Published by IVP on February 23, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir
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Belonging has never come easy to me. Growing up, there was my mutated national identity to deal with--my not-quite-American, not-quite-Indonesian soul, restless in both countries. Later, when I came out as a celibate gay Christian, I found I didn't fit into the church as easily as I used to. I've often wondered what it means to belong to others even when I can't manage to blend in with them. The way Jesus tells it, if we give up on belonging in order to follow him, we'll find ourselves belonging anyway. We might not belong the way other people do, with normal homes and normal families and normal ways of fitting in. But we'll belong in a way that's a hundred times better. We'll be fully in place because we know we are out of place. We'll belong like aliens. Maybe you're caught in the same tension as me, wanting to fit somewhere even as you're permanently out of place. Maybe you feel like an alien. If so, let's be aliens together.
Life is story. Memoir that shifts between personal reflection and theological musing is one of the best sort of stories you can get as the author seeks to connect their story to the larger story of humanity and God’s work. No Longer Strangers is one such memoir, with Gregory Coles using his own experiences as an outsider to think carefully and reflectively about finding belonging within the Kingdom of God.
Coles divides his work into three parts: Belonging In, Belonging With, and Belonging To. Just that simply, he’s crafted three distinct but important ways in which humans yearn to belong. In Belonging In, Coles focuses on his childhood as the son of missionaries. He’s a foreigner in the world he lives in, struggling to intersect with the culture. But he’s also a foreigner in his homeland, much more at home with the customs and culture of where he’s lived most of his life.
Belonging With deals with his coming-of-age, the realization that he is gay, and the struggle to feel accepted. Out of conviction, he chooses to be celibate yet even openly acknowledging same-sex attraction isn’t always accepted in the church. So, again, he’s caught in the middle. Belonging To continues that theme, focusing on Coles’ first book, Single, Gay, Christian, and his understanding that God’s kingdom is bigger and more inclusive than any one group.
Above all, No Longer Strangers is about finding belonging while charting one’s own course, how following God with abandon will ultimately lead to a community in which you find belonging (perhaps even amid much difference). It’s about belonging in ways that aren’t typical, aren’t normal, but are much better. We’ll be fully in place because we’re out of place. Coles teaches readers to embrace the tension of wanting to fit in somewhere even as we discover that we were made for a different world, living as aliens and sojourners in this land. It’s thoughtful, reflective, personal, and insightful. You’ll feel more at home after reading it.