Why We Take It Personally

The latest comings and goings of sports heroes has been an interesting lesson for students of social belonging.

With last month's hour long "show" dedicated to the wherefore of Lebron James, and the MLB trading deadline, which saw longtime favorites Oswald and Berkman leave the local Astros, those outside of these situations don't have a clue what's happening. Onlookers don't understand the feelings involved because all they see is an athlete improving his chances of winning by changing cities. All this while not hurting his bank account!

But those who are on the inside, I mean the fans, experience it all differently. They belong to their teams in what Joseph Myers has called "public space." Public belongers are committed and participate. They find their connection both important and meaningful. How the team or city views the individual is less important than how the fan views the team. So Lebron's self-absorbed departure from Cleveland and the losses from other teams always violates the sense of belonging and attachment that fans have to their team and city. And yes, I believe it surely hits ticket sales, at least at first.

There are lessons here for churches and the pastors who lead them. I wish every clergy person would take the time to read Myers' discussion of how public, social, personal, and intimate belonging all require their own space and involvement. It shows that we have much to learn when our churches continue to hype personal and intimate belonging and stand terribly deficient in offering public and social spaces.

While we in the church tend to minimize public belonging, Jesus was apparently very comfortable with those who identified with him only in a public fashion. Stories of Jesus healing people at a distance (Luke 7) prove that public belonging is valid and important, if not also overlooked. We want people to participate in other ways, in ways we think more meaningful. But, who's deciding how they should or should not belong? Can we let go of our grids and charts long enough to trust people- and let them to belong as they choose?

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