The Cost of Belonging

group of people belonging

We’re all familiar with the thrill of being part of a group, team, or club—and, as a consequence, excluded from another group. Here, Becky Allender reflects on an early experience with the human tendency toward division and separation, and on how that dynamic is still playing out in her life today. Becky invites us to consider that the way of Jesus tears down more walls than it builds. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.

I could hardly stand the excitement I felt to be shopping with my mother for a skirt to match my Blue Bird vest. Some six-year-old girls were talking about joining Brownies, but my mother said Blue Birds and Camp Fire Girls had a much nicer camp and that sounded great.

Our first Blue Bird meeting at Tremont Elementary School was held soon after second grade started, and one of the girls, Mona, had a straight skirt that matched her vest. Can you imagine the astonishment when I saw that? Obviously, she was so cool and a bit on the wild side.

I remember making “crackle” earrings for our mothers for Christmas. My friend Jane remembers that we dropped marbles into boiling water and then we glued them onto the earring mounts. And in the winter we sold Camp Fire Girl candy. “Assorted chocolates, Camp Fire Girl Mints, and Peanut Butter Logs.” My father took the order forms to his office to help supplement our neighborhood candy sales.

My family moved to a new house on Good Friday that year, and my new elementary school only had a Brownie troop! It didn’t seem right to make the shift and wear a light brown dress with a brown belt. I just didn’t have the heart for it. Seriously, our Blue Bird cap with a “bill” was so much cuter than the Brownie beanie. And—you see, I really loved indigenous people…and what exactly is “Brownie” supposed to mean?

In my new neighborhood, Paula lived one street from ours. Since we were the only second graders, we became fast friends, and my mother talked her mother into starting the first Blue Bird troop at Windermere Elementary School! They decided to have meetings in Paula’s basement. This seemed too good to be true.

The dilemma with belonging to Blue Birds was that we were excluded from the Brownies. Belonging to one group often leads to the exclusion from other groups. As much as I wanted to be true to the Blue Birds, there were more girls outside of Blue Birds whom I wanted as friends.

The Smith twins ruled the playground, and they seemed to have commanded the allegiance of the prettiest, brightest, and savviest girls in the second grade. Thankfully, the twins seemed to like me, as long as I never, ever wore pink again. The stakes were clear and I obeyed.

Last year, when I turned 65, my daughter who was shopping with me held up a “dusty rose” cashmere turtleneck and said that this was the new color for the year and I would look good in it. I tried it on and in the dressing room it hit me: I would be wearing pink for the first time since the spring when I turned seven.

We long to belong to a group. Unless we live off the grid and refuse involvement with people, we are caught between fitting in by not wearing pink, or not belonging. We are storm-tossed between longing and belonging.

We are storm-tossed between longing and belonging.

If I belong then at least I am not alone, but I have to live with the weight of making sure I don’t break the norms that define our group.

If I have felt that to be true in various groups, I feel it most in the community called Christian. There are scads of divisions over the ritual of baptism, and once you begin to talk about how the Holy Spirit works in our lives, well, forget about it. Recent estimates had 89 percent of evangelical Christians voting for Trump. I did not. The division over this one political difference has triumphed over a number of friendships. My so-called “snowflake” theology incites derision.

How did Jesus keep his little band together? He called Simon and Matthew to be his disciples. Matthew was a tax gatherer and Simon was a zealot. Matthew was the unpatriotic traitor who worked for the government, and Simon was the revolutionary loyalist, akin to the Weathermen and the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society—if you don’t know of these categories, check out Wikipedia). Apart from Jesus, Simon and Matthew would have been violent enemies, but “in Christ” there are certain differences that do not really matter. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I may not belong, at least at the moment, due to my political convictions, but I am in good company with broken, traitorous revolutionaries who believe that everyone belongs at no cost, no demands, no color schemes, all because we belong to Jesus.

But still I like vests with beads and felted earth symbols and blue beanies without loops on top.