Made to Belong – Interview with Andy Percey
Andy Percey is married to Bex, and together with their son Leo they live in Bath where Andy is the minister of Manvers Street Baptist Church. He is the author of several books, which you can find here.
Why did you decide to write Made to Belong?
Over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of a rise in tribalism in the world. This has led to a rise in “us vs them” language, and an increased polarisation across our societies. Having reflected on those issues, what came up was that they stemmed from a much deeper longing that simply “finding a tribe”, but from the deep and ancient call to belonging. This was an issue that, across different contexts, comes up time and time again for people, and one which I wanted to explore more deeply.
Who have you written this book for?
If you have struggled to find your place or have a desire to go deeper than simply fitting in, this book is for you.
Why did you choose this title?
As I sat down to think about the issues that prompted me to write the book, what came back time and time again is that the reason we have this deep longing to belong is because this is why we were made. At the heart of the issue is not “is there a space for me to fit?”, but “will I enter into that space?” because it has been there, for each of us, since the beginning, in the heart of a loving God who has made us for relationship.
Why do you think tribalism is such a buzzword today?
Because people want to belong. But we look for it in the wrong places. Tribalism is the noisy voice of the market place, that tells us if you join here, or if you join there, then you will find that space that you’ve always wanted to belong to. And who wouldn’t want to respond to that?! Inclusion, protection, belonging are all the promises of tribalism. In some ways there is nothing wrong with the promises of tribalism - it just can’t deliver on those promises. The reason why is because it is not really about belonging but conforming. Conforming to a cultural norm that is defined as much by who is out as by who is in.
You talk about the fact that tribalism is not really satisfying people – why do you think that is?
I think in many ways it stems from what I am saying above. Because tribalism can’t deliver on its promises, what it does do is polarise us from others. Far from drawing us deeper into relationship, it separates us from others because it views “the other person or tribe” as a threat. So that space for relationship is only met in a narrow sense, because all that is mirrored back to me is all that I already am, and if I was happy with that I wouldn’t have sought the tribe out in the first place.
Loneliness is on the rise in the UK, partly due to the effects of Covid-19. How do you think we as Christians can speak into this/ make a difference?
In a way, Covid-19 had highlighted what the real and much greater pandemic is within our society: loneliness. As a church we have risen to the challenge of combating loneliness due to Covid-19, using technology to do what we can to bring people together, and to come alongside people who are isolated.
The real challenge will be when Covid is a distant memory - will we still have the same commitment to combat loneliness as we did when it was here? Will we realise that loneliness isn’t simply for those who are self-isolating, but for any who feel isolated, even when surrounded by others?
Never underestimate the power of simply reaching out to a person. A phone call, a card, popping over to see them. Letting them know that you care. Show up. Don’t assume that they have to or want to come to you. This is the challenge of church buildings - that we assume that everything has to be run out of them. But that’s the same as every other space out there, every community group. The real challenge and opportunity is how do we go to them?
What was the most challenging element of writing the book?
Two things spring to mind:
Firstly, a big challenge was defining what I meant by the word “belonging”. I had already started the book and was writing one of the early chapters when it suddenly hit me - what if someone asks me what I mean by the word “belong”. The challenge was that, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I meant. So, I had to spend a fair bit of time thinking about what this meant in light of where I was wanting to go with the book. In the end, what I landed on was this concept of belonging as a space where we can “freely receive and freely give.”
Secondly, writing this book during lockdown was a big challenge. All of my normal patterns and rhythms had gone out of the window, and so physically finding the space to write was hard, especially in the 3 months when our son was home from school.
And what was the most rewarding element of writing this book?
The conversations I have had with people whilst writing, because what it has shown me is that this is a topic that is needing exploration during this time. Also, having to work through some of my own personal journey as I have written has been illuminating and rewarding.
Have you learnt anything new/ been reminded afresh about God/ your faith while writing this book?
What I have been reminded about is just how open and welcoming the grace of God really is. So often we spend our time talking about the criteria for being in or out, what is acceptable or not acceptable, what is right and wrong. But God’s love burns through all our “acceptable” definitions and welcomes all of us without condition. What it means to belong to God is something so precious and wide ranging that I could never hope to capture it in a book, but I am forever grateful that I don’t need to, because I get to live it every day; along with all those who answer the call to belong.
What do you hope readers will most get out of reading this book?
My hope would be that in reading this book you might realise that you don’t have to settle for less than the best that God has for you, and that you might continue on that journey of discovering where you belong. That you might receive all that God has for you, and that you might find places where you can express who you are too.
In one sentence, how would you describe Made to Belong?
A call to go deeper and to find our place as part the world, with others, and in God.
Is there anything we can pray for you?
For wisdom to navigate these challenging times where opportunities to promote the book and speak about it might not be as forthcoming.