. So if professing Christians push you away from their tables, go and sit with Him. There is a place for everyone and anyone who is born again in His Son.

    For Him, image means nothing. All He cares about is the Image of His son reflecting back at Him.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for sharing from your own experiences with stereotyping, Anu, and for the encouragement that when it comes to Jesus he welcomes people to his table.

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