For my dissertation, I’m working through Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity After Religion. She is investigating the idea of the North American culture seeking to be “spiritual” without being “religious.”
One of the things she brings to the table that I’ve thought about since reading is the idea of “believing, behaving, and belonging.” These are the three signifiers, traditionally, of religion. (Or of any “thing” people devote time/heart to)
Bass says that Western Christianity has ranked these themes in this order: believing, behaving, belonging. This is the way we frame the hope of personal transformation. Bass contends that the reverse order, belonging, behaving, believing, may be the pattern of Jesus and his disciples.
For instance, Jesus asked his disciples to “follow him” before he ever said, “believe in me.”
Jesus shows them the kingdom life, in many ways, before we hear of a literal confession of faith.
Peter does mutter an orthodox statement of belief, (Matthew 16), but we’d have to agree that a lot of water has passed under the bridge before this moment, and we’d have to admit that Peter doesn’t have it all together at that moment in the story. Peter, like all of us, needed some time to straighten out the believing and the behaving.
But, perhaps the reason Peter hung in there was because he knew that he belonged. He didn’t mind the long pilgrimage of transformation.
Do we create the idea of belonging in our local communities of faith? Wouldn’t be interesting if, under the “About Us” tab on the church’s website, along with the “We Believe” tab there was a convincing argument that people could really belong, even if their behavior and belief wasn’t quite square, yet?