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12 January 2018

Finding where you belong...

Finding where you belong...

Ruth Walker is co-chair of the Evangelical Alliance's Scottish Public Leaders programme, and a non-executive director of a number of charities.

The Army's recruitment campaign hit the headlines this week. Gone are the old-style advertisements promoting physical endeavour, excitement and challenge. In are the new ads, focussing on the emotional aspects of life, genuinely encouraging people to join regardless of gender, faith and sexual orientation.

It's part of the Army's belonging campaign.  The voices we hear are real people who already serve in the armed forces. "Find where you belong" is the recurring tagline. But already the ads are having a mixed reaction even before it is known if they working to increase the numbers applying.

Yet it is clear that the Army is speaking to genuine concerns, responding to something that is significant for people. As the Army's website says "A sense of belonging may sound like a small thing. Yet it fuels you as much as food and water, because it doesn't just feed your body, it feeds your mind and soul." A sense of belonging, connecting with others, is what keeps people healthy, gives them value, brings them hope and affirmation.

This week, my dining table was piled high with left over debris of Christmas. As I used it to sort and pack away Christmas decorations, I reflected that in our home this table is a symbol of belonging. Over Christmas, regardless or your age, gender, faith or sexual orientation, everyone is welcome. It's a space where we eat traditionally and taste experimentally. It's a place where we laugh and weep, where we converse lightly and deeply, seriously and ridiculously. It's a community space where everyone can belong, knowing they will be taken seriously and loved unconditionally. Where new ideas are explored, old ideas are dissected, new opportunities discussed, resolutions made.

When we invite people to gather around our table, we invite them to become a defacto part of our family. We invite them into our community, into a place where we can love, cherish, rebuke and encourage one another. We invite them to a place of equality, where each can have and use their own voice.  We invite them to a safe place, a place which allows both success and failure, sorrow and joy.

When I looked at my table, I reflected on the incidents where Jesus is found at a table. It's never the food that it is remembered but the life stories that are reported.  In each of the "table" stories we find Jesus creating a space where people belong, where they find new life, new purpose, new value.

My favourite is when Jesus invites himself to sit round Zacchaeus' table.  This hated taxman sits with Jesus, listens to Jesus, is part of the conversation. He discovers that he is loved, he is accepted regardless of who he is or what he has done. He makes a radical resolution, commits to a new behaviour. – Luke 19 v8 "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

Belonging changes. Belonging, the safe place in community with Jesus and others, changed Zaccheus from a greedy man into a generous man.

We may not see such radical change round our own tables, but during this year if we invite people to join us round our table, if we spend time together, if we do life together, we can help create a sense of belonging.  How can you make the space to help people find where they belong? What can you do differently this year to be part of a community that loves, cherishes and invites change? 

Image: Mikkel Bendix