Belief in Belonging: A Reflection on Going to Church Part 3

written on 16 June 2022 by Benjamin Bagocius

Art by Nat Iwata

We gather for church for the same reasons we gather in a classroom, sport, government meeting, or with a friend. We gather not for perfection but to fulfill a deep need to belong to the human family. No matter the context, we gather to belong. The ways we find belonging are different. As the Enneagram, an ancient wisdom paradigm for honoring different human motivations, states, some gather to express their inborn talents for orchestrating procedures and processes, without which our lives together would run even more amok. Others gather to take care of others. Without this care from these folks, we would feel even more alone. Some gather to formulate hierarchies of power and leadership. Without these checkpoints, we would have few standards toward which to strive individually or collectively. Some gather to watch, observe, and notice; without these witnesses we would miss the meaning of a crinkled forehead, of a smile that lasts a second too long; the symbol of the person walking through a doorway down the half-lit hallway would go untold. Some gather to assemble and interpret facts and data. Without their knowledge, we would not know how many photocopies to prepare, how many chairs to set at the table so that there is space for everyone. Some gather to create experiences of safety and security. Without feeling safe, little learning, growing, or socializing can happen. Some gather to have fun; without the radiant smile or the easy laugh, we would forget how to lighten up, how, as my friend Carol has said, to stay “amazed and amused.” Some gather to advocate justice and fairness. Without their insights, more of us would feel left out, unseen, unloved. Some gather to express peacemaking. When exclusion happens, we need those with gifts for peacemaking to widen the circle of belonging so that no one is shamed and everyone feels heard, if not understood. Whether in church, a classroom, a sports team, or the grocery store, we gather, but almost never for the exact same reasons.

We gather not for perfection but to fulfill a deep need to belong to the human family.

So, my belief is that belief does not define church, just as no single belief defines any community, whether a classroom, sports team, college, or religion. I personally do not “believe” in Jesus as Lord and Savior or as God’s only Son in a traditional, evangelical sense. A more mystical approach to Jesus and his divine message is better suited to my personality orientation (I’m an Enneagram 4, someone motivated by ideas about beauty, poetry, and art). To echo Maria Montessori, education visionary, I do not look to the so-called leader; I look “to where they are pointing.” I look to where Jesus points—absurd love, nonsensical peace, everyone-is-innocent—the same place spiritual visionaries across time and geography look, from Gilgamesh to Krishna to Buddha to Mary Magdalene to Hagar to more modern-day mystics such as Etty Hillesum, Helen Schucman, Marie Howe, perhaps your next door neighbor, and perhaps yourself. This idea of fixating not on an individual but on unmerited and blind Love can sound absurd. It is. That’s Love, the most unreasonable reality on earth and in heaven.

...unmerited and blind Love can sound absurd. It is. That’s Love, the most unreasonable reality on earth and in heaven.

I often look away from absurd Love and everyone-is-innocent to fixate instead on fear, blame, and shame, because I am human. But in church on Easter Sunday, my tears fell not because I was saved by a belief in Jesus, but because the Divine was not asking me to believe. The divine was not asking anything of me. I didn’t belong to the church or to a belief. I belonged to what the church gathering pointed me to: Love, the simplest though most difficult aspiration across geographies, time, and religious traditions.

I didn’t believe. I belonged.