Commitment

Although my profession is in many ways an archaic one, in most ways, I am a thoroughly modern man. Take shopping, for example. In the old days, people might establish a real relationship with a particular shop or brand. They could go far out of their way to get to that shop and find the brand of goods to which they had become loyal. They would be willing even to pay a bit more to be loyal - to live their commitment - even in shopping. 

When I go shopping, it is usually a matter of getting on to the Internet to look for the best price on what I want. It may be that the best last time was from Amazon.com but this time it's eBay, I don't hesitate for a moment to switch. 

If I love the clothes at the Gap today, I won't hesitate to switch my business somewhere else if their selection or my taste changes. 

If my local cafe hires a counter person who rubs me the wrong way, I have no hesitation to move on to the next shop down the street. 

In other words, in the way I interact with the providers of goods and services around me, I act with little or no loyalty or commitment. I am in it solely for what is best for me. I may shop regularly right now at Marks and Spencer, but I am entirely fickle. I don't become an “Marks and Spenca-tarian”. If M&S disappoints me in any way, I’m off to John Lewis in a heartbeat. 

Try to imagine this… you go into your favourite shop and you just hand them some money with the feeling that – well – they and you are in it together and a confidence that they will do right by you… You walk out of the shop feeling you’ve done the right thing. 

Not likely, right? 

The low commitment way of living is how we have become conditioned to behave. It is the consumer model, and we are immersed in it. It is a sane and sensible way to deal with the modern world where your commitment is extremely unlikely to bring any commitment in return. 

No great loss, I suppose, to lack commitment to the place you buy your clothes, your paper, or your breakfast, but this mentality seeps into our lives more pervasively, and this is where it does damage. 

There was a time when we expected a job to be nearly a lifetime commitment between employer and employee. That time is long past. Now, employees understand themselves as “free agents”, and their employers treat them as interchangeable and disposable as so many production machines. The work part of our lives has increasingly become a place of instability, of anxiety… an area that requires constant vigilance for us. 

In relationships… “Fear of commitment” has been said so often that it is almost a comedic line, but it rings all too true. How many people enter relationships unprepared to do the work it takes to make togetherness last? Too many are unready to cope with a partner having a bad day, much less a bad month or a hellish year. 

And in religion, you can be sure that the consumer mentality has encroached as well. One of the big religious trends right now in the Christian religion and its many denominational strands is that denominational loyalty is disappearing. Christians increasingly go to the congregation they like – whether Baptist, Methodist, Anglican or Catholic. This is an unprecedented change. 

It is especially in contrast to this background of low commitment living that we note something marvellously, amazingly, remarkably, astoundingly different happening here today. Twenty-eight people have chosen to take the step of joining – of committing to - this congregation. 

They do this although they know full well that they can come to services without joining. They do this although they know that they can participate in programmes without joining. They do this even though they know that they can access my personal guidance, counselling, and support without joining. 

And they are joining although they know that joining means that more may well be asked of them – that they will be asked to pitch in a bit more. They do this even though they know it that making such a commitment means that they will need to ride out the hard and awkward times even when they might feel like taking their religious “business” elsewhere. 

So this joining thing is a very striking thing to do. It is a counter-cultural, paradigm-busting, convention-shattering and just plain surprising thing to do. 

We can’t help but ask why. 

And the answer is that these people have discovered something astounding about commitment. Commitment can make the impossible possible. 

Commitment is the surprising ingredient that transforms our way of being with one another. 

The same commitment that says that we will stick with our congregation also says that it will stick with us. It helps to generate and maintain a field of trust that allows us to be ourselves, allows us to take chances, and allows us to push ourselves beyond what we think are our limitations and toward our unlimited wholeness. 

I asked you to imagine walking into a shop you like and handing over some money in exchange for nothing in particular… in the faith that you and that shop and all its customers and employees are somehow in it together. I know it is preposterous. 

And it is also exactly what we ask of each other here. Give to this community in faith, we say, because it aims to be the best it can be to serve us and our world. 

Over the next few weeks, we will be refining that model a bit, asking each person each year to select a specific amount of money to contribute and pledge to give that much or more over the year. No merchandise is handed over in return. That is not our way of being. We are in here to exist in mutuality – to be a part of something that does not aim to measure or ensure that we are getting the best deal possible. We are here to give and to receive, to be present for one another, and to do so with a commitment that is born of our shared faith. 

Commitment takes us beyond the narrow view of life as a customer and relationships as an exchange – it leads us to focus beyond the boundaries of our own skin. It leads us to compassion as we draw our circles of commitment large enough to hold those who are close to us - and leads us to justice as those circles expand yet further to embrace the stranger. 

Commitment is at the core of being a spiritual community. May we be grateful for those who are prepared to take this step and may we each re-commit our own hearts, minds, and hands to our great purpose and to our great work.