I have to admit I am sometimes tantalized by the civil religion. I’m quoting from my own blog, but here’s one way I put it a few months ago:
The U.S.’s national identity is tied to a faith of its own. Examples of such are in its language that says the President’s power comes from God, our America is God’s chosen nation, phrases like “In God We Trust,” “God Bless America,” “One Nation Under God.” It isn’t Judeo-Christian values that the nation was founded on (try American Indian genocide and African slavery), but rather the U.S. created its own religious philosophy to win the hearts of its people, just like Constantine. The myth that surrounds the U.S. is made using divine language. Just like the Romans thought their emperors were “Sons of God,” so does the U.S.
I know I am being seduced and enchanted by the statecraft, especially during this entertaining presidential cycle. And admittedly, as I have believed many of the things that brother Bernie has espoused over the last few years for my entire adult life, it was a little exciting for me to see him win another state on Tuesday, his sixth in a row.
I do think the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and I do wonder how we are going to save it. Sometimes, I am foolishly tempted to believe that Bernie Sanders might be my savior. I forget that I already have a savior, and a body in which I can express my relationship with him. I have grown up in Circle of Hope and sometimes it’s hard to know that the special community we have is indeed a radical alternative.
For some of us that have grown up in Circle of Hope, the infatuation we once had with it (or what we projected onto it) has faded a little bit. We’ve felt hurt, burnt, un-reconciled. The community veneer wears thin, especially when we bought it because of its superficial shine. Oh, it’s messier than we thought, more conflictive, even. I think we sometimes expect our sin addiction not to creep in to the best communities and if it does, well, something is wrong and we’ve gotta get out.
But I’m proud to be committed to the community and the mission, and my covenant with the community gives me a chance to demonstrate that very radical love of Jesus. The one that will change the world, regardless of delegate count.
When we were talking to the prospective covenant makers last Monday at Marlton Pike, I was reminded of a few reasons why someone should make a commitment to or covenant with Circle of Hope.
As I already mentioned, a commitment to or covenant with something—for better or worse, in good times and bad—does something to us. It builds character. It rejects the consumerist way of society that tells us to simply throw away something when we are done with it. In the words of Willy Loman, it makes a person more than “a piece of fruit.” It keeps us connected in a world that is tearing us apart. And that connectedness builds character.
It is also manifestly biblical, if that matters to you. You can see examples of this throughout the Bible (consider Noah’s ark and that famous rainbow). But moreover, you can find evidence of it in the epistles of Paul, especially Romans 12:9-19:
Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.
I don’t know about you but I can’t live in that way without the accountability of others, and without an expressed way of being in a Body of Christ and communing with the Spirit. The covenant gives me a chance to do that.
God promises to love us and longs to be one with us, and us with him and each other. It is hard to read John 15-17 and not get the impression that Jesus was imploring his sometimes-wishy-washy followers into making a serious commitment. That commitment they made actually fueled the start of the church and has kept it going ever since. Our commitment today makes our “yes” a “yes.”
It undoes the violence of the “contractual relationship,” and moves us into a dialogue of love. What holds our covenant together isn’t the threat of punishment or imprisonment or a fine, but an intrinsic transformed nature to love each other and build a community. The community may very well be transformative spiritually, but I think at least the covenant gives us a chance to live out the transformation, even if it doesn’t feel natural yet. I think that environment is a good thing. It might help us to “fake it before we make it.”
So, no, you don’t need to have it all together to make a covenant with Circle of Hope. It is the start of a journey, after all. And you don’t even need to make one to be a satisfied participant. But I, for one, have benefited greatly from it, as I have listed above, and I know others who have benefited just being around a really serious, authentic group of people that hold the community together in love. You might be ready to make one, but I hope you know that one of the reasons our community’s good reputation precedes us is because we have a core of covenant-holders keeping their eyes on Jesus and the ball. The seat is empty around the table. I’m inviting you to sit down at the table. Your seat is waiting.
Talk to your pastor to learn more. Want even more than that? Check out this old episode of Someone Asked: