Conceptual. Philosophical. Abstract. Theoretical. Credal… feel your eyes glazing over?
It happens routinely every Sunday when Christians stand to “proclaim our faith.” Absurd arguments over words — “consubstantial with” versus “of one being with” — exemplifies our dire and desperate straits. God save us!
Yet, Sunday after Sunday we dutifully stand to rattle off an obtuse treatise composed in the fourth century in some long forgotten outpost in present-day Turkey. We know it as the Nicene Creed.
Richard Rohr diagnoses our malady with characteristic precision, “There seem to be very few actionable items in most Christians’ lives beyond attending Sunday services, which largely creates a closed and self-validating system.”
What if our Christian proclamation was less conceptual and more concrete, less philosophical and more practical, immediate rather than abstract, applied more than theoretical, a matter of actually “walking our talk”?
Here’s a modest proposal… What if those who care to express their belief chuck the Nicene Creed for a year and substitute one or another proclamation attributed to Jesus? When our carpenter from Nazareth offered his core teaching, what did he say?
We do no better than the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor, they that mourn, those who are meek, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful, the single-hearted, peacemakers and those persecuted for what is right. Blessed are you when others revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Is this what we believe? Might such an expression of our faith make us too uncomfortable, threaten our status quo, challenge our cultural presumptions and preferences? Might this put in too glaring of a light that which we truly believe and where we actually place our faith?
If this be too much, we might consider a different formulation offered by Jesus as his valedictory address: “The righteous will answer. ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.” (Mt 25) Jesus clearly has in mind an actionable and actualized life of faith.
Today we begin Advent. Will it truly be a preparation for Christmas — that occasion when we celebrate Word made flesh, God-With-Us, the birth of our Savior? May our commemoration make us appropriately uncomfortable, challenge our cultural idols and expose our false gods. May we actually experience the surprise and gift of our salvation and not merely feeling satiated with stuff brightly wrapped in Holiday style.
Come Christmas, may we find ourselves proclaiming a faith that is concrete, practical, immediate, and enfleshed. May the glaze over our eyes only be the tears of recognition and love.
This reflection was inspired by the sentence of Richard Rohr quoted above. His essay, “Powering Down: The Future of Institutions” is available in The Future of Christianity, Oneing, An Alternative Orthodoxy Vol. 7, No 2 (2019), a publication of the Center for Action and Contemplation.