a longing for belonging

A couple of nights ago I ran into a pastor whom I have done a couple of projects with before. Since I left the ministry, I have experienced a few such encounters with “ex-colleagues”. Without exception, those encounters had happened as follows:

First, The person tried extremely hard to pretend not to see me. I once was eating in a small diner, a ministry couple I knew walked in and sat down in the next booth, literally less than an arms-length to my right. They looked over, saw me and (I am not making this up, I swear!) proceeded to bury their faces into the menus. After they put their menus down (finally!) and ordered, they locked eyes with each other as they talked, careful not to glance my way. I decided to end the awkwardness by calling out their names and said hi. What followed was the worst acting job I have ever seen as they were “surprised” that I was there.

Then, the person would go to great lengths to make the encounter as brief as possible. When I ran into that pastor couple of nights ago, I extended my hand and said hi. The person (Again, I’m not making this up) shook my hand very briefly, and walked right past me, without stopping.

Finally, and again this has happened every time so far. The person would make a vague promise about getting together, while they hurriedly backed away from me. “Let’s have lunch some time”, “I’ll call you and have coffee”, “let’s chat sometime”. Of course, none of those promised lunches and dinners and coffee chats had happened. Not once.

Every one of those encouters hurt, of course. It hurts when people whom you once worked with now try to pretend you don’t exist. But during my more clear-headed moments, I reflected back on my whole experience and I realized perhaps there is an important realization here:

As a church, we are not good with people.

Sure, we want people. All kinds of people. We want capable people to run our committees, loving people to teach our kids, generous people to support our budgets, musical people to lead our services, and so on. But when people make mistakes and stumble, in other words, when people actually, simply behave like people, we don’t know what to do with them.

I don’t attend church anymore. But deep inside, there is a longing to belong somewhere. If I ever go to church again, all the things that were important for me to find in a church won’t apply anymore. I don’t think I will care much if the teaching is fantastic, or if the music is polished, or if there is a great Sunday School program, etc. I simply want to go somewhere where I will be treated as a person. A place where people recognize that we are no better or no worse than one another. A place that acknowledges the reality of our sinfulness but at the same time respects, honors and celebrates the dignity of our personhood. A place that we can share the brokenness in each of our stories, and at the same time look forward to the healing and redemption that may come as we turn the pages together…

“sometimes you wanna go
where everybody knows your name;
and they’re always glad you came…

you wanna go where people know
that people are all the same
you wanna go where everybody knows your name

you wanna go where people know
our troubles are all the same
you wanna go where everybody knows your name…”

3 thoughts on “a longing for belonging

  1. Alfred,

    If you felt the need to belong, others would feel the same too. You cannot expect people to act nothing had happened and assume ‘life goes on”. You have hurt people and they need time to heal too. Forgiveness doesn’t come cheap: it caused Jesus Christ to be nailed on the cross, for you and me.

    I hope that your “longing for belonging” will be for our God who had graciously forgiven you. Long for His forgiveness and grace, Alfred.

  2. I totally understand what you mean. I am a Christian but I am the first one to tell you that most Christians are hypocrites. It concerns me a lot, because they are giving Christianity such a bad rep.

    I will never stop going to Church because I love God and I am loyal to CHRIST….it is the people who are in churches or who run the churches that I have problems with.

    Back to what you wrote…aren’t Christians supposed to be honest and not lie? The actions described by you consisted of lies and false pretense….doesn’t that fly right into the face of what they preach? I don’t understand…don’t they know that they are turning more and more people against CHRIST everyday? At which point will the real Christians in our Church community stand up and hold these people accountable?

    I could be out of line here, but I think that the Chinese Church community really needs to revoluationize itself. Someone needs to speak truths to power and bring some reforms to the system, the process….what we need is real love, humility, acceptance, forgiveness (i.e. the true teachings of Lord JESUS CHRIST), not condemnation, judgements, power-building, self-righteousness and arrogance.

  3. Alfred,

    You know what, I believe what you said. People are real, I mean really weak and imperfect, yes they are. I hate to call them hypocrites but there is no better word for them. Sometimes, I have to admit that I am one of them too.

    We want to avoid reality, avoid confrontation, we pretend we don’t know what we should do, we pretend we have done what we should but we know we haven’t…..we can go on and on.

    I have similar experience like yours, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears and feelings but they are all real.

    But as I read your other comments, I am glad that we have real friends around us too. Let’s enjoy our real friends and just laugh at those unreal human for now!

    Well, I am still waiting for a coffee with you, you know my phone number, give me a call.

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