Belonging Is Something We Become: A Christmas Reflection

Sometimes, I attempt to break from social justice discourse, work and meetings to focus on myself and to reconnect with and meditate upon some of my other values. Yet, when I engage in these meditations, I realize that I can never fully remove them from my need for social justice. My life requires social justice. I realize how the need for social justice is part of my personal life, even in those mundane moments that many would describe as “apolitical”, such as going on a date, spending time outdoors or a going to a party. When I think about community, personal health, relationships, intimacy, trust, self-love — I can never separate these things from my experience as a black Latina woman in the southern United States. No matter how personal the endeavor may seem, being places and meeting people will always have dimensions of power involved. It is the world we live in. That’s why I need social justice in my personal life, because I want to have a good life.

As I take time to reconnect with myself and my own life, I reconnect with my desires and I remember how much I long to continue to cultivate community and warm relationships with other people. Reflecting on this desire can quickly turn to worry about belonging. I begin to wrestle with my history of feeling and sensing that I do not quite belong.

I think about how these feelings of not belonging have lingered for long periods of time in my life. I know that so much of my trouble with feeling a sense of belonging is tied up with traumatic experiences as a child and a teen. However, I know, too, that much of why I don’t “belong” is wrapped up in the injustices of the world that show up in social discrimination, such as micro-aggressions, name-calling, and exclusion. I know that it is not a mistake that I struggle socially, because when I try to show up, I am sometimes met with actions or words that are intended to cause me to feel small. I am reminded of this when, gathering the courage to walk with a friend at night among Christmas lights downtown, I am called “n*gger” twice by four drunk men in a truck. I feel small when a white, female classmate gets praised for repeating something I had said earlier which was met with silence. It is vulnerable to show up in a world that is not ready for you, in a world in which you don’t really belong because of your race or nationality, or sexuality, and so it goes on.

I found myself worrying about belonging this week leading up to Christmas. I find myself worrying even still as we enter the fourth day of Christmas.

I got accepted into a faith-based leadership cohort in which my cohort and I are encouraged to build community with our peers– and seeing that most of the cohort is white, I worry that I will not be seen the way that I hope to be. I know that racist stereotypes inform the way that people interact with me at first, and that these stereotypes are caused by the media and our culture, which depicts black women as undesirable. It is an injustice. I worry that people will not muster the courage to look beyond these harmful images and introduce themselves to me. I am familiar with the ways that the expectation is usually put on me to make the first move, to be the one who risks first. I feel anxious knowing that often these voices are not just my anxiety alone speaking. It is actually happening. The men in the truck happened. Going to churches where very few would say hello to me really happened.

And I remember that I don’t really belong. I’m not being self-deprecating here; I really don’t. Because I don’t fit in a neat box, and because I am part of various marginalized communities, I am often reminded that I’m on the outside and not really welcome.

It’s distressing to me, but I also find it comforting to know that Jesus was born into this world not belonging. He was born in poverty and he would grow up to have an uncomfortable life. Christians know how the story goes — Jesus is born, he lives, he is rejected by many, he is betrayed. He eventually is killed by the powers and principalities of his day, scapegoated by the most powerful empire in the world. Jesus is born into discomfort, into marginalization.

Jesus did not belong in the world. More often than not, Jesus was unwelcome except for those who were brave enough to receive him and be hospitable towards him. We know these people: among them being Mary, the mother of Jesus, who took care of him and loved him dearly; the women who stayed in his presence as he died; and those throughout his life who trusted and believed his testimony and vision about God and the world God is creating.

What does it look like to belong when you are giving testimony about another world, a world that does not fit into this world? What does belonging look like when you desire a different world, a world unfamiliar to most of the people you are encountering? A hospitable world where the poor and those who weep can thrive? Jesus is from another world and wants us to imagine a new one, one that as Christians, we are invited to join Jesus in building. As disciples of Jesus, we are called into the discipline of co-creating a world with Jesus–one that is beyond what we can imagine now.

In a world filled with stress-inducing racism, unjust immigration laws, sexual assault culture, and imperial warfare, there are many people who do not just feel like they do not belong — they are also unwelcome. Both their material and social circumstances isolate them, and those who live in more comfort within their communities don’t reach out to ease their suffering. How then, can those who feel isolated because of discrimination, warfare in their communities, or lack of resources feel welcome?

Since the political strife in our world creates broken nations, broken community, and broken relationships, I want to argue that belonging is something that we create. Belonging is not something that we are born into. Belonging does not seem to be innate. Rather, it seems like something that we can become part of.

Belonging is something we become.

belonging is something we become

It is often thought that one belongs because they are the same race, ethnicity, national origin, or they share the same hobby as us. To an extent, this can be true. Many feel this way. Yet there are even those who find welcome in their society who have moments where they feel unknown and unseen by their own peers — someone may not know how much we need, how much we want and how alone we feel.  We may fear sharing those needs with others — and at times, we might even recognize that there are certain needs, that if we were to share with our communities, would create discomfort for our peers. I think about the ways that I’ve tried to exist in white churches. I did not feel like I belonged because many did not want to accept that racism was something that they participated in and that affected our congregation (and me) directly. I only felt welcome by the one or two people who were honest about this and understood that actively striving against religious racism was a requirement in order to befriend me. When this need is ignored, I feel unwelcome and like someone who is feared. If we are honest with ourselves, there are many ways that Jesus intimidates us because of who he is, what he asks of us and where he wants to take us.

Yet, those who claim to be inspired by Jesus are called to be disciplined into creating belonging for those who do not feel like they belong, for those whose existences are perceived to cause discomfort and unease because of the way society marginalizes them. Those who do not belong must be encouraged through action, for many strive to be here despite all of the odds. A baby, such as Jesus, with a poor family, escaping genocide, surviving despite all of the odds; how do you keep such a baby alive so that he does not die before he turns old? How do you create a world where such a baby would not have to be born in such lowly conditions, born among animals and unclean shepherds? How could Jesus and his family be more welcome in this world?

It takes courage to be in a world where you will not belong. It is no small feat to show up in it, yet Christ shows up. Jesus, born into the world, with the courage to be among us.

God with us. This is what we reflect on in these twelve days of Christmas. May we show Christ how much we want him to be with us through our personal devotion and through justice for those in the world who are unwelcome. Christ, indeed, is welcome here, despite the unease he may create for those existing more comfortably in this world. May we do the same for those in our world who do not feel like they belong.

Justice Goes Beyond Removing the Trumps, Assads and Roofs of the World

“Assassinate Assad!”

“Kill Roof!”

“Impeach Trump!”

Over and over again, I see individuals respond to the world’s atrocities in this way. They see a figure that embodies hatred and corruption and advocate for ways to destroy or remove the individual displaying destructive ignorance. They demand that the individual alone who has committed widespread violence be abolished.

I think that this approach to justice is very naive. And I think that this is precisely the approach to justice that the powers that be want our imaginations to be limited to. They don’t want us to see the bigger picture. They do not want us to imagine a world beyond white supremacy, beyond disposability, beyond domination.

Dylan Roof is potentially facing state punishment. And, I’m not gonna do what many white folks do: which is to advocate against the death penalty a white killer faces while simultaneously failing to advocate for black folks who commit a small or no crime at all.

But I will say this: I absolutely believe that the federal punishment of Roof will not solve the issue at hand. And black people know this.

The Charleston Nine from left to right: Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethal Lee Lance and Susie Jackson

I believe that the state might kill Roof in order to fool those among us who have yet to figure out what justice they truly desire. Killing Roof is more about the United State’s public image than about justice for the families of the victims. The state recognition of Roof’s responsibility for his crime might provide closure for the families, but putting him to death does nothing to change or improve the lives of the victims, as Ijeoma Oluo reminds us. Rather, it leaves white supremacy unchallenged and it leaves the lives of the victims unchanged. Another Roof could pop up tomorrow or 2 years from now, because the state and the majority culture does not acknowledge the role that white supremacy and other narratives of domination play into what he has done. The state is not sorry. It cannot and does not value life. It is only meant to preserve the order that its most powerful and complacent subjects allow.

So, because we cannot rely on the state to deliver real justice to us, we have to know what kind of justice we believe in. And we have to know what justice looks like for our communities. We have to listen to the people who are telling the world what justice looks like:

“Stop poisoning our water. Help us to steward it.”

“Stop discriminating against our black children in schools and let them thrive and be children.”

“Allow us a place to live our lives peaceably, away from the cold of the Denver streets”.

Justice is not killing one white supremacist. Justice is abolishing white supremacy and white vulnerability. Justice is creating a beloved community where no one becomes a Dylan Roof so that families won’t live in fear.

Justice is not killing a war-mongerer. Justice is allowing for a world where people are fed and can advocate for their rights without the threat of violence and suppression. Justice is betraying the impulse to ignore and suppress the voice of your neighbor crying out for food and water. Justice is feeding them. Justice is accepting your responsibilities.

Justice is not impeaching a corrupt president. Justice is filling the land with thriving communities where people know each other, trust each other and are in right relationship with one another.

When we see history repeating itself, we have to realize that the problem is that collectively we have not learned the lessons that we needed to learn. We may have missed what we should have gleaned from our history lessons. We may not even know our own histories.

We need policy that reflects our values, but policy alone won’t save us. A friend of mine reminded me and group of people that here in the United States, we are facing the threat of hard fought policies being reversed because of a culture of corrupt values. If we collectively do not know what our values are and if we collectively fail to see that living out and spreading our values of life is part of our work of social change, we will keep watching the Roofs, Assads and Trumps rise before us. We will watch the Bannons and the Jerry Falwell Jrs take their thrones in a society that values destruction. All of this, because we have yet to fully recognized that our struggles are also deeply emotional and spiritual. The work of social change is also that of changing our collective and individual values.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

What do you value? And how are you manifesting your values, privately, publicly, politically?

If you are wondering how you can help Aleppo right now there are many ways, though sadly, it appears we are much at the stage of damage control. This is a conflict that started years ago, a repression of a people demanding revolution, among many other concerns.

You can call your elected officials and express your concerns. Or organize a vigil or protest to raise public awareness or agitate your campus, your elected officials, your institution. Challenge the polices that encourage distrust of people from other countries and cultures, the policies that make it difficult for victims to escape the violence.

Put pressure on you church or college campus to become a place of sanctuary for refugees. Encourage your church to use their power to put pressure on the government.

You can give to organizations like Premptive Love:

But also reflect on how your actions are aligned with your values and how you can manifest those values in other ways, not just in times of trouble, but during the mundane hours of your life. Be acquainted with the history of the issues that we face today, so that you can recognize the evils. There will be a time where you must recognize the evil when it wears a different face.


Difficult Times and the Evangelical Tendency to Make Shallow Calls to Love One’s Neighbor

Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. – Cornel West

These are difficult times and I am terrified. I am terrified for myself and for the people that I love. I feel rushed and I feel urgency. I don’t have all of the time in the world to convince you of my urgency with beautifully thought out language. Beautiful language or academic words are not the point. I only have this. If you, reading this, are a Christian/evangelical, and you cannot hear me or ascribe me the benefit of the doubt while I am in this pain, then your heart is callous.

I am frustrated with the evangelical tendency to make shallow and uninformed calls to love the oppressed. What I mean by this is that I often see Christians make statements that we need to love Muslims, we need to love Black people, we need to love LGBTQ+ people because they are siblings, they are family. But in the same breath, I see Christians perpetuate false information and stereotypes about the people they profess to call family.

These blog posts and sermons I see from Christians do not call the audience to action in a particular manner that is informed or helpful to those they speak of loving. I am worried that those who are unaffected by certain oppressions will hear those calls, tell themselves “I have never done a racist/Islamophobic/sexist act”, and then convince themselves that by agreeing that the xyz neighbor must be loved, that having that agreement alone is what it takes to love the xyz neighbor.


An example I encountered of a vague, (late) and misinformed call to love is with an article posted on an evangelical website called Dear Church, Islamaphobia is Anti-Christ. I agree with the basic argument, that Christians must love our siblings who are Muslim. Of course. However, I am appalled by how the article perpetuates misinformation, one-dimensional narratives and a shallow notion of love. (Please feel free to read it yourself so you may form your own opinions). The author describes a personal experience where he watched a house of worship get destroyed by an extremist group. But the way that he introduces the idea of loving our Muslim neighbor is by talking about extremist groups like Daesh/ISIS.

Having an article about “loving your Muslim neighbor” and fighting Islamophobia while referencing an act committed by radicalized groups like Daesh, Boko Haram and the Taliban conflates the actions of these groups with an entire population of Muslim people. This is problematic on so many levels and perpetuates the stereotype that the religion of Muslim people is inherently a violent one.

The Muslim people that we encounter on a day to day basis, our neighbors and co-workers — they are not Daesh. They are not affiliated with the Taliban. But articles like the one I referenced make these false equivalencies.

Relying on stereotypes like this perpetuates the idea that some people are good and some are evil, that entire groups of people are not worthy of protection. Christians then waste time trying to self-righteously tell their peers to love a group of people whom they have and continue to dehumanize in their ignorance.

I am not writing you this to convince you that this reductive conflation of your Muslim neighbor with Daesh is wrong. Because it absolutely is wrong. You already know that assuming all Christians are KKK members is wrong. You already know that assuming that all Christians represent the Crusades is wrong.

So why do you refuse to understand that believing that all black people commit crimes is wrong?

Why are you hesitant to believe that most Muslims are just as human as you are?

Why do you spend so much energy relying on the stereotypes that this society has fed you?

Do you not understand how dehumanizing it is to keep doing this?

I encountered that article as someone who is tired of watching the humanity of the oppressed being debated by the Church. I am tired of watching Christians who might not identify with a particular oppression debate tirelessly whether we ought to fully include or protect the oppressed, whether that oppression is tied to someone’s gender or someone’s faith. I am tired of watching the Church spread false information about a group of people in order to discredit their humanity.

All of it is dehumanizing.

Christians should not be deciding whether or not women are worthy of protection before uplifting them.

Christians should not be deciding whether queer people are worthy of protection before protecting them.

Christians should not be deciding whether people of other faiths are worthy before protecting for them.

Because a tenant of our Christian faith is that ALL PEOPLE AND ALL LIVING THINGS ARE UNDENIABLY LOVED BY GOD.

And this love is not a shallow love. This is a Love that seeks JUSTICE and PEACE for the people that Love loves.

If we Christians really were committed to loving our Muslim neighbor (to continue on with the example of the article), we do not keep debating their humanity. If we say that we love someone, we already commit to wanting to understand them. We already commit to seeing them as human — as worthy of protection, safety, happiness and abundant life as ourselves. We already understand that the stereotypes are just that. Stereotypes.

These are dangerous times. Muslim Americans and immigrants and refugees have and continue to be survielled in their communities and threatened by hate crimes. Now, our neighbors have to wake up to television and social media timelines to hear politicians and authorities plot more evil actions against them.

As a black woman, I have watched a lot of white conservative, white moderate and even white progressive Christians waste precious time self-righteously writing blog post after blog post about whether or not my life matters and whether or not I am worth protecting. However, that time could have been used to more accurately understand what those who are being oppressed, stigmatized, and demonized are experiencing. That precious time could be spent fighting for a better life for your neighbors.

Beyond seeking to love our Muslim neighbor or our black LGBTQ+ neighbor, we must seek out justice for them, and we must confront the powers and principalities that are not interested in seeing justice for them.

If you are a Christian, you might be familiar with this verse.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Instead of wasting so much time, Christians, you need to name these forces and evil powers that contradict the values of Jesus. These powers have names, but they are not people, and these powers show up and appear in our communities in certain ways. White supremacy (which Alicia Crosby greatly describes here). Capitalism (which treats the bodies and landscapes inhabiting the world as disposable). Homophobia (which treats non-heterosexual relationships as less than human). And once you know what those forces are, you need to know how to combat them. And that requires that we build knowledge and wisdom and seek truth about what is happening in the world and in our community. That way, our knowledge and wisdom can accompany the love that we say we have for our neighbors.

As Christians, we should have already agreed that all of God’s creatures were named good and that everyone is trying their best to live and to love well.

Act like it.

Live like it.

There were a lot of good intentions with blog posts like the one I mentioned. But good intentions are not enough, and misinformation can create serious harms. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. We must have intimate knowledge about who our local and global neighbors are, knowledge about what actions we are to take, and knowledge about what our love is to look like at a particular time and place.

Otherwise, our love is just sentimental and imagined.