(Credo Friday is about posting reflections on my beliefs and the ways in which they shape me. These posts represent the things I believe at the time that I wrote them and the ways in which they are being worked out in my everyday life.)
“We live in a world of evaluations, assessments, and measurements, but Jesus turns his gaze deeper because he knows that what is measurable can be faked.”
― Scot McKnight, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
Last week I started a post about doing life together as a Centered Set. You can read that post HERE. It would be helpful to read that before reading this.
This is may end up feeling like preamble part two. The more I write about this the more I feel needs to be unpacked to give the broader context in which a Centered Set can flourish. I believe that the Centered Set is an illustration of how we can most do life together that looks most like Jesus.
Centered Set is not an easy way to live. It is especially difficult when we are used to drawing lines and living in a Bounded Set culture. In both instances, there is an us and a them. In Centered Set, those distinctions are determined by a person’s relationship to the Center. In Bounded Set, the distinction is determined by a list or metric of some kind, it could be behaviors or beliefs or economic status or the shibboleth of the day, or it could be a combination of all the above.
In Church world, marked by a plethora (I love that word) of denominations, it’s easy to see our tendency to draw lines and exclude. I would argue that Jesus primarily erased line but not all lines. In the early days of the Church a lot of conversation took place before someone was on the other side of the line, today we draw lines over breakfast and tweet out our farewells over lunch. In a system that relies on ascribing to the right beliefs to be in God’s Bounded Set, our tendency is to demonstrate that we are more right in our beliefs than others and thus more “in” with God than others.
The non-denominational denomination I was a part of when I went to Bible College started in Scotland from a group of Presbyterian churches that were weary of sectarianism. They were identifying as Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceder Presbyterians. Not to be confused with the New Light, Pro-Burgher, Anti-Seceders or the Old Light, Pro-Burgher, Anti-Seceders or the…you can see how they got weary. We love our lines. We especially love them when we’ve drawn them or at least are on the side of the lines that prove we’re in or are somehow related to those in power who determine where the lines will be drawn.
Centered Set runs counter to our dominant culture on many levels and that’s what makes the practice of Centered Set so difficult. This approach to life together is very difficult for Type A leaders, driven people, people who like reportable metrics and for people who like things tidy. It is a very difficult way to live for people who are not willing to make relationship their top priority and who have a conscious or unconscious fear of the other that they are unwilling to address.
The approach to leadership in the Centered Set is problematic. It requires leadership that is not about a single individual but held loosely by a group of people who are looking a lot like Jesus. If Paul could say, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” We can too. We can tell when someone looks like Jesus. These are the people who should be brought together to provide leadership to a Centered Set. The temptation is always to a centralization of power and the critical work of leadership is to constantly resist this gravity and to divest themselves of power, distributing power to the body of Christ. In this way, the community will accede to them the authority to lead based on their self-sacrificial love and their resistance of power over in favor of loving influence.
The Centered Set analogy is also a hard way to explain what this way of life looks like because ultimately analogies all break down. It is still a useful picture as a way of helping us talk about a way of living. It’s like an icon – a picture that stands for something greater and more substantial than just the image itself, it’s not a perfect representation but it can orient us in the direction of a way of living that is so different from “normal” that we will otherwise struggle to hold on to it. I make this point simply because we are tempted to reduce this concept to a simple drawing with which we can take exception which is like taking exception with the way an artist depicts a person in portrait and not dealing with the reality of the person it attempts to represent.
My favorite work of Bonhoeffer, no surprise, is his small book, Life Together. He sets out to give us a primer for doing life together as followers of Jesus. It includes one of my favorite admonitions for doing life together – the wish dream. Bonhoeffer says that your dream of your community will kill the community you are part of if you insist on your vision of that community rather than embracing the reality of what it is. As a friend puts it, no relationship can flourish in an atmosphere of disapproval. If I know you fundamentally disapprove of me, I’m not quite how you’d like me to be, our relationship will never be able to flourish.
It won’t be what it is, let alone what it could be.
Centered Set requires us to invest ourselves in relationship. I have to get to know you and observe your way of being and look for signs of the Holy Spirit operating in and through you. This can take time. We can all have bad moments, days, weeks and months. Relationship is so much harder because it means I have to deal with flesh and blood, I have to open myself up to let you know me if I want to be able to say I really know you. And frankly, we abhor the more difficult way. We’re busy people. But it is still the better way and to draw a line that makes someone an “outsider” simply because we are too busy to spend time really getting to know them, misses the point of an incarnational gospel.
Finally, here’s something I’ve learned – people in power tend to use their power to stay in power. Centered Set is an absolute threat to the reign of those who want power over others – even if their goal is for the good of others. When the Set has agreed that power over rests exclusively with the Center – Father, Son and Holy Ghost – it is difficult for an individual to define themselves by establishing themselves as someone more “in” than another person. When being “in” is determined by your proximity or orientation to the Center (Jesus), everyone can be equal and everyone can be “in” and the power to exclude (which gives people power over) is eliminated. And let’s be honest, wouldn’t we all prefer to be the one who gets to decide who is in and who is out?
So ends part two of part one. Or something like that. Next time I will attempt to give you an example of how a Centered Set operates in a real life example. If you have read this far and have a real life example or question about how this could possibly work or some other specific question, hit me up.