Salt and Light and Potholes
By Ray Waddle
I hit a big pothole the other day. It shook my car. It rattled my teeth. It was a very spiritual experience.
Spiritual? Yes. Neglected roadwork in need of repair made me think of our obligations as a functioning society to maintain public works. That made me think of the built-up anger these days against “the common good.” That made me think about the Gospel and whether it has a public dimension and whether we’re losing touch with it.
One reason I have faith in the church is the glue.
Church binds people together by its story of salvation and news of redemption and by the example of Jesus. That’s the glue: the body of Christ is lots of people saying prayers together and achieving goals together in the big world undergirded by God. Congregational community provides solidarity, safety, a public witness to the faith, public advocacy for urgent social issues and a reality check against the illusions of the lone ego.
Today there’s public momentum in some circles for a socially irrelevant Christianity. It says faith is a strictly private drama, an individual’s creed. That’s a handy assumption, since individualism is the only “ism” embraced these days without skepticism. Community solutions and social justice are publicly vilified.
The wireless revolution, despite all the social network connectedness, reinforces the dream of purely personal power and liberation. It tempts with autonomy: “I don’t need anyone (except their attention, their approval, their credit card number). I don’t even have to leave the house.”
All this ignores Jesus’ love-your-neighbor command and the groans of creation itself, as Paul wrote – the groans of a world in need of salt, light and healing.
People sense this. Everyone knows there’s something wrong with modern community life, the isolation people feel, the political gridlock.
Slogans abound: Restore honor. Restore hope. Restore the economy. Restore the earth. Restore purpose and pride. These yearnings are a good sign; people still care what happens up and down the street.
During Holy Communion, we together receive the body and blood of Christ, a communal act of remembrance of Jesus’ final banquet. I don’t phone it in, or ask for carryout, or tape it for personal viewing later. We are believers together. Neighbors need each other. A cloud of witnesses watches over the road to faith.
Only watch out for potholes.
--Columnist Ray Waddle is a religion columnist based in Bethel, Conn., and editor of Reflections, the theological journal of Yale Divinity School. He is also the author of two books published by Upper Room Books.