by Jeff M. Christian
January – April, 2006
Jeff Christian is the preaching minister at the Glenwood Church of Christ in Tyler, Texas.
Some conversations about unity are tainted from the start. Too often people try to unify around causes, programs, or even the same beliefs.
For example, helping the poor is a worthy goal, but not everyone in the room will agree on matters of race and class and the very culture and social injustice that creates and maintains poverty. When people seek to unify around matters of opinion, they are already engaged in an act of exclusion the moment someone chooses not to toe the party line.
Look at a church going through an identity crisis. Perhaps they are trying to agree on a particular approach to worship or gender that throughout Scripture and history has been answered in varying ways. How many churches have you seen split over a disagreement about whether or not to practice patience with one another and continue fellowshipping with a certain group when they diverge from the orthodox view?
What if we begin seeking unity by earnestly desiring to be good?
A friend of mine made the suggestion to some of his students that they pick a virtue or fruit of the Spirit to cultivate for a semester or year. My friend was surprised a year later when I told him I had overheard the suggestion and took it seriously.
I spent 2004 trying to be good.
Among the list of virtues in Galatians 5:22-23 traditionally called “the fruit of the Spirit” is the virtue of “goodness.” It was only a few minutes into the year when my imagination began to run wild dreaming about the possibilities of goodness and the rest of the fruit of God’s Spirit. What might the world look like if everyone in it decided to spend the year trying to be good? What might our nation look like if all politicians decided to spend the year cultivating peace? What if preachers cultivated joy?
Along the way I read Nick Hornby’s novel, How to Be Good. It explores the heart of a woman trying to deal with her husband’s sudden spiritual conversion. At first she cannot deal with his desire to be a good person because of the way it forces her to consider who she is, and who she is not. When she considers going to church to find some answers for herself she describes longing for a safe church. By “safe” she says she wants to find a church that lacks conviction, a mild, doubtfully liberal preacher who would give a sermon about social justice or greed, and then apologize for bringing up the subject of God. When she finally musters up the nerve to get out of bed one Sunday morning and makes her way to the church down the block, she walks in to find a handful of tired people. She thinks, “This may have been God’s house once, but He’s clearly moved.”
She soon discovers through the oddball actions of her husband and their neighbors-like taking care of the poor-that being good is about caring for others, people in all of their forms. The book is about more than just acting like a “good person.” It’s about “being good.” The characters discover that being good does not merely involve the actions and greetings of your day-to-day life. It is learning what it means to be good, which is what the neighborhood in Hornby’s novel unifies around as a worthwhile virtue. Whether or not this is Hornby’s critique on organized religion, it hits close to home in my experience, and I would guess in many others’ as well.
Perhaps the things we choose to unify around are part of the problem, whether society, church, or anywhere for that matter. Maybe outsiders walk into “tired churches” because the churches have, in their quest for aligning themselves to a certain church program and order, lost sight of what it means to cultivate virtues such as kindness and gentleness.
I am still idealistic enough to believe that most people deep down want to be good. But I am also realistic enough to admit that so much in the world distracts us from finishing such a race. Still, it was my experience in 2004 that people responded positively when I tried to be good. I was friendlier to waiters and waitresses. I called the check-out woman at the grocery store by name. I told the truth, even if it meant having to spend more time smoothing things out with someone it would have been easier to ignore. I tried to be good. I still have so far to go. But I am getting better.
Dare we imagine? What if every Christian in every church was given a list at the beginning of 2006? Let’s say the list is a catalog of virtues straight from Scripture, Galatians 5:22-23 to be exact: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
What if the church were then called to pick one and spend the year cultivating it? Every conversation, every prayer, every moment of the year, spend time living this virtue.
After a year passes, then let’s talk about unity.
Jeff and his family moved to Glenwood in October of 2002. A graduate of Abilene Christian University, Jeff has preached in Munday and Paris, Texas. Jeff is an avid runner and triathlete. He and his wife Jennifer have two children, Cole and Reese, and a cat named Cowboy. Email Jeff: [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Web site is http://www.glenwoodchurch.com/.