Chasing an orange ball

It was my 13th birthday. I was the final cut for the Bantam AAA hockey team that day. It was a big surprise as I had thought I made the team, I believed I belonged. Two years later, to my surprise, I was voted ‘Mr. Personality’ by my peers in all the grade 9 classes at my school. A belonging I never sought. In grade 12 I was the co- captain of the volleyball team and helped lead our team to win several tournaments and a championship. I discovered I had helped create a belonging for others that allowed our team to perform to its potential. Belonging is a elusive but highly necessary aspect of being human. In my few short years as a teenager I experienced rejection from belonging, a belonging I never expected and providing a place for others to belong. As a teenager I was simply one drop, trying to find belonging, in the bucket like every other insecure human being.

Belonging is about the feeling of being in or out. When it comes to spiritual belonging we seem to have our wires crossed on how to process that reality with others. We seem to equate belonging to believing rather than connect to the search and journey of a seeking faith or seeking heart. Jesus continually had the religious community, the stakeholders over spiritual belonging, turned on their heads over belonging. He was constantly letting people belong to him that offended the stakeholders. This reality escalated to where Jesus was identified by the religious community as a ‘friend of sinners’, which was spoken in a derogatory sense.

I am not sure we are all that different in defining the edges of belonging for spiritual community. In the church we often determine if someone belongs by their theology or declarations. Instead of determining if someone is seeking to become fully alive, we connect belonging, first of all, to beliefs rather than relationship and sharing life. People want to be valued for who they are, for their life, their story and their humanity. I want to be valued for those things. People want to know I am interested in them for them. I want to know people are interested in me for me. That is the premise of authority in anyone’s life. Belonging, in a spiritual sense, is intuitively recognizing who God is putting in my life and beginning to share my life with them. As followers of Jesus we are at some level invited to help create belonging for others like I was for my volleyball team. That invitation is simply the invitation to the incarnational life.

I remember my friend Mark from ball hockey. We played on a team for 4 seasons together. I was just Todd, the center men, and he was just Mark, the right winger. In other words, we weren’t connected to each other on our choice of vocation or common beliefs about anything. Our common ground was we both loved to chase a orange ball and we had chemistry doing it together. Tuesday evening after Tuesday evening we played ball hockey together. We learned to win and lose together. We learned to share, congratulate, defend each other and handle swings in emotion together. We would often look for each other afterwards to chat about whatever was on our minds. We liked each other’s company. One day about 6 months into our friendship Mark asked me what I did for work. I always hate that question. I said, with some level of confidence in my voice, that I was a pastor. His faced looked stunned. He got quiet and then blurted out to me “I could see that, you have the demeanor for that.” You see Mark needed a moment to run all his experiences of me through the lens of what a spiritual leader should be to him and I apparently passed. My life (how I played sports) spoke to him, not my words. We carried on talking about many things over the months and years.

One day he came to me with a dilemma. They were having a child and his parents, who were Catholics, wanted his baby baptized. He grew up Catholic but did not know what he thought about it all anymore. He was potentially in a family crisis and needed to go somewhere to ask for input. He wanted my thoughts on spiritual things because we shared relationship. Over time we talked about many things to do with life, spiritual things, family, hope, faith, etc…we even got our families together for a meal or two before we moved away. I still keep in touch with Mark. I was long enough in Mark’s life and real enough in his life that when the real things came up (and they will) we could talk about them in the most natural ways. People want to experience the good news of God in their lives not just hear about it. Mark taught me things and I taught him things. Life is an exchange and we need to learn how to belong to others that don’t believe. It is in that place that the Kingdom of God is often best and most at work. Hugh Halter in his book “Tangible Kingdom” calls living like this an incarnational approach to Christianity. Rather than inviting people to something we invite people to belong in our lives.

What are the challenges of belonging to others in this way?

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on May 21, 2010.

One Response to “Chasing an orange ball”

  1. I like this, Todd. I agree with the idea of looking for people who are seeking to be fully alive (in Christ). I think ‘belonging attached to belief’ also occurs in other parts of community, like the teams you mentioned being a part of. Sometimes, even now, in sports communities I am associated with as an adult, belief in someone’s skill is the factor used to allow admittance into that community. In otherwords, even if a person is full of life and learning for the sport, unless he/she and others believe she/he is truly skilled, belonging or admittance into the circle is not full. I don’t like this attitude anywhere, including recreational sport. Your article is a good reminder to me as part of the Body of Christ, to make sure I am looking for fellowship with others based on relationship and not only belief. Some things now make sense to me with this thought in mind. For instance, I have been asked by others in the Body if I am attending women’s retreats and reply that I am not going. I cannot imagine going where I have almost no relationship with the others attending. Yes, we may have beliefs in God as a connecting point, but being alone with a bunch of strangers for a weekend is not appealing to me! Thanks for getting my thoughts moving…by the way, sorry you did not make the Bantam AAA, I bet you had quite the adjustments to make with the news. Angela

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