I recently read on the Emergent Village’s MINemergent Daily Communiqué that, “Christianity is about the reconfiguration of the human heart, the redirection of human desire.” The author, Kevin Corcoran, goes on to write that “Christianity crucially involves beliefs, but it’s not about the beliefs. Because Christian faith is about lives well lived in community with our created nature, the Christian faith inducts Christians into concrete practices, rituals, and sacraments that had for over fourteen years of Christian history the life-transforming effect of producing Christian disciples.”
There is indeed something transforming about life lived in community steeped in practices, rituals, and sacraments. But more often than not the church has garnered a reputation of being a place of pettiness, discord, and mind numbing debates about issues that are no longer relevant to much of the world’s population. More often than not, as I have spoken with folks outside the community of faith, the church is viewed as a place for weak people who are bent on establishing their own fiefdom.
In 2007, Dan Kimbal (pastor at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California) wrote a book entitled They Like Jesus, But Not the Church. In it he tells story after story of people who find the story of Jesus compelling, even transforming, but who could not bring themselves to step foot into Christian Church. It seems many, if not most, people find the message of hope, compassion, and love presented through Jesus of Nazareth a compelling story, one to which people should pay attention. But, for some reason, we the church have struggled with how best to share this “good news” and invite others into the Jesus journey.
I remember in college the students who would walk around, always in pairs, cornering unsuspecting peers and ask them in accusatory tones, “Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?” I remember being a member of what was then College Park Presbyterian Church across from the campus of San Diego State University (now it is called Faith Community Presbyterian Church). I was an active member of the college fellowship group, and a volunteer advisor for both the middle school and high school fellowship groups—I was helping shape the faith lives of young people! I was cornered, physically held with a hand on each of my shoulders, asked the questions, and feeling like I had already done something wrong. When I tried to explain that I was a member of a church already, it was clearly not good enough as they continued to press. I was not feeling the transforming power of the gospel, and my heart was definitely being reconfigured, in Corcoran’s words, but not in a positive way.
Christian life is often presented, falsely, as an easy-going, life changing, and even beautiful thing. Well, it may be a beautiful thing, but the beauty is not on the surface—it’s not until you become steeped in it that you begin see it. I’ve heard it said, “The Christian life is tough! If anyone tells you different, they’re selling something!” I tend to agree.
Even in the congregation I now serve, living in community is sometimes emotionally, mentally, and spiritually very difficult! Sometimes we just don’t get along. Sometimes there are things happening in our private lives that we are not ready to share with the larger family of faith and those things get in the way of our ability to be fully present. Sometimes we have past hurts that we have not been able to work through that block us from experiencing the true transforming potential of “lives well lived in community.” Living in community is just difficult!
But (and that is a BIG “but”), I could not give up living in Christian community for anything! Despite our challenges, our internal conflicts (both personal and communal), and our hurt feelings, I have witnessed the healing power of a community of faith. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens often enough. It can involve painful conversations, challenging words, and even the difficulty of just remaining present. And, somehow, through it, lives are, indeed, transformed, hearts are reconfigured, and minds are re-formed, ever closer to the reality of God’s hope for us all.
I think Corcoran is on to something when he says that the Christian life is about the “reconfiguration of the human heart, the redirection of human desire.” In the Christian faith our hearts are reconfigured and redirected away from our selfish, and often destructive, desires, and toward God’s desires (“your will be done on earth as it is heaven,” from the Lord’s Prayer). It is about practicing and engaging, though community, ritual, and sacrament, the art of learning how love again, truly love. It is about rubbing against one another, shaping one another, and listening to one another so that we may be re-shaped according to God’s vision for the world. We don’t always get it right. We don’t always do it well. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything.
Peace and blessings,