Belonging

I stood quietly at the back of the group, watching as over fifty women talked in small groups about 2 Timothy 2. We were at the end of the first day of a conference on leadership, this session focusing on community. Some women were deep in conversation. Others’ eyes darted between the three “mzungu” (white person) standing on the outskirts. I resisted the urge to get squirmish under their gaze, reminding myself that it wasn’t judgment, but curiosity their eyes were communicating. Then almost as quickly as their eyes landed, they’d return to the other women in their discussion group.

What were they saying to each other, I wondered. Deeply wishing I could understand their native Maasai language.

This was my first time to behold the beauty of Africa. The people, culture, landscape, and wildlife had me in constant awe of the creativity and vastness of the Creator. The Maasai people form one of Kenya’s forty two tribes. Throughout the country the Maasai are respected for preserving generations of tradition. They are the warriors, even feared by the lions in some areas. They are the naturalists, respecting creation and living in harmony with it. They are the creatives, experts at making everything from colorful jewelry to sturdy houses made entirely of sticks and termite clay.

Our native friends had told us that “no matter where you were in the world, you know a Maasai when you saw one.” I soon learned why.

As I stood observing the women, it struck me. Not a single one of them was questioning whether or not they belonged. They were not questioning their identity as a Maasai. Every single woman wore similar clothes; their dresses following the same sewing pattern and jewelry using the same beads. They spoke the same language; their native tongue sustaining the decades of oral tradition. They acted the same; from dancing to sitting they mirrored each other’s posture. They looked the part, they spoke the part, they acted the part. There was no questioning if they were a Maasai. In fact, I doubt that question has ever even gone through their mind.

That sort of unquestioned belonging is something I believe all of us long for. The desire is deep in our souls. We don’t have to consciously tell ourselves to crave belonging, it just is there. Hardwired from the very beginning we yearn for the day we do not second guess our place, our role, in society.

As a believer, we do not have to strive.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

Every ounce of me believes that God desires for His children to be so confident in our belonging in His family that we don’t get entangled with pointless pursuits (2 Tim 2:4). He wants us to fully embrace our place as His royal chosen priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). He has given us the Holy Spirit to help guide our actions and our speech (Phil 2:13; 1 Cor 6:11). Not to mention that He has given us His image (Gen 1:27). We are thoroughly His.

Even though it is sometimes very tempting to question whether or not we “belong,” we have assurance that we are His. And since we are His (and I say this knowing it is so very hard sometimes) we should be so marked by Him that we “look,” speak, and act like Him. Every believer shares in this belonging, regardless of any other factor.

Our belonging is twofold. We belong to God. Once we confess our need for God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and the hope in the resurrection, our belonging to God is secure. Additionally, just like the Maasai look, speak, and act like Maasai, we as Christians are given the ability to walk in the newness of life and look, speak, and act like Christ.

What if instead of “you’ll know a Maasai when you see one” it was said “you’ll know a Christian when you see one.”

What’s keeping you from living out your belonging?

Different

She put down her fork and leaned in across the table. She sure had my attention. “Don’t forget this. Repeat this to yourself over and over: ‘Different is not bad. Different is just different.'”

It was purely by chance (aka- the grace of God) that I ran into this friend on one of my final days in the States. She has spent the better portion of her time since college  traveling the world for humanitarian work or once-in-a-lifetime internship opportunities. You better believe I listened to every word she said…and especially what she deemed ‘unforgettable.’

Little did she know that God had practically written the word “different” in marquee letters in my journal the week before. August’s word and focus has been on not just tolerating, but celebrating different.

Living in a different culture has certainly challenged my mindset when I encounter the unfamiliar. I’m drawn to the similar. An American brand of shampoo, foods I can easily recognize, and my wardrobe for the year is essentially the same Old Navy shirt just in six colors. You get the idea.

I wish it stopped here. I wish my pattern of familiar things stopped with objects. But the (sorry for this, but there’s not a better word) sucky reality is that if I’m not careful, I treat people the same way.

Similar hobbies. Similar humor. Similar style. Similar beliefs.

It’s easier that way.

