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Author Brene Brown talks about the difference between fitting in and true belonging. Fitting in takes lots of forms. Sometimes it’s based on what we have. Sometimes it’s what we do, like bringing Martha-Stewart-worthy cookies to a bake sale. Perhaps its most toxic form is when it’s based on who we are, like race or gender identity. There are times when fitting in is the best we can do, because being left out altogether is intolerable. But even when I manage to check all the boxes, there is still a sense of anxiety about letting go too much. And when the inevitable mistake happens, it’s devastating.

But belonging! That’s something different! Belonging is being known and loved at the same time. It’s being accepted just because we’re human! It’s knowing that I can come to the church picnic in the weird clothes AND a giant mustard stain, and I’ll be ok. Our differences are celebrated, rather than tolerated (or not.) When I have belonging, I can act out of joy instead of fear! I can relax!

One thing I’ve observed in my quest to move from fitting in to belonging is the need for diversity. There are too many gifts that diversity brings to mention them all, so I’ll stick with a sense of belonging. In a diverse room, I can physically see who’s accepted and who’s sitting alone. I pay attention to whose voices are heard. When I see others being accepted, I feel confident that I will be accepted, too. If I’m in a homogenous room, following homogenous rules, how do I know?

Over and over again in the gospels, Jesus sets an example of belonging and diversity. He didn’t just hang out with the cool kids at the pharisee table. He ate with lepers and tax collectors and foreigners. I bet he’d even eat with me! One of the reasons I feel secure in my belonging with Jesus is because he showed how accepting he was with others.

When we were looking for a church, we were intentional about finding diversity. I checked out websites of dozens of churches, looking at the pictures of staff, leadership, and congregations for evidence of diversity. When we finally found Ginter Park, we were thrilled! I’m so grateful to be a part of community that takes Jesus’s example of reaching out in every direction seriously, and I’m grateful to all of you for making me feel like I truly belong!

Jill Plack is a member of GPPC's incoming class of elders; they'll be sharing reflections here for the next few weeks. Their service of ordination and installation will be early in September.

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