I was recently at a meeting to interview candidates for ordination in the United Church of Canada where a conversation ensued about the purpose of church attendance. There was some discussion about “worshiping god and expressing gratitude and praise to god for life.” After I recovered from the wave of nausea that this kind of religious ‘please and appease’ belief was still common, there was a suggestion that one of things the United Church is not very good at is discipleship. By that, this person meant teaching how to live like Jesus lived and become a good ‘disciple of Jesus’. In my opinion this is a better answer, but still so wrapped in religious theological language that for most people, it’s hocus-pocus; it’s only halfway to normal-speak.
Why do we gather? Because in community we can challenge and encourage one another to live lives that make a difference – that not only help us individually ponder how to become better human beings (more compassionate, loving, just…among countless other character markers), but to work together to enable our own growth and depth to create healthier families, communities and global/cosmic citizens.
I value many of the stories told of Jesus; they illustrate excellent examples of this kind of selfless justice and compassion. A person doesn’t need to assent to the fact that a first-century, middle-eastern man named Jesus was the actual source of these examples, or if such a man even existed, to find wisdom in the counter-cultural ethic of love and human-fueled acts of community building. I have no need to say (in whatever plain or flowery language one might use) that I must be a ‘disciple of Jesus’ or a ‘christian’ to be able to do these things. Anyone can do these things. Any person can seek wisdom that helps them become the best version of themselves that expresses the highest of human values and principles. This is what should guide us and unite us. If a person wants to be about that task, let’s be together to get on with it. I’ve got no use for language and behaviour that isolates us in that work or that prevents anyone from joining in the great work of changing the world, one person, one act, one gesture, one word at a time.