Faith-Guilds

Posted by Melvin Bray on July 12th, 2006 filed in Useful Perhaps

So I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while now. Nothing deep. Just wondering what unintended consequences have come from people’s of faith use of the phrase “faith community”. Since images move the hearts of humanity, I can’t help but wonder how we might have moved our sense of responsibility the wrong direction.

“Faith community” seems to suggest self-containment. What’s the need to interface with the broader society when we are already a “community” unto ourselves? Isn’t it just enough to have love for each other (within our faith community)? To bear one another’s burdens? To do unto one another as we would want others to do unto us? With a self-focused, driving metaphor such as this the larger society easily becomes only important as a gleaning ground from which to harvest more community participants, provided they are enlightened enough to appreciate the benefit of affiliation with us. Which makes perfect sense, doesn’t it, for aren’t the hopes and promises of renewal spoken of in any faith tradition only for insiders? Isn’t God only for us? (“God bless America”… and nobody else, right?)

Referring to only those who think or believe or look or act like ourselves as “community,” to the neglect of the larger biocommunity of which we are a part, is… well, just plain silly and short-sighted at the very least. (Whoever heard of cells becoming only self-concerned despite the health or lack thereof of the body? Oh, that’s right. Sometimes they do. We call it “cancer”.) Behavior like that even in animal realm is considered pathological.

Thus, I’ve been toying with a new metaphor for groups of people who share a common faith—particularly the church. The unsettling question that launched this shift in perspctive for me was, “What if the church as called into existence by Jesus (the organism as oppose to the organization) were never meant to become central to society, but integral? Less like government, more like air.” My missional intuitions now constrain me to see each church (and any other faith group who wants to get in on it) as called to resource the good in its particular biocommunity. In that way, church becomes more like a “guild” than a “community” unto itself.

I’ve found the metaphor of faith-guild to be quite invigorating over the past few months. When I hear the word “guild” my mind immediately goes back to the Arthurian image of medieval Europe and the bands of skilled artisans or merchants who would travel from village to city to hamlet resourcing the dreams of their fellow countrymen—either by applying their skills to a local project or by taking on aspiring students, or ones with simply no other prospects, as apprentices. They were the talent-trusts of their communities; not the only talent on the block, mind you, but definitely those who one would be assured had taken the time to learn their craft.

I believe that my ‘craft’ as a follower of Jesus is life itself. If I take the way of Jesus seriously and have practiced and been chastened by his example, then at some point I should be expected to have developed some adeptness at exercising the skills of life: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, meekness, joy, courage, honesty, justice, reverence, etc. And if, after walking in the way of Jesus for a while, there is no discernable skill developing in me, then how exactly is my community better for me being in it? How have I allowed myself to become part of God’s renewal in the earth?

What’s also been great for me is to discover that the concept of guild has ecological application as well, which really endears it to me. Ecologically speaking, a guild is a group of species that have similar requirements and play a similar role within a community. How contextually malleable is that? Even the denotation of the word allows for divergent distinctiveness between guild species because what unites them is not so much form, but function. Guild species belong to each other because they make similar contributions to there various biocommunities. If one lets it, it almost puts all faith traditions on the same side (not necessarily in the same place or about the same things… but definitely on the same side). What begins to matter most is what one’s faith-guild is doing for the good of others. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a metaphor worth living!

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