Belonging with Grace and Peace
Dad leaned over and half-whispered, half-grumbled, “I hate this part.” The greeting time. He hated it, though hate is a strong word. He had belonged to that congregation since near the beginning of time, I think. He certainly knew everyone. Even if they were a first-time guest, he knew someone who knew them somehow. Week after week, he would turn to me and shake my hand first, whisper his protest, then turn to the rest of the nearby back row occupants.
It is what we do in church, take a moment to say hello those around us. I don’t have an affinity for the greeting part of the liturgy either. Pass the grace and peace of Christ. It’s beneficial and right. It’s also clunky and obligatory. When they call us back together, relief. Not again till next week. I’m with you, Dad.
Maybe it’s the introvert in me, the part of me that wants to belong and belong quietly, by myself. Maybe not everyone shares my dad’s sentiments, or mine.
The difficulty in belonging anywhere (and I think we all want to belong somewhere to something) is that we can’t be a part alone. It requires giving of self in some capacity–whether shaking the hand of someone you don’t know, or introducing yourself to someone you are afraid won’t like you, or passing grace and peace to someone you would rather not know. Unless we just want only to be a part of churches and other congregations of sorts where everyone looks exactly like us, where all of the people vote the same, think the same, read the same. Which, kind of, we do. But that isn’t one body with many parts and functions. That’s a bunch of hands gathered in one place doing only hand tasks, succeeding in the hand category. That isn’t belonging so much as it is segregating and dividing.
I think a lot about sitting in the back row with my dad and the practice of greeting. Maybe Dad didn’t like it because he already did belong. This was his tribe, his people. The ones who voted Republican even though he voted Democrat, the ones who loved the apostle Paul even though he thought Paul was full of himself, the ones who thought he was a subpar businessman and the ones who knew he meant well anyway. Oh, it wasn’t a perfect gathering, but they belonged to one another just the same. And Dad had already greeted them on the road, in the coffee shop, at the gas station, at the bank, at the drugstore.
Maybe I struggle because I don’t know if I belong or where I belong or if I can give myself to a place of belonging at all. It certainly appeals more to try and find a space or group of people more like me, who do read and think the same and talk the same and on and on. But is that what the Kingdom of God is like? We all belong, because we are all one big, happy homogenous family?
It’s the time in the service where we take a few minutes to greet those around us with the grace and peace of Christ. If I want to belong anywhere at all ever, like I used to belong there on the one pew of that little church, then I must step into the awkward and extend a hand. Grace and peace. I am going to give it from the depths of myself, and I’m going to receive it in return.