“Come on! Give me a straight answer!” My friends have actually said this to me as they get involved in Circle of Hope. They are flummoxed by what they perceive to be my vague responses to direct answers. They’re trying to see if they agree with us but I am often more interested in why they’re asking the question or what they think the answer to that question is than giving them the company line. “What does Circle of Hope think?” Circle of Hope doesn’t think anything. We are a group of people with almost 700 brains. Our mutual love is what binds us together most. My personal opinion about any number of political or theological issues is much less important than our dialogue with each other and with God.
That notwithstanding we have written a lot of stuff down. We call it our “lore” because “lore” is more about knowledge and collective understanding than data. I think a prejudice toward straight answers has killed a lot of people’s faith in the last couple of hundred years. The “doctrines” we have created, and the “systematic theologies” to which we have shackled ourselves, have yielded a cold precision that has quenched the Spirit and hardened many hearts. If your thinking is rigid it is easily broken. How many times have I met someone who says they’re not a Christian anymore because they believe the science behind evolution! Much of our project as a Church over the past 150 years has painted us into corners like that. It’s all or nothing. The facts are the facts. You’re in or you’re out. When, really, life is much more fluid than that. Most people’s faith is too. And luckily Jesus encourages us in that. Our mustard seed of faith is enough. Our questions are welcome, and most of his answers leave us in awe and confusion, rather than security and certitude.
This is not to say that all that thinking, or thinking in general, is a waste of time. I spent three years studying these systems in seminary and I am enriched by that process, but I will not be bound by any data. I am bound by the living Lord. Jesus Christ is alive among us and he is not domesticated. His whole project was, as he described it, incompatible with the wisdom of the world. He’s the new wine that bursts old wine skins. He’s the new cloth that rips away from the old cloth as soon as you wear the pants a few times. He’s not meant to fit. We are meant to be fit for him.
On our weekly videocast, the pastors demonstrate this general hesitation. I may be the quickest to blurt out my opinion, but that’s more my personality than my conviction. I’m pretty quick to change my mind too. I process things out loud. I may say one thing this week and another the next week. That’s probably because I am a native of Circle of Hope. i grew up in this trust system. I take dialogue for granted and trust those with whom I am talking to correct me, challenge me and love me. We reach conclusions together that are always provisional because we are expectant to hear what the Spirit will say next.
Some things are a bit firmer. Jesus is Lord for example; also our list of proverbs, the Cell Plan and the Sunday Meeting Plan (though we regularly edit these documents in community as we learn more and find ourselves in new circumstances). Again, we have written a lot of stuff down! And maybe that’s the problem: our ongoing dialogue yields lots of content that is not very easily reduced to a few bullet points. We are not “sound-bite-able.”
And yet I continue to try to “soundbite” us. I want to translate what we’re trying to do so 5,000 people could at least know what we’re about, or maybe have a vague impression of us that rings true before they make it into the dialogue. How can I communicate our lore to them? I must try to figure it out, because to do otherwise is probably hiding our light under a bed. A few of my recent attempts have been
- We’ve stopped faking it. (We’re real Christians dealing with real life and a real Jesus)
- We’re in your neighborhood. (Cells are outposts of God’s redemption project that meet all over the region)
- Easy is boring. (Don’t reduce us to a soundbite)
- You’re too big. (Self reliance is over rated. Be small. Be save-able.)
What would you add? How would you describe Circle of Hope to someone who knows nothing about us?