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Where is our Belonging?

In Christ we are invited, indeed initiated, into belonging to something bigger than family. In Christ we are invited into a belonging broader than nation. Even, dare I say, we are invited into a belonging deeper than our particular religious affiliation and our rehearsed theologies that deem most of the planet outside the fold. Our readings this week (Third Sunday after Pentecost. Proper 5 (10). Mark 3:20-35) are quite shocking and I suspect are meant to shake us out of our timid and rigid understandings of belonging and loving kindness and initiate us into a broader and deeper belonging.

You may like to read what I wrote three years ago when I reflected on the gospel in the light of the Genesis story.

When Jesus did not immediately respond to his family’s concern for him or interrupt his teaching to attend to them, when Jesus suggested that those who were listening to him and seeking to follow his teachings were his true family, we are understandably shocked and confused! This is not the loving behaviour that we expect of him; this is not family values as we understand them; and dare we say that this does not seem like very Christian conduct?


Any shock, dissonance or confusion that we experience, particularly when arising out of Scripture, is always an opportunity to go deeper. This is one of the many points in Scripture that we need to take a deep breath and courageously tease out the paradox so that we may find the richer wisdom that we are being asked to engage. In many parts of the Christian wisdom tradition there is the understanding that there is a holy third force at work when we are encountered by the paradox created by two apparently true things that seem to be in contradiction. The third force “is the process of overcoming seemingly opposites by uncovering a reconciling third that is bigger than both parts and doesn’t exclude either of them.” (Cynthia Bourgeault)


So if we hold the tension of the two apparently true images of Jesus as a good and devout Jewish person who has elsewhere taught the rightness of honouring parents and the image from this week’s gospel story of a Jesus who does not respond to his family and indeed suggests that those who listen to him are his real family, what might be the reconciling third force? I would suggest that the third reconciling way is that family - while good and right, is too small a belonging for those who seek the kingdom of God.


And likewise what is our desire for kings and leaders all about? Why did the ancient peoples of Israel want kings like their neighbours when they had the living God as their leader? (1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20) Why when they were warned so clearly about the likely consequences did they go ahead with Saul as king? After all the Judges for centuries had led the people determining what was right and wrong. It would seem that they hoped that a king could maintain justice and ensure equity within the society of Israel in a way that Judges could not.

And are we not the same? Even when we are clear that the current leaders are not of the standard that we desire we still scan the horizon for a better candidate or system that we could whole heartedly follow and give allegiance to. And in the meantime we admire and follow artists and sportspeople, comedians and journalists, self appointed gurus and influencers! What is it about our need and desire to have leaders, even when they have very common and human flaws and failings?


The answer probably would take several library shelves that would discuss the evolutionary, social, economic and cultural benefits of belonging to tribes and nations and groups. And somewhere in the mix I think would be a book or two that would explore the spiritual and psychological needs of most people to have an external person or group to project responsibility, blame and virtue upon. Developmentally most of us begin with parents and extended family, including the church family, to teach us and support us in learning where and to whom we belong, what is expected of us and what we can expect of others. Depending on the persons and the moment in history and geography the lessons are kind or cruel or the usual mix. We then tend to have siblings and peers, then group leaders and every variety of “king” to follow. Most cultures and religions also encourage the learning of the wisdom of the elders both living and past and a learning how to understand and follow the way of our tribe or group. And in so doing some meet the notion of the individual and true Self that must lead from within and bow only to the Most High God or principle. We in the Christian tradition have had the Law Givers, then the Prophets, and then the Son of God, and then we have been given the very Spirit of the Living God at Pentecost - a journey of wisdom that in some ways has travelled from the outside to the inside. Our belonging, especially since Easter and the Pentecost, is surely to the largest group there is – the Triune God and all that God created. And yet we behave and tend to believe that only our little group is saved, is precious, is right and therefore by definition all the rest of God’s sacred creation is somehow lost, dispensable and wrong?!


It is culturally and psychologically radical to suggest that in Christ we are invited, indeed initiated, into belonging to something bigger than family or even nation. Even, dare I say, we are invited into a belonging bigger than our particular religious affiliation and our rehearsed theologies that deem most of the planet outside the fold.


But how do we live in such a way that we make room for all that the Creator brought into being and attend with loving-kindness to those in our immediate presence? How do we pray for peace far away and be peacemakers in our own corner of the world? How do we find the wisdom and courage to enjoy belonging to family and group without treating those beyond our reach as other and less beloved than we are?


We begin, surely in our hearts and minds, in our prayers and imagination, by remembering and celebrating that we are unique and precious as are billions of other sentient beings. When we gaze with awe and thanksgiving at the rising full moon we can be aware of those creatures who also gaze upon the moon and pray for their well being knowing that we are somehow bound together. When we go to our sickbed or sit still while the fever or pain washes over us we remember all who suffer and pray that they too may know comfort practicing solidarity even in potentially isolating ill health. When we buy our fruit and vegetables, our clothes, gifts for friends, we give thanks and cheerfully pay what is a good living return to those who grew and made what we need. When we make decisions small and large about our time and finances we seek to act in ways consistent with our beliefs that all are precious and the kingdom of God is broader than national or religious boundaries. And sometimes we get on buses or planes and close the gap and go be with those who we once thought other.


Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come break down the barriers in my heart and in this world that we might be one, even as we are in your heart.

As always I am responsible for the thoughts and ideas expressed here. And I am indebted to those wiser than myself for inspiration.

This week I am indebted, as so often, to the wisdom of Cynthia Bourgeault, priest, contemplative and author of many books including “The Wisdom Jesus:  Transforming Heart and Mind - A New Perspective on Christ and His Message” 2008

Quote this week was from “The Third Way”, Daily Meditations August 26th 2016

I am also grateful to John T Squires for his blog on An Informed Faith "Give us a King, like other nations"





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