Belonging

Late Sunday afternoon, one of my favorite customers popped into the bookstore to grab a book she’d put on hold. She’s one of those people who radiates down-to-earth, good energy. She’s a joy to be around. In fact, when I’m around her, I feel like I belong.

That’s a pretty radical, earth-shifting gift: to make people feel a sense of belonging when you hardly know them. To do that requires being deeply centered in who you are, so you can allow people the space to be who they are.

It’s what Glennon Doyle calls being both free and held… at the same time.

It’s love.

I have no problem loving the people close to me. It gets trickier the farther I move out in concentric circles… to the people who the people I love love and the people those people love… and so on and so on and so on…

It gets harder because we like to belong. But to belong, sometimes we have to make sure other people know they don’t belong. And that not-belonging has dire consequences for people. Sometimes fatal consequences.

Even in spaces that should be inclusive, we’re hellbent on excluding some people. Onjali Rauf, for instance, wrote a lovely middle grades book about a refugee boy in England and the lengths his new friends go to to understand him and help reunite him with his family. It’s a book all about inclusion and acceptance, one that points out that bigotry is born out of fear of what is different.

Amazing, right?

The very same author penned an address at a women’s conference who’s sole focus was to question the identity of trans women and to argue that they should not be included in women-only spaces.

What the fuck?

But let’s go back to that brilliant, light-bringing customer of mine. As we chatted about a variety of different things–both mundane & spiritual–we touched on how fraught every single action is during this pandemic. And how, even when you’re trying to make good choices, people are incredibly apt to judge. In that context I quipped, “People can be so horrible sometimes.”

To which she replied, “I can be, too.”

And that’s really the crux of it. I can be, too.

So when I think about Onjali Rauf and her exclusionary speech, I have to remember that I said precisely the same things about trans women before I knew better.

It behooves me to remember where I came from. Just because other folks aren’t on the same place in their journey doesn’t mean they aren’t redeemable. In fact, as I was reading Rauf’s speech, I just kept thinking: does she even know any trans people? Because her entire speech reeks of the ignorance of not knowing. Of fear. Of the very thing she writes about overcoming in a book to teach kids about belonging and acceptance.

But fear can be overcome. It happens every single day. In fact, it’s one of the greatest miracles of being alive.

As a person in recovery, the truth is that I’ve done awful things in my addiction. Things borne of deep fear and deep pain. But I never have to be that person again. That’s redemption.

We’re all redeemable. But no one gets there by us insisting they don’t belong. In fact, we chip away at our own souls, our own sense of peace, balance, and well-being, every time we exclude someone. Or trick ourselves into forgetting the times we’ve fucked up, the hurt we’ve caused, the deep knowledge that we’re all profoundly flawed. And profoundly beautiful.

I can be, too.

You Are To Be Celebrated

ICYMI: The United Methodist Church has been busy imploding lately.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently wrestling with the very real hurt and trauma this conversation the UMC has on the regular about the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ folks brings up. I felt like I should say something profound and moving about the whole hot mess. But I couldn’t find the right words. In fact, I couldn’t even find a place to start.

Fortunately, there are folks who are brilliant and loving (like Nadia Bolz-Weber & Glennon Doyle) who not only found words but put them out into the world in the spirit of love & healing & GOODNESS:


It took me a long time to stop conflating God and the church–and to ask for my God to-go, please. But on this side of things, there is healing and freedom. Not everyone has the same path. But I do know definitively that you don’t need church to have God. In fact, I’ve begun to see God everywhere. In the little interactions I have with other flawed, miraculous humans. In the (rare instances of) sunshine in Atlanta. In the quiet moments of peace (no matter how fleeting) when I feel deeply the love of the divine.

One of my best pieces of advice in times like this: find your people. It doesn’t have to be the church (but it can be! There are plenty of churches that will celebrate you for who you are. Never accept less than that). Find a community who will stand by you in the daily struggles and the existential ones. And if you can’t find a group of people like that (a running group, a book club, a knitting circle, a writers group), create an ad hoc group of folks you’ve gathered along your life journey who love you to your core (even when you’re annoying, or cranky, or a tad irrational). Lean on those people. And be there for them. Create community. That’s the best and hardest part of being human. Dive into it.

Know that the Universe has only love for you. And it will keep nudging you along your path. I think God is constantly rejoicing over the beautiful, messy creation that I am–all while being just a smidge exasperated at how complicated I try to make everything.

Because the truth is simp]e: We’re all divinely created. We’re perfect just the way we are. Me. You. Your annoying AF neighbor. All of us. We’re valuable.

God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are. He loves us BECAUSE of who we are. Gaiety & all.

**Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

Dear Mr. Preacher Man

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

Dear Mr. Preacher Man:

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

I get where you’re coming from, Mr. Preacher Man. You find power in the name of Jesus. Power to condemn. Power to save. That power feeds your (self) righteousness. I see that. I understand it. Because I’ve felt it. I’ve used Jesus as a weapon, a line in the sand to prove how much better I am. I’ve used Jesus to prove my worth… after all, in the math of salvation saved is always greater than (never equal to) unsaved.

But, Mr. Preacher Man, none of that math added up to love. Not one lick of it. Because the hard truth is that we all stumble and fall. We all need connection. We need unconditional love. We humans have never been good at unconditional love. But God is. God’s got that good, radical love that welcomes everyone. God’s love is where it’s at.

But you aren’t preaching that love, Mr. Preacher Man. I have met your Jesus—and I found him wanting. Your Jesus wants to save me from a punishing God, a God who does not find me worthy. That version of myself—and God—wounded me, isolated me, broke me.

But I have good news, Mr. Preacher Man. God is nothing like that at all. God is this revolutionary, limitless love… God is bliss and peace and breath-taking goodwill for EVERYONE. God left a piece of the divine in me—and in you, Mr. Preacher Man. Don’t believe what they’ve told you… you don’t need redemption. You are already redeemed. You are worthy. You are loved.

So, Mr. Preacher Man, I don’t need you to introduce me to Jesus Christ. I got that saving grace, friend. It was mine all along. Jesus & I, we’re in the business of love. Join us over here. Everybody’s in. (No yelling required. )

Love,

Me

 

 

Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash