What it means to belong

To belong is to be at home with ourselves through others.* It is interconnection. Differences with one another do not have to mean rejection, isolation or exclusion. Differences within acceptance bring growth, where others expand us beyond who we were before.

There are some differences which seem fundamentally irreconcilable: how can we commune with those who wish us harm? Reconciliation is a double reflection into one another. Our common threads of difference are absorbed when there is a wider hope: shared flourishing. To belong is to be part of a community that yearns for joint flourishing, not at the expense of one or another, but together—because this can only be achieved together.

Many within the Stirling Theological College community belong to significant social networks—of family, faith, friends and communities of sport, recreation and social contribution—and these may fill our cups.  Nevertheless, loneliness at times still knocks on our doors, perhaps particularly in times of flux.

Remember, the Stirling learning community is a place where you are welcome. We are a learning community. Though we are physically distant at present, there are ways of connecting. Stepping into a new community is daunting, especially with unfamiliar modes of communication (like Zoom perhaps!). But you are welcome here, beyond lines of difference, as we vulnerably all step into possibilities for human flourishing. We bring this about through the affirmation and recognition of one another, and through wrestling with ideas together toward the christologically articulated goal of human dignity.

As always, one of my favourite heart-hungry theologians expresses these sentiments beautifully, as she yearns for a home, a place to belong. (Context: Eleven-year-old Anne has just been taken from an orphanage and brought to Matthew and Marilla, who wanted to adopt a boy. They are considering whether to keep her. She’s not a great fan of God because her life has been rather miserable):

Gracious heavenly Father,

I thank Thee for the White Way of Delight [a road] and the Lake of Shining Waters [a pond] and Bonny [a geranium] and the Snow Queen [a tree]. I’m really extremely grateful for them. And that’s all the blessings I can think of just now to thank Thee for. As for the things I want, they’re so numerous that it would take a great deal of time to name them all so I will only mention the two most important. Please let me stay at Green Gables; and please let me be good-looking when I grow up.

I remain,

Yours respectfully,

Anne Shirley.

Listen to free ‘Anne of Green Gables’ audiobooks at www.librivox.org. This text is in the public domain (Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery, originally published 1908).

*This concept (‘recognition’) is an essential dynamic within personhood for philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Some scholars who have explored the concept of recognition in Hegel include Robert Williams, Simon Lumsden, Paolo Diego Bubbio, Axel Honneth, and Heikki Ikäheimo.

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