We’re not the same. No two humans are the exact same. I have said for years that I am thankful for this, and I still am, but I’m learning to practice it. I’m facing it head-on. Why is it hard for me to celebrate people with different giftings, interests, or backgrounds? Timothy Keller would say it is pride. And you know what, I’m going to have to agree with him on that.

I love (and also cringe…conviction) what Timothy Keller says in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness:

“True gospel-humily means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

And furthermore,

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

If my eyes are not on myself, I remember that we are the Body of Christ.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Cor 12:4-7

“There is one body and one Spirit––just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call––one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Suddenly, I’m not in competition against Different. I’m fighting for it. I need it. We need it.

Different doesn’t have to be scary. Different should exist. Different should be celebrated.

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Moving 6,000 miles away guaranteed some change to daily life. Knowing that I’ll be here for longer than a few weeks, I’ve tried to approach daily life with the mindset of “this is what I do now” by choosing to celebrate what’s different. Without further ado, here are a few of the differences I’ve encountered in my 2.5 weeks of Greece so far:

  • Cash is how you pay for everything. Bills, restaurant meals, shops. A good Greek memorizes ATM locations. The supermarket, IKEA, and H&M do accept cards though.
  • If you ask for a Coke, they think you’re asking for drugs.
  • Walking is the #1 form of transportation. I hit my 10,000 step goal every. single. day.
  • Meals:
    • Breakfast: a pastry, cereal, toast…but no meat. Pick up a treat from the bakery on your way to work or eat at your house. According to one Greek friend, it is “weird” to eat breakfast at a restaurant and certainly not brunch.
    • Lunch: anytime between 2-4pm. But not before 2. To eat earlier would again, be “weird.” Lunch is the family meal of the day so most schools release around 1 so that everyone can eat together. With the exception of restaurants and supermarkets, shops close down for “quiet hours” from 2-5:30.
    • Dinner: 8pm is pushing it…so 9-11 would be more culturally acceptable. Most Greeks use this time to go out for drinks and munch on the free appetizers that are brought out.
    • Coffee: consumed at all hours of the day. If you sit and drink it at a cafe (coffee shop), you’ll most likely get a complimentary treat.
  • When driving, do not turn right on red. Just don’t do it.
  • Motley’s is home to the greatest “cookies pasta” known to man. Here, pasta could describe one of three things: noodles, cakes, and something else that I can’t remember. All that’s worth remembering is that cookies pasta (cake) is the reason my jeans will need an expansion pack by the time I return to the States.
  • Motley’s is also home to a billion cats. I watched a cat straight up snatch an unattended sandwich quarter off a plate this afternoon. I have the video to prove it. The Greeks didn’t even flinch.
  • Pita gyros are manna in the modern form.
  • Greeks don’t know how to respond to the walking boot I wore at the beginning. They would literally stop in the middle of the street and stare. The Yayas (grandmas) were the most intrigued.
  • Toilet paper is not to be flushed.
  • Trash is taken to community bins located every couple of blocks.
  • I can walk to the lake any day that my heart desires. At the lake, there is a castle, incredible views of the mountains, and an abundance of waterfront cafes. Much to my hearts disgust, I discovered today that the lake is also home to a few snakes. Booooooo.
  • Greeks have cell phones, but they don’t use them like Americans do. Believe it or not, if they’re with other people, they’re not on their phones.
  • Your house is too warm? Open your windows. Our apartment has A/C units, but I have yet to turn it on. I love opening my windows every morning!
  • Everyone smokes. Ash trays are on pretty much every table. But surprisingly it’s only overwhelming in a few places.
  • Everyone might smoke, but only a few use deodorant.
  • What Americans call “Greek Salad” is just “Salad” here. Our Greek friends have gotten a good laugh out of us asking about the “Greek Salads.”
  • Marco Polo is the best app out there. Take that, 8 hour time difference.
  • Clothes dryers are totes not a thing here. Also, our washer is in Italian. 3 points to Sarah for navigating that one.
  • Hot showers can be taken approximately 30 min after turning on the hot water heater. Be sure to flip the breaker back though before showering to avoid electrocution.

 

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