“If I want to be a follower of Jesus, do I have to identify as a Christian?” I was asked this question recently by a friend of mine (a member of the Millennial generation) who’s been exploring the teachings of Jesus. The question startled me. It startled me because it caused me to consider two concepts that are closely related to belief and the ways God engages with humanity: identity and belonging. It never occurred to me that someone on the verge of faith might have reservations about identifying with or belonging to the large, diverse population we call “Christian.” Her question led me to ponder: How actually does one belong to a faith community of so many denominations, each with its particular, nuanced take on what being a Christian means? What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to claim this identity?
When a new man joins our community, the first few months can be quite bewildering for him. There are so many new things to learn, and so many new Brothers to get to know. “Where do you keep the spoons?” “What do you do on the Sabbath?” But after a while there comes this happy moment when instead of saying “you” he says “we”! He no longer feels like an outsider looking in, but has begun to put down roots and begins to feel at last that he belongs. And with belonging comes a deep contentment.
In order to thrive we all need to belong. I used to travel a lot in the Middle East and North Africa, and whenever I began chatting with a local, the first thing they would do is take out photos of their family. They expected me to do the same. They wanted to get to know me, so the first question was “show me your family.” “Who do you belong to?” Our fundamental identity has to do with belonging.