“Learning to Belong” – Book Review by Jenny Sprong (December 2012)
Introduction – Learning to Live:
I am beginning to read this book at the end of my term as an EA (see http://www.eappi.org) in Palestine and Israel. Reflecting on my EAPPI experience, in East Jerusalem for three months, made me realise just how much there is a need for “connection” with God and with others. This applies to everyone but especially also to Palestinian an Israeli people. (It definitely applies to me and the loneliness I experienced, even in community, reminded me of this need for both worship and for connection.)
Before I share a very brief summary of the daily devotions contained in this guide – to whet your appetite – I shall describe something of its format. The book is divided into four weeks, each with seven daily devotional guides. At the conclusion of each week there are suggested questions for discussion and other thought-provoking comments.
I shall be going back to do this exercise daily – it was an interesting experience reading it almost in one sitting but its value, in my opinion, would be to reflectively read each day’s guide and to actually do what the author suggests under the four main headings:
To think about
I found the material challenging and deeply though-provoking. John has consulted widely and his examples are relevant and to the point. I enjoy the author’s sense of humour and value the way he is able to blend in something of his own story in order to illustrate the devotional value of this daily reflective exercise.
Each daily devotion is approximately 3 to 4 pages long – plus a reading from Scripture. I enjoy the author’s frank discussion of sensitive issues and welcome the invitation he makes to his readers to live as a ‘called community’. I found some of his suggestions enormously challenging – especially those in which I recognise my own difficulties to love as Jesus loves. I write about these challenges openly because that means there is a growing edge for each of us in this book. Very few of us are all the way there yet!
I highly recommend this devotional book – for all. Whether we are new Christ-followers or whether we have been on the road for many years, these reflections are designed to become our own. Yes, some stories and illustrations are used to get us thinking, but on the whole the reflections grow meaningful from our own experiences, which resonate with those recorded in the book.
It helps me to make short notes when I read and so I did exactly that whilst reading this book. The highlights, which stood out for me, might not be the essence of the day’s reflections for you but I offer them, for your information, if you would like to read further:-
Week 1: Yes, my own children “like God but not the Church”.
Support and solidarity are essential. Knowing someone cares and is practically supportive. (The SA/British Teams finished jointly!)
A place in which to belong is important for every human being! Even though being connected through social media today, people still fear a deep connection with others and many are deeply lonely. Often, this is because of previous rejection or betrayal. We need to learn to love again.
We need to overcome our fear – “… we are healed when we choose to be in community.” Jesus calls us, from or out of the most awkward positions. Social Justice and God’s ‘Jubilee Dream’.
The fear of commitment and the pain of relationships. We need to “become a safe place for others first.” Community becomes healing when we risk and share the pain.
Worship and prayer often help us to break down the barriers of law, culture, tradition, race and division. If we stay and listen long enough, God speaks to us. Healing and connection often happen through worship and prayer. The choice is ours to make.
What does it mean to belong? Stories in the Scriptures tell of incidences in people’s lives that brought them into a worshipping community. Companions often assist us in our spiritual journey.
Gathering together is a healing exercise – “the decision to gather week after week is prophetic, transforming and healing.”
Exploration and Questions!
Highlights of the week.
Week 2: What does it mean to be called of God? We need to find our voice in life!
Our purpose? We want the world to be a better place when we die. We want to make a contribution.
We are ALL called. What does it mean to fulfill our roles as Christ-followers? Hear God’s voice and the ‘voice within’.
What is God’s dream? A little boy shares his lunch and thousands have more than enough to eat. Let us share what we have to offer.
Groups making a difference! God calls us together with others and, as individuals, we work out our calling in our communities.
Being equipped to fulfill our calling. Using our gifts for God and for others.
Worship is the key. Isaiah’s experience of worship – what is my own? Celebrating the mystery of worship.
How do we express our calling in our everyday life? Doing small things for others. Often we find that we can only truly live out our calling in a group – we compliment one another because when we ‘do mission’ together, we share our various gifts.
Week 3: Invocation – God shining through.
We need an “ah-hah” moment in our spiritual experience. So many divisions in our world. Something needs to give us a jolt in order to begin the healing of the divisions.
“While they were debating climate change, climate changed!” Give thanks for those who love nature and promote the links between religion and science.
Emmanuel – God with us – a God with skin on! These spiritual and physical worlds are intertwined.
Being called and being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. A Pentecost experience helps us to experience the reality of God.
Inviting God! Allowing worship to be the significant space where God meets with us.
To really feel “at home” is a gift a gracious hostess creates. Being at home with God comes from understanding the nature of a loving God.
How we live our lives is an example of who it is we follow. When we expect God, our lives change.
Week 4: Instead of hiding our defenses, let us lower them. “I see you” is the literal translation of the Zulu greeting.
Withstanding the pressure to conform. Love, with all your heart … Let us learn to function well in the real world – not only in the ‘religious’ world.
A strange collection of people – the disciples of Jesus. Diverse and very ordinary. We, too, need to learn to love one another as love is the key to health in our world.
The dangers of exclusivity – do people sense that they are not welcome? Living in community is difficult but essential in order to impart the love of God to one another.
Our part in developing community – being authentic as we seek to live in harmony with one another.
Greeting someone is an act of the will – do I willingly ‘see’ another person during worship? There is much to busy myself with in order to avoid building community but church is about community. Here we risk connecting.
Tell what you saw! Share your stories and invite others to do the same. We need people to witness our lives – acknowledge the meaning of our lives.
A life that affirms others – remaining open to others. We need to become more open and less protective of our own space. When we offer friendliness to others they begin to feel warm and accepted by God, too.
Exploration (after each week):
Time of sharing, worship and discussion.
Where to now?
Ministry to those who come to weddings and funerals. The two places of intense emotions – love and grief. Belong to a small group and include regular worship in your weekly routine.