Monday, March 13, 2017

WITH - 4

For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding.  It has been on a personal sojourn to try an unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now.  More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today.  And so, I have been writing a book.

The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them".  Over the next 18 weeks, I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book.  I want to invite you into the conversation.  I want to get your help in writing this book.  If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know.  If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together.  What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true".  And so now, if you are still WITH is installment #4:


What Is “Going With”?

What It Means Exactly…

            What does “going with” mean exactly?  According to Macmillan’s online Dictionary[i] of phrases and expressions, there are at least three different definitions of the phrase “going with” in modern American parlance.  The first definition is implies something that is provided with another thing (as in; “Does this corner office go with this job?”).  This definition mostly refers to objects rather than people, and so this usage doesn’t get to the meat of what I am attempting to do with the phrase through this book.  The second, and more common usage is general acceptance or agreement with of an idea (as in; “I’m just going to go with it”).  If you live in California where I live, you hear it all the time (“just go with it”!).  This usage gets much closer to the meaning I am attempting with this book.  The problem with this second usage is that it also carries with it the connotation of moral relatively and of, perhaps, acquiescing one’s own moral principles when one doesn’t feel comfortable doing a certain thing.  So, this second usage is insufficient as well.  The third usage is a rather antiquated term for a dating relationship (ie; “Who are you ‘going with’ this semester?”).  Even for those born of the generation when “Going with another person” meant being that person’s girlfriend or boyfriend, this final phrase usage won’t offer much help.  And, this final phrase definitely bears no meaning upon the general content of this book. 

            While the phrase “Go with” may seem a bit clunky, the trouble is that there really is no other phrase in the English lexicon which gets to the meaning and main concept of this book.  Consider this list of alternatives:

·          To be in relationship with – seems to heavy
·          To be in covenant with – seems too religious
·          To agree with – simply isn’t often the case
·          To be in alliance with – seems overly political and strategic
·          To be in community with – seems too amorphous
·          To be in friendship with – may or may not be the case
·          To be in fellowship with – feels a little “churchy”
·          To resonate with – again, may or may not be the case
·          To be committed to – seems too antiseptic and cold
·          To love – seems too non-descript and also emotionally loaded

And so, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic, we shall use the word formula “going with” throughout this book.  It is my hope as an author, that for a generation of millennials, this term simply won’t need any definition, but will be self-evident in its usage and application.  A basic definition might be this:

Going With – Moving in the same general direction as another person (emotionally, intellectually, philosophically, politically, theologically, or interpersonally) in order to gain a deeper understanding of and appreciation for that person - and to potentially have a positive transformative impact on that person’s overall wellbeing, health and livelihood.  

A Whole Book Which Is Based On One Preposition?

It would seem like an act of folly to base an entire book upon one single preposition.   With this in mind, I am reminded of the young recently graduated seminarian who, being a bit overzealous about his Greek training, said to his congregation one morning; “The word for AND in the bible is KAI.  KAI is used 41 times in the text we are looking at this morning.  So, over the next month, we will be analyzing the various uses of the word KAI and how it impacts our faith in God.”  On hearing this, an older gentleman turned to his wife in the back pew and said, “And the word ‘Farewell’ occurs just once in the text, and that is enough for me.  Come on honey, we are out of here!” 

If a case could be made for the composition of an entire book based on one single preposition, there are, it might be argued, a lot of more interesting ones to choose from than the ones that find themselves strewn throughout the pages of this book (eg: “amongst”, “considering”).  According to the English Club: The world’s premier website for learners and teacher of the English language, there are officially 150 prepositions in the English language.  Of this list there officially 94 one word prepositions (behind, by, beneath), and 56 complex prepositions (“on account of”, “along with.  Although this is the case, there is one quite unassuming preposition, composed of one vowel and three consonants which is potentially the most important word in the entire English language for understanding who God is – and what exactly our relationship with God constitutes.  That preposition is, of course, WITH.
Coupled with the active verb – GO (of which there are over two-thousand examples to choose from in the Bible[1]), creating “Go with”, the two words combine to create an entirely new meaning.

Going With is Basically What It Means to Be a Pastor

            I was on a plane recently, traveling to a foreign country to be a part of a mission trip.  And the person sitting next to me engaged me in a conversation about what I do for a living.  I always hate this question on an airplane, because my answer (that I am a pastor), either ends up in halting the conversation altogether, or developing the airplane relationship into a full blown four-hour extravaganza about faith, God and everything else.  But I gave my usual blunt, and snipped answer – “Uh, I’m a pastor.”  But then the person I was sitting next to followed up with a question that I am rarely asked; “Wow!  What is it REALLY like to be a pastor?” 

            I had to pause to answer this, but upon a few moments of reflection, I told my friend that it is basically about being WITH people, in God, through any number of life’s benchmarks.  I told him that it is about being WITH brand new couples as they are having a baby.  It is about being WITH who are exchanging vows at an altar, and it is about being WITH people as the pass, on a hospital gurney, from one life to the next.  It is about celebrating the highs in people’s lives with them (anniversaries, boat dedications, business kickoffs, neighborhood block parties), and it is about holding their hand when they experience the lows in life (divorces, the passing away of loved ones, being terminated from jobs, losing a lot of money in a financial deal). 

            As I write this, I can already hear the critics voice their opinions about that parsimonious definition of ministry, and the an-affiliated religious people marveling at the all too stultifying simplicity of that formula.  “What?  You study for three years at a seminary, learn Greek and Hebrew and history and theology, philosophy and ethics simply to learn how to go WITH other people????”  The short answer is YES.  The long answer is that, as this book will show, going with other people, especially during difficult times of life, or through difficult inter-personal experiences (enemies) is extremely hard.  Also, more theologically conservative Christians might observe that it seems a little thin to simply go with another person without offering some more didactic approach to life (some life lesson, or doctrine or theological rubric).  The more progressive voices will view the act of going with as a bit, perhaps, presumptuous and interventionist.  So, going with others will be an attempt at finding a "middle way" through all of our life challenges together.

All For Now,


[1] The fact remains that there are more incidents of the word “Go” in the Bible than the words for “Love” and “Sin” combined – but that is a topic for a different book entirely.


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