Finding Wholeness & Prosperity in Laconia in 2017
Co-habitation today is the most common first-step on the road to marriage. A first many dates precede of course, but after that courting couples will often make the decision to move in together. Nancy Wartick (2005) says, "Living together before marriage seems like a smart way to road test the relationship. But cohabitation may lead you to wed for all the wrong reasons or turn into a one way trip to splitsville." The reason Wartick says splitsville is the most likely result of co-habitation is because co-habitation, although sensible to the individuals, is in and of itself selfish. Individuals choose to cohabit rather than marry not because it promises security for the future (it doesn’t), but because it gives them a way out. It gives them all (or nearly all) of the benefits of marriage without any of the commitment.
When I counsel with individuals or couples who are cohabiting I will always point out to them the inconsistency of their behavior. In one sense they want help learning how to be better lovers. They know that improvement in the relationship depends upon each one selflessly giving to the other in increasing measure, but they have chosen a relationship structure that is inherently selfish. In essence they are asking me as a counselor to help them stay dry while swimming. They want me to help them become selfless while living in a situation that is inherently selfish. It will never work. They must first get into a living situation that promotes selflessness.
Let’s broaden this cohabitation conversation and ask a community question. If we desire wholeness and prosperity in Laconia this coming year, are we in reality just asking God to keep us dry while swimming? Are we swimming through an inherently selfish narrative structure expecting wholeness and prosperity to result from it? In many ways I think we are. Cohabitation can’t produce selfless people. Only the binding covenant of marriage can do that. In the same way, I believe the current narrative of Laconia can’t produce a whole and prosperous community. Only if we change the fundamental narrative of our community can we hope to find wholeness and prosperity in 2017.
So what is the problem with our current narrative and what’s the new one that could bring about wholeness and prosperity?
A narrative is a story-end toward which all activity is moving. The narrative gives shape to everything that happens in the book. If a particular story does not advance the story narrative or story-line, then that story is left out of the book. In the same way, the narrative of a city is that which gives shape to all of the city’s activity. All activity in a city is organized to advance the agreed upon, yet in some ways unconscious, community narrative. If I was to put the city-narrative of Laconia into one sentence (although I risk minimization by so doing) here’s what I think it would say:
“Everything that happens in Laconia, from education to recreation to vocation to adoration to socialization, has as its end the physical and economic prosperity of the individual or individual organization.”
I believe this statement describes well the storyline-narrative of Laconia, and I believe nearly every activity in Laconia drives toward this end.
“So what is wrong with that narrative?”, you ask. “Shouldn’t we want physical and economic prosperity in our city?” To this I would say “Absolutely! But we should not want it first. It should not drive us. It should not be the engine of our city."
If physical and economic prosperity is the top we are all trying to reach, this gives us no direction for how to reach it. Rome was guilty of adopting this insufficient narrative many centuries ago and St. Augustine said of them,
“[They] are more concerned with having a good home than with having a good life” (City of God).
We need something at the top of our city that prioritizes the human person over the human body or human experience. If the human person is good the human experience will become good. But if the human person is corrupt all human experience will eventually self-destruct. Before long we will find ourselves in “splitsville”.
So what is the narrative that is both personal enough to prioritize people yet robust enough to organize all human activity around?
I propose that the only narrative able to bring us to wholeness and prosperity in the future is the narrative of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus tells us that each of us are by nature selfish and bent on our own good. It tells us that left to ourselves we will not become better people but decidedly worse. It tells us that “[people] love darkness more than light” (John 3:19) and for this reason will put at the center of their activity the thing that is best for them and not the thing that is best.
What shape would Laconia’s activity take in 2017 if we made the Gospel narrative the new narrative of our city?
- To begin, the mission of our businesses would change. Their mission would be to serve the community through products and services not to get as much money from the community as legally possible.
- The mission of our athletic leagues would change. Their mission would be about teaching our children to surrender themselves to the good of a team and not the good of themselves.
- The mission of our schools would change. Their mission would be about shaping the human person in such a way as to prepare them to serve the world with their gifts and talents and not about preparing students to make money.
- The mission of our churches would change. Churches would see it as their role to tape the Gospel narrative on the foreheads of their members every Sunday and ask, “How does the Gospel change the way you do everything in Laconia this coming week?”
- Lastly, the mission of our individual relationships would change. Our relationships would be about modeling Jesus Christ- a Savior Who gave Himself for us selflessly on the cross.
I want to see wholeness and prosperity in Laconia in 2017 as much as anyone else; but we will never get find it unless we change our inherently selfish city-wide narrative. If we really want to see wholeness and prosperity in Laconia the Gospel of Jesus Christ must become the new narrative of our city.
I am personally committed to taping the Gospel narrative on our foreheads every Sunday in 2017. In excitement for launching weekly services on January 8th!