It's New Year's resolution time again. Occasionally I am able to set something with which I follow through and allow it to remain a part of my life. Most often I fail. This year I am struggling again with some of the old standards: eating better, giving attention to my physical conditioning, and losing weight. I suppose that anyone who looks at me in a few months will be able to determine quickly, on glance, whether or not I have been successful.
But there are some ideas I believe can have an effect on how I live that are swimming around in my mind and I want to try to incarnate them in such a way that they really become a part of who I am. I don't know how it works for others, but I have learned about myself that the way I verbalize matters becomes very important in how I understand and do life. Over the years I have performed "rhetorical surgery" on myself for the purpose of excising those expressions or clichés that I find to be empty and without merit. For instance, it will be a very unusual day if you hear me use the word "nice”; a word way overused and overplayed and ineffective from its original intent.
For one of my new year's resolutions, the latest removal will be the word "church." I have carried it in my theological luggage for a long time and have used it extensively. I believe in the concept of church, but sense that it's noblest expression has been strangely corrupted. I have long had a running lover's quarrel with the church. But when I hear the word and look about at what it means from numerous vantage points, I find myself withdrawing and believing that the modern expression is a joke, and not a very funny one. That is not true across the board. There are bodies, cells, remnants, that are faithful to a much higher and earlier calling that really do seek to be a physical presence representing the One from Nazareth in today's world. The British theologian, Don Cupitt, has said that "What Jesus preached was 'the kingdom’; what he got was the church!" There is a difference and the discrepancy in understanding seems to be growing wider and wider.
David Comer, a friend and mentor to a lot of us, has suggested we change from talking about “church” to speaking of” a community of faith.” I think he’s on to something. Words can only be words unless we delve into their content and expression and seek greater truth. In our coming and going each day, we are indeed a community. We have something in common, namely, our on-going struggle and delight in learning how to be disciples in today’s world and how that gets worked out. It becomes something that we really cannot do alone, but with companionship, possibilities abound. And it is a journey of faith. I can almost depress myself when I consider how I may work hard and expend much effort, and only as an after-thought allow the possibility of faith to enter the equation. Part of the problem is I’m still trying to figure out what faith really is. I know it must have something to do with trust. But, even again, the companionship can help me my insight.
So it is. First resolution is, I will stop (in most cases) speaking of church and start speaking of a community of faith. Whether it makes any difference is to be determined on down the road. I may even change the resolution next year. But for now, let it be.