Becoming New Now, November 4th, 2006 in Saturdays, by N. Gordon Cosby.
There's nothing new about becoming a new form of church. The church, the Body of Christ, is always changing. We take our form in the particular local and global environment of our particular period of history. We bring our society, the total global community, to God's vision of newness, and we ask what would Jesus want his community to look like now, against this global backdrop.
During Jesus' time he asked what his little band of followers needed to look like and be against the backdrop of Pax Romana, the moniker of that period of history. (Every empire extends its deathly power in the name of peace or some other noble sounding cause, like freedom or democracy.) Jesus said to his little group, "This is how Pax Romana defines peace and this is how the leaders of our own faith tradition define it in their institutional practices and over here is how I'M defining it. I've summed it up for you in a little talk people are calling the Sermon on the Mount. That's the only real peace. To believe it in the midst of the pervasive spirit of Empire will get you into trouble, so you must make a choice: do you want a little temporary peace that calls itself peace' or the real eternal peace that you enter like a narrow gate?"
Jesus had to work out his life in the context of Pax Romana and also in the context of Jerusalem, his local governing power center. How were he and his followers to embody God's peace, not just in rhetoric but in their lives? How are we going to inwardly, faithfully embody God's essence in our own Jerusalems? In Washington, D.C., with its declared indifference to its poor residents, how will we embody God? How will you do it where you live? How will we allow the context in which we live to impact the way we make community with one another as the Body of Christ?
To neglect context is literally fatal to a living faith. For me, in the context of my life and era, I am finding that there are two givens' - necessary components - for a true embodiment of God's community.
First, I will be part of a small family group of extreme opposites' - people who represent diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, economics, education, personality and temperament, in all ways - for the express purpose of letting our inner lives be known by one another. This means I will listen to the pain of unhealed wounds, really taking it in to my own inner being and bearing it with others, not shaking it off as soon as I'm able to forget it. This small group becomes for me my primary family. We represent all whom Jesus loves and is seeking to reconcile, bringing us together in deep intimacy.
In this small family, we not only hear each other's pain and hurt but we also seek to lessen that pain in concrete ways. Together we lift the extreme heaviness of one another's burdens, and in this way participate in lifting the misery of the ages. We also talk with each other about the pain brought on by the disparity of wealth and privilege and poverty among us, the wounds we've experienced through racial hatred and our inability to forgive and ask to be forgiven. We share our resources of money and wisdom and time to ease the pressure of carrying our burdens alone. As we face ourselves and each other in all our rawness and yet don't run away, we move beyond the principle of reconciliation' and find a way to be family.
Second, I will be a witness of this good news of reconciliation - telling others of Jesus, who IS the good news. I find that most of us talk more freely of justice, peace, righteousness, being enemies of Empire and lovers of the poor than we do of being lovers and followers of Jesus. We easily ask each other, "How are you doing these days?" but the more important question, "How are you and Jesus doing?" goes unsaid.
Embodying and talking about Jesus is our primary work. If we do a number of good works but never learn to introduce someone to a genuine relationship with Jesus and ways to nurture and deepen that relationship, we have failed to witness to the Source of Life itself. Witnessing to the Source is not one of the many things we are to do while passing through life. It is the main thing.
I know many of us have been offended or amused or even disgusted by the ways some have witnessed' to us. But why should that be an excuse? Jesus didn't say, "If a few of my would-be disciples goof up, then don't bother to learn another way." No, he said, "This is my commandment: tell others about me. Do it so winsomely that they will want to be my friend and will want to tell others about me themselves until the whole world is smitten by my love."
For me, this is what real church will look like for our times: small family groups of radical diversity, coming together to learn to absorb pain at new depths, where people can be nurtured in and trained to spread Love and be held accountable for our main life's work of witnessing to the Source of that Love. I believe it's not only possible to be church in this way - it's absolutely necessary.
We might even begin measuring our faithfulness each year not by how many causes we have espoused but by how many hearts we have helped to open. I'm not talking about twisting people's wills or persuading their minds, but opening their hearts - becoming locksmiths who can gain access to human hearts in a way that will prepare them for a mighty in-rushing of Love.
Gordon Cosby is co-founder of The Church of the Saviour and a member of Friends of Jesus Church and the Spiritual Support Groups.