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  • Writer's pictureJoe Cherry


The word Belong is said to have entered the English language in the mid-14th century, the time of the English Poet Geoffrey Chaucer. Here’s an example of Chaucer’s writing at the time, where he addresses death and the afterlife:

“His spirit chaunged house and wente ther, As I cam nevere, I kan nat tellen wher.” ― Geoffrey Chaucer

My best guess at a modern version of this quote goes like this: “His spirit changed (transitioned/moved on?) and went somewhere else. As I have never been, I cannot tell where.”

The word belong has roots in Old German, and so it’s clearly not a new concept.

I think there exists a tension in Unitarian Universalism about belonging. Humans are social animals, and so on some level part of us longs to be with other people, and also we are a people of very strong individualism.

One of the podcasts I regularly listen to, Freakonomics, in a recent episode discussed cultures that are looser or more strict, and the continuum of collectivism and individualism. The United States is widely seen as the most individualistic national culture, and has been for a couple of centuries.

We have this call to be on our own, to be self-sufficient, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Some have a false narrative that they are “self-made,” as if any of us could survive infancy on our own.

None of us are completely self-created, and none of us can live completely on our own. We belong to many groups, biological families, families of choice. Neighborhood and towns, houses of faiths and groups completely organized by affinity.

As the quote from Chaucer above teaches us, there is a great mystery before we live, and a great mystery after we die. That is all we know. In this, if nothing else, we all belong, be we philosophers, scientists, dreamers, theologians, kayakers, bakers.

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Rev. Joe Cherry

Rev. Joe is a biracial, gay, Unitarian Universalist minister, and history nerd. He lives in North Easton, Massachusetts, with his husband, Rev. Denis Paul, and their dog, Toulouse.

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