In the book we are using as a reference for our current worship and teaching series, Leading Causes of Life, the second leading cause raised by our authors is coherence. My wife warned me that this word requires too much explanation. It is not part of our common vocabulary. Coherence helps us to make sense of life as opposed to incoherence. Its not my word but I think I get its meaning and why it causes life.
Our Wesleyan heritage is as appropriate for the church in the 21st century as it was in the time that John Wesley begged for money in the streets so the poor wouldn’t need to, visited the sick and imprisoned and preached outdoors so that those not welcomed by the church of his time could also hear the good news. Coherence is about our shared beliefs that bind us together as a faith community. It is life giving by offering meaning to be able to sort out the messiness and struggle that life brings to our doorstep. Coherence can be the adhesive that helps us to name our fears.
A problem arises when we confuse coherence with sameness and inflexibility. It is my observation of my own experiences and listening to others that church can become that constant factor in our lives. Constant meaning unchanging. Like our belief that God is consistent and trustworthy we project these attributes onto our church experience in an effort to stop time from marching forward. But time never stops nor even slows down for anyone. Time marches on, our bodies age, new generations come of age and churches either change or die with the bodies that forced their wills on a new generation who need to find coherence in ideas that matter to them. Never changing means becoming irrelevant to life as it gets lived in our neighborhoods, cities and countryside.
Our role in disciple making is to testify about the presence of the living Lord in our lives. Living things adapt to their surroundings. In order for our testimony to be heard it must be relevant. Our testimony must resonate with the listener. Our testimony must be authentic and grounded in reality. Coherence that binds us to a world that no longer exists is thin and transparent. We testify not about that which we know. Rather, we testify about that which once was true. If our Lord lives today, which He does, then He lives in today’s world with today’s problems, many of which were created by our ancestors and propagated by our generation as we fail to live in the reality of our own destructive tendencies.
Our Lord is alive today and is painfully aware of global warming, human trafficking, systemic racism and our laws that keep the poor in place and build the wealth of the rich. Our Lord is alive and very much involved in our suffering, our unjust systems and our fears. But this is where coherence grounded in truth and love finds its home. We believe in a living Lord who believes that all lives matter. We believe in a living Lord that lived among us to save us and not condemn us. But do we believe in a living Lord who is one-step or more ahead of us leading us into a future of peace and not a past of violence and injustice.
Coherence is not about the hymns we sing although our hymns are important reminders that a generation who came before us adapted to a changing world and survived. Coherence is not about our liturgy but our liturgy does matter for it offers insight into how those who came before us made sense of a changing world. Coherence is not about our claim to a building but our buildings matter for their walls contain memories of those who came before us and reflect their coherence during their period in history.
But each generation expresses coherence with their own voices and to their own beat and rhythm. Each generation voices their beliefs in new ways using new words that come out of an adapting language which expresses the present reality. And sadly, our buildings do not last forever as the weather and time erodes the very foundation that keeps them standing. More significant are the changes in the role of our buildings in the life of our communities. Many buildings that were once community centers morphed into fortresses intended to keep out the community and protect a past that is no longer alive. As new generations recognize past mistakes that excluded others whether stairs that cannot be traversed or walls that provide barriers that are no longer relevant, our buildings also must adapt or die.
Coherence is a leading cause of life simply because it is life-giving. Coherence gives us purpose when we are caught up in the struggle by taking us away from a focus on death and towards a focus on life. Knowing that the Living Lord is at work in our community calling others to come and help, guiding each of us towards a divine purpose that will give our lives great meaning and inviting us into a oneness with God that brings peace to our restless soul.