Why your faith should disturb you more than it calms you

We are better together than alone

People intrinsically desire to be together, to be in community. It is all over us and seen across time. We are better together than alone. Even God mimics this in the Trinity itself, where God seems to exist in community.

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. ⁠—John 17:21

The Father and Son are one (they are of the “same substance[1]”), and now we are invited into that very community.

We’ve been doing community or looking for it, forever. People are trying to get together and find some meaning beyond themselves. You can see it all throughout history, but you see it now too. People want to be part of a tribe. And you can learn a lot about our God-given desire by observing them. They want to belong. Many of them want to include others (some are afraid that including others “dilutes” the integrity of the group, though), if they are on a mission or have a purpose beyond being together, and they often self-sacrifice to stay together. Nowadays, it’s common for people to even get together online in groups.

I think people find community in spiritual groups as well: they want meaning beyond themselves, but also hope beyond the material. People are primed for metaphysical depth. They want to believe that the natural or the observable isn’t all there is. I appreciate that longing and even if it’s sometimes poorly placed (belief in conspiracies or alternative methods of healing and so on). I think it tills the soil for faith and I think it also produces good things, as well. It’s certainly not all bad.

But it does kind of center us on our own experiences. The main reason to join one of these communities is to feel better, to help yourself—especially in our hardship, our accidental hardship you might say. I think people are looking for that sort of help, and I think it’s good to offer it. I want you to experience that at our Sunday meetings. That’s why I start our meetings with the hope that people will experience a blessing, and the hope that people know they have the Spirit of God within them, to bless them as well. You don’t need to keep looking outside of yourself for the blessing. It is within you.

“The best experience” isn’t what we’re going for

Some people might tell you that the blessing that the church gives you will make you feel better than what the yoga studio does or what the rock climbing club will or your intermural soccer team will. I guess you could compare people’s experiences like that if you wanted, but it’s a little fruitless.

Christians can sometimes get caught up in that, and thus be threatened by other groups, or they try to offer a better experience or a better version of Christianity. That’s why churches split, for one thing. But that’s also why Christians can be suspicious of things in the world, more than they should be.

For my part, though I do think there is a “personal benefit” to Christianity, if we reduce it to just benefit, we do turn it into a mechanism for coping with our world. In fact, you might know this, but that’s a reason why Marxists, materialists as they were, think that religion itself is the “opiate of the people.” If we reduce it to just something that makes us feel better, it really is no different than any other hobby or grouping.

And I think that’s been a fatal flaw that Christians have had to deal with in the recent centuries. One of the reasons that Christianity, at least a form of it, thrived in the United States is because it meshed really nicely with the United States ethic. A significant part of the U.S. ethic is freedom of religion, and so part of being American is being freely religious. When we consider our faith only within that context, we’re actually submitting to another religious philosophy, something like “Americanism.”

Faith shouldn’t sedate us, it should stimulate us

Though I long to bring the Gospel to the present with flexibility, I want to resist when it’s appropriate. Our faith should be inclusive and welcoming, accommodating if you will, adaptive when it needs to be. But it can’t exist within a political economy without also disrupting it. Our faith is not just a personal accessory or an augmentation of our life. It is transformative. It changes our lives. Not only that, it changes the world. Faith isn’t an opiate that sedates us as we endure the trouble around us. Rather, it’s an amphetamine that stimulates us for changing the world.

The difference, then, between community and “communion” is that the result of becoming one with God, like the Father and Son are one, is that the event itself is cosmic; it’s not just personal. It makes your personal life better, but it makes the world better. It changes the world.

I think we have to keep saying that we want to change the world because I think people think of faith strictly for personal care and wellness. If our faith fits nicely into our economy, I don’t think we’re doing it right. It should be disruptive, transformative. It should agitate us and change us.

I guess that’s the problem that we have, though. We want to join a community to make us feel better. And I think that’s good. And going back to where I started, I think that longing for community and relationship and intimacy and connection is an intrinsic part of us. So I don’t think desiring the community even to feel good is wrong—I think that’s what God intended. But even our good intentions undergo hardships and even the remnants of the façade of creation are still just remnants. As such, they can be further perverted—as an accident of humankind.

Christianity isn’t about “getting over it.”

So it could be easy to reduce our desire for community to personal satisfaction, or when it takes away the itch, so to speak. We let it go. I think common spiritual wisdom might have us just try to overcome our feelings. But Christianity isn’t about getting over it. It’s not about meditating to get the edge off. Leaving the yoga studio with the inner peace you need to not be agitated by the injustice around you is the height of privilege.

We don’t transform the world or ourselves by finding inner peace. A great way to continue to participate in the economy of excess is to no longer be bothered by it. But can we actually hold out our desire to be bothered by the lack of imagination and then find our satisfaction in a new economy of desire with Jesus.

But the fullness of community found in communion with God is much more dramatic than that. It disturbs us in a unique way. If your faith isn’t disturbing your way of life, or if it’s just accommodating your way of life, we might need to think of it as bigger than that.

God is making everything right. God has made everything right. The old is gone, and the new is here. We’re living in that reality now. We can imagine a new world because God is providing it and God has provided it. Seeking God first looks like exactly what we’re doing in a community. We’re imagining a different world now.

What makes Christian community unique and not just an option among many? And though this isn’t unique to Christianity, strictly speaking, Christian community has a mission of cultural interrogation and inclusion. We don’t want to defeat our oppressors, we want to convert them. We want to change them.

This can be easily mistaken for political. The church’s transformation of the world, the revolution that comes from Jesus, has political ramifications, but it is not political strictly speaking, because it is nonviolent. Rather than oppressing our enemies, we seek to transform them. And we also seek to be transformed as enemies of someone else. That’s what the ministry of reconciliation is all about.

Our communion with one another and with God isn’t just an aid to make us feel better in our present circumstances, it is the fuel that we use to change our circumstances. Our church is revealing and extending that new creation to the world. We’re looking for thirsty and hungry people who are moved by the spirit to do and be something different. The church needs to be a transforming agent, flipping the whole world upside-down, and our little expression of it here is a part of that. And I think we’re building that together. Let’s keep going.

[1] Homoousios, ηομοουσιος.

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