Book Review – Lessons in Belonging: From a Church-Going Commitment Phobe by Erin S. Lane (Celebrating my 300th blog post)
by Mark Votava
This is a great book by Erin S. Lane! Highly recommended. The book just came out a couple of months ago and I was excited to read it.
If you read this book you will get a sense that many of the younger generation feel disillusioned and a sense of fear about going to traditional churches today. As Erin is in her late twenties, she speaks for a generation that is looking for belonging within the context of healthy community. Often times churches do not provide this kind of community or belonging.
There is a strong theme that disillusionment is not easy, but may be a good thing. It allows us to experience heartbreak over the state of the church. If we become broken open we will live with more compassion, love, imagination, grace and risk. This could be just what the church in the twenty-first century needs as things are changing in our culture a lot.
I was so impressed by Erin S. Lane’s longing to search for lessons in belonging in this book. She poses questions to us such as: Do we really believe that we each have gifts worth offering one another? Do we really believe that vulnerability is a risk we’re called to take? Do we agree that there’s value in inviting strangers into our midst? Do we really agree that we should treat one another charitably? Do we really agree that earnestness is more important than rightness?
Belonging is a lifetime work that is both a gift we receive and a pilgrimage we make. This paradox of belonging that is both a gift we receive and a pilgrimage we make is so incredibly intertwined in the text. This could liberate our imaginations tremendously. This is the foundation of all healthy community in everyday life.
Meaning, purpose and identity all flow from a context of community where we experience belonging. This is what has helped me to be my true self in my own experience of living into community, purpose and belonging. I love how she communicates lessons in belonging in such a clear manner. Everyone who is thinking about living more interdependently should read this wonderful book!
Alienation and separation are the illusions we let lead our lives often times. But Erin is calling us to a life of belonging, unity, collaboration and vulnerability all in the context of community. I love her stories of confusion, frustration, failure, disillusionment and authenticity. She helps us to understand why belonging is so crucial to our everyday lives without losing a sense of ourselves.
I like the idea that in healthy community we shed the facade of pride, privilege and protectiveness and find our true selves. We become more authentic when we find who we really are as created in the image of God. Pride, protectiveness and privilege have run the game of life in me for too long and I want to find a way that has deeper resonation.
I am so glad that I read Erin S. Lane’s book! It has enriched my life with wisdom around belonging and community. A must read for everyone tired of old paradigms and boring religion.
- Disillusionment may be good, but it’s never easy
“Disillusionment may be good, but it’s never easy. Many of us have grown comfortable with our illusions. The loss of their familiar silhouette can be scary, like a night-light gone dark…”
- Learning to belong is lifetime work
“To ‘get’ to be ourselves means that belonging is both a gift we receive and a pilgrimage we make. To be our authentic selves requires some getting to, some working out, some travelling toward as we discern the ‘me’ we get to be. Learning to belong is lifetime work.”
- Discerning ourselves in the context of community
“Belonging is about discerning ourselves in the context of community, a web of relationships… that gives us meaning and purpose and identity…”
- Trapped between freedom and fear
“We are a generation trapped between the twin terrors of freedom and fear…”
- Wonder and cynicism
“Wonder is a powerful anecdote to cynicism…”
- The gift of belonging is already ours
“The gift of belonging is already ours… The question is not, Can we belong? The question is, Will we belong?”
- Strangers wake us up to our need
“Strangers who are poor, sick and lame wake us up to our need… They challenge our culturally shaped rhythms and subvert our socially accepted excuses… Besides, I need some strangers to remain strangers this side of life so I don’t get too satisfied with my puffed-up version of reality, my small-minded way of doing things, the rituals that have become the right way because they’re the only way I’ve known…”
- Vulnerability is a gift to ourselves and others
“Vulnerability is a gift to ourselves and others when it’s a choice we make and not a right exploited…”
- To welcome the vulnerable
“To welcome the vulnerable means to welcome suffering…”
- In healthy community one becomes more themselves
“I’ve always thought that in healthy community one becomes more themselves, not less – more aware of their gifts, not less; more true to the image of God, not less… Community should refine us, not consume us…”
- In the stillness of community
“In the stillness of community, reality reveals itself to us. What does this mean? Stillness not only brings the absence of activity but also the awareness of the reality around us. So too does stillness offer the rare gift of quietude needed to discern the reality within us. How is it with our souls? What lies do we need to weed out? What truths do we need to plant?”
- The facade of pride, privilege and protectiveness
“…a healthy community should help us shed the false selves we’ve constructed – the facade of pride, privilege and protectiveness that keep us alienated from one another – and uncover the person we are by God’s design. Losing one’s life should not mean losing all sense of one’s self. Instead, in real community we come to find out who it is that we really are, what is it that we can offer and how it is that we belong…”
- The exchange of gifts
“The exchange of gifts breeds life.”
- We each have gifts worth offering one another
“Do we really believe that we each have gifts worth offering one another?”
- Vulnerability is a risk we’re called to take
“Do we really believe that vulnerability is a risk we’re called to take?”
- Inviting strangers into our midst
“Do we agree that there’s value in inviting strangers into our midst?”
- We should treat one another charitably
“Do we really agree that we should treat one another charitably?”
- Earnestness is more important than rightness
“Do we really agree that earnestness is more important than rightness?”
- Crafts the very illusions it should be unmasking
“What makes the church toxic then is not its ability to leave us feeling disillusioned… What makes the church toxic is when it crafts the very illusions it should be unmasking…”
- Treating belonging as a privilege earned rather than a gift offered
“When we believe the illusion of alienation, we’re prone to treating belonging as a privilege earned rather than a gift offered.”
- It takes time
“It takes time, lots of time, to not just live like we belong but feel like we belong to one another…”
- How belonging happens
“This is how belonging happens. Not by waiting for permission or holding out for perfect conditions. Not by cherry-picking people just like us or nitpicking people who don’t get us. Belonging happens when we choose to give ourselves away, saying, ‘Take. Eat. If you’ll have me, I belong to you.’”
- The offering of our true selves
“Belonging to God compels us to share our offering in community… The offering is our true selves. It’s as if God says, ‘There’s no use trying to play someone else. Your part is worthy. Now go, offer your portion faithfully.’”
- Having it all wrong
“I’d had it wrong all along. Belonging didn’t chiefly depend on whether a community accepted me but whether I was able to offer myself to them…”
- It’s in the offering that we accept belonging for ourselves
“There’s nothing to say someone will accept our gifts, handle them with care or help them come alive. But it’s our choice to offer them. It’s in the offering that we accept belonging for ourselves.”
- Rethink old realities and risk living into ones yet seen
“Questions of belonging – how it’s fostered and how it’s discerned – are questions that will only grow in importance as we rethink old realities and risk living into ones yet seen.”
- Responding to our heartbreak
“Each of us has a choice in how we will respond to our heartbreak. We can either let it take us out of the action in favor of a simpler life where we belong without question or question without belonging, or we can let it lead us into a more vibrant life in which the contradictions of our faith open us to the death of illusions, the suffering of community and the resurrection of our real selves…”
- Choosing the life in front of me
“There’s a new kind of freedom I’m learning that comes not from keeping my options open but from choosing the life in front of me…”
Do you believe belonging is important to healthy community?