Words give us the ability to think. So it stands to reason, the more words we add to our vocabulary, the better we are able to think. My friend, Dr. Louis Markos calls poetry the “highest art form” for this very reason. The myriad layers of emotion and meaning expressed by poetry come from words. Words are parlous. Words are impervious. Words are exact.
When tribes of people (i.e. churches) neglect to incorporate essential words, they lose a vital part of who they were created to be. It could be termed as a “censorship of essence.”
Here are seven words that I feel the church has somehow lost.
5. Freedom — “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” This quote by Mahatma Ghandi challenges the dysfunctional control of the westernized Christian Church. Paraphrased from Sex, Lies & Religion, “Why, through the centuries, has the Church worked so hard to control her people? Perhaps because true grace is so wild and free. God’s grace represents a kind of freedom that is hard (not impossible—hard) for organized religion to deal with.
God has given each of His children the difficult gift of free will. The church, like a jealous mother, feels threatened and demands a co-dependent relationship with her children. What makes the church jealous of our freedom? Could it be that she fears what freedom can do to her children and consequently instills a co-dependent fear in us in order to protect us from ourselves?
Nurturing this dysfunctional connection requires rigid control and excessive rules and so the wilder aspects of Christianity, such as sex and sexuality, are deemed taboo in the name of God’s ‘love.’ This seems rather ironic in light of Jesus Christ’s teaching in John 8:32: ‘We shall know the truth, and the truth shall make us free.’ Instead of setting her children free, the institutional church by its very nature tends to nurture a co-dependent relationship.
The church believes that freedom gives each of us the power to create and also to destroy. She knows a sex drive that makes love and babies can also lead to divorce and murder. Likewise, the freedom given an artist to paint a nude body has the power to glorify the wonder of creation, but it also has the power to titillate and degrade.
The challenge for the mother church today lies in relinquishing control and exhibiting mercy and grace instead of shame and judgment. When we walk through the struggles of real life (and more of us have than not) functional and unconditional love promises that we walk not through judgment but to freedom. The unconditional love of God leads to a life of freedom and transforms each day into a potentially wild adventure.
Dysfunction comes when we intertwine the church and God and view them as one. We often forget that both church and religion consist of wayward leaders and broken people just like us. Our Creator alone earned the right to act as our ultimate authority and thus is worthy to receive the reciprocal gifts of intimacy and wild abandonment. Rather, He knows that no matter how much we struggle with Him, in our desperate and wayward searching, if we genuinely seek Truth, we will ultimately fall safely back into His arms.”
6. Beauty — “Beauty…is the shadow of God on the universe.” – Gabriela Mistral. Another paraphrased portion of Sex, Lies & Religion, “Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) lived at a critical time in history when the arrival of translated versions of Aristotle’s body of work reopened the question of the relation between faith and reason. Aquinas had extraordinary qualifications as a priest but was also a philosopher and theologian and musician. Umberto Eco writes in The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, ‘when Aquinas wrote about beauty and artistic form he was not dealing with mere abstractions, cut off from experience. He was referring, implicitly, to a world which he knew well.’
Aquinas writes in his magnificent work Summa Theologica that three things are needed for beauty: harmony, wholeness and radiance.
— Harmony (Aquinas calls it proportio) refers to the arrangement of the parts of a work and the sum of the relationships between them. Harmonic notes in music are separate, yet they move together while complementing one another.
— Wholeness (Aquinas calls it integritas) exists in a work that lacks nothing essential to its full being. It provides a full understanding and portrayal; something that is complete in all its parts.
— Radiance (Aquinas calls it claritas) speaks of that which makes a thing clearly seen for what it is. It is that feeling that goes with you as you depart. You feel as if you leave a better person having been in the presence of true beauty.
These elements of beauty may help resolve a personal dilemma when we next face the question of beauty in an art gallery, on a beach, or on a computer screen. They provide guidelines for the artist or viewer to understand whether the creation they encounter is beautiful or pornographic. Beauty portrayed or viewed utilizing these premises embodies the glory of the creator rather than an objectification of his creation.”
7. Relationship — “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” We have made church a destination, not a conversation. And when we rush in and out of church in the busyness of our lives while listening only to a talking head, we are practicing what my pastor Pete Wilson calls “mutual masturbation.”
Relationship is much more than a weekly small group or large gathering. It is leaving footprints on the hearts. Living life together means celebrating the greatest joy and grieving the deepest sorrow together. It is open, non-judgmental, grace-filled conversations into the wee hours of the early morning when necessary. It is self-less love, no matter what it costs. It is total confidentiality and unconditional respect.
Relationship is communion. Relationship is sacramental. In this sense, sacrament defined is “powerfully binding.”
Yet another paraphrase from Sex, Lies & Religion, “Just as God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit created us and ‘shares in common’ with each other and with us, we then also create and share communion with each other and with the Trinity through our relationships. So then, in a divine and mysterious way, ‘relationship becomes an earthly representation in some sense of the inner life of the Trinity and the union of God with humanity.’
Each time we attend church or liturgy, we see in essence a representation of the Trinity. We find in our relationships a tangible way to make the invisible divine mystery visible.
Relationships provide an opportunity to create an earthly representation of a divine mystery. The Catechism says, “God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange.”
Pope John Paul II states it this way: ‘God is an eternal Communion of Persons.’ The term communion is derived from Latin communio, which means ‘sharing in common.’ For some unknown reason, God has decided to create and share in communion with mankind. And it is only right that we emulate and spread God’s love by sharing deep communion with others.”
Is there another word you feel the church has lost?
Do you agree? Disagree?