I, like so many others, am one on a journey. As a man who, at best, is in a state of constant spiritual curiosity, ever thirsty for knowledge and, at worst, indecisive and flippant, I am always on the look out for organizing principles. However, as a poster child for the post-modern milieu, I have at times had an aversion to the codifying of faith and life into a non-integrated, linear set of theological propositions designed to classify my place in the big picture of Christian dogma. Statements of faith, as needful and helpful as they are merely portray details of the tapestry; those main threads that bind the tapestry together and create a pattern. The beauty in the context of the body of Christ is that these statements, non-integrated though they may be, can provide the basic threads of the faith – the common threads – that unite all Christians.
Taken as a whole and seen from God’s perspective, this tapestry is a portrayal on fabric of one’s essential “picture” to the world. Threads of differing colours and weights for different purposes are woven at ninety degree angles to one another, providing multiple cross-roads at each meeting place. Lacking meaning by themselves and lacking the creator’s perspective, these threads can quickly lose hope, finding themselves at crossed purposes and conflictually related. At micro level each thread travels a continuous forward road sometimes above its perpendicular counterparts perhaps with an accompanying sense of pride, accomplishment and clear vision. At other times, life is submerged and “under the surface” as the creator allows other colours to predominate.
Life is a canvas. Broad brush strokes upon newly prepared canvas provide the ethos and essential feel of the finished work. The predetermined size of the work allows the canvas to be stretched and prepped for that which is to emerge. Location, location, location – as in real estate, so in art, the placement of the canvas ensures adequate light pragmatically to the artist as well as proper light artistically for the ensuing endeavour. The artist works quickly at first seeking to get on canvas the basic structure of the vision which prompted the painting in the first place. As the vision unfolds, smaller, more painfully intricate strokes occur leaving vast portions of canvas untouched for long periods. No brush stroke is less important than the other. Each one a promise fulfilled toward the unfolding masterpiece.
Contemporary Christianity with its love for the corporate America constructs of vision statements, leadership gurus, definitions and strategies has sometimes fallen prey to “we are our vision statement” reductionism. In other environments lacking the redemptive pressures of the gospel to the contrary, these become designs for “getting everyone on the same page” – a bottom line for the bottom line so to speak. The unfortunate ramifications of a purely rationalist paradigm in such matters (clearly the love of post-Enlightenment humankind) is a lusting for unanimity rather than a move toward diversity in unity. After all, homogeneity is easier to control and quantify.
With all of that as precursor I must say that writing a personal mission statement has been one of the most meaningful undertakings of my entire adult life. Although not a complete picture of the tapestry unfolding, it has acted nonetheless as an important organizing principle for my life in general terms. It has also acted as a helpful guide in my own spiritual formulation.
I’ve often questioned whether spiritual formation can ever be “offered” as such, believing that it can only be “encountered.” However, I am pleased by the resurrection of the terminology in post-modern thinking to describe this goal of the redeemed life. It is a classical Christian perspective on one’s continual conversion, incarnationally, into the person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, “discipleship”, has become its modernist, Descartian counterpart, by contrast more suggestive of a mental assent to universally agreed upon systems of thought and doctrine birthed in rationalism. It, for me, has often been the clearing house for “believe this and all shall be well” data-driven Christianity.
God’s personhood and redemptive action (and by extension, my own) work both in and through the worshipping ecclesia. As God’s physical voice in the world, we are, clearly and hopefully, to state God’s loving intentions without the typical “mighty speak” rhetoric which can have the effect of bull’s eye Christianity loudly declaring who’s in and who’s out. A progressive orthodoxy, diversity in unity, and holistic sensibilities are what encourage me. If that is what the church is about, count me in.