Cars are considered durable goods, which are these days defined as products intended to last more than three years. I’m not sure if all cars qualify by that measure; a GMC Sonoma I once owned which soured me forever on that particular make. Still, even with significant abuse, most cars do in fact make it beyond three years.
My first car was a little Dodge Ram D50 truck. It had been my brother’s before that. It was my dad’s company truck before that. Manual transmission. No air conditioning. Horrible paint job (but until the very end, NOT rusting!). It was a great first car. I say that even though there was a while in high school that Lisa had to help me roll start it. That’s because it dripped oil onto the starter, which caused the starter to fail about every 75,000 miles or so. And yet we are still married. Living proof that miracles do happen.
That truck certainly lived up to the “durable good” label. It survived 3 people learning to drive on it (shredding at least 2 clutches in the process). It survived more crashes than I’d care to share with you. It was well past 200,000 miles before I quit driving it, and I handed it down to someone else who kept on going!
The thing is, I could fix that truck. When the starter failed, I could replace it (after I saved up the money to buy it, of course). When I crashed it, I could repair it. It was a simpler time.
That’s the thing about durable goods. When they break, you fix them (or you pay someone else to fix them). You don’t toss them out because they cost too much to replace. Because of that, we sometimes develop a relationship with them, which mostly explains why my brother has named his minivan “Homer” and I have named our washer and dryer “Bonnie and Clyde.” [Editor’s Note: I actually haven’t named them that, but a good friend of mine used to say never to let facts get in the way of a good story. Besides, my brother really did name his van Homer.] And it’s worth noting, it seems the longer we have something, the closer the relationship becomes. At this point, though I really do think Bluetooth is awesome and I wish I had in-dash navigation, automated calling, and the all-hallowed backup camera, my car has carried my family for 156,000 miles. How could I just toss it to the curb for another? It doesn’t seem right. Besides, Marc Morgan would probably tell you at 156k, it’s just getting broken in.
In our lives, we have a variety of interpersonal relationships. Some of them are transient...and others are, well, durable. You know the durable ones. It’s the friend you’ve known forever, and even if you don’t talk for several months, when you do talk it’s like you were never apart. It’s the people you lean on and the people who lean right back on you. Sometimes it’s someone you’re not close to at all, but you see regularly and come to know a bit at a time—like the teller at my bank, who greets me every time I walk in with a nice warm “Norm!” because she knows I’m watching “Cheers” right now.
The most durable relationships are family relationships. Parent/child. Spouse. When those relationships break, you don’t throw them away. You fix them. Even when it’s hard. Even if it takes time. You give it the time, and you try again. Because even when you hate them, you love them. And you know how valuable those relationships are. [Editor’s note: I’m sorry to interject here, but there is an important exception to be made here for abusive familial relationships.]
In increasing numbers, people have decided church just isn’t worth the effort anymore. Sometimes it’s because of the politics. Sometimes it’s because of the theology. Sometimes it’s because they like to sleep in on Sundays. But it’s not because it really isn’t worth the effort. It’s because the durable relationships that used to make it worth the effort have atrophied. The comfort they bring is a distant, misty memory. But consider that phone call from an old friend. The relationships aren’t dead. They are sleeping. Waiting for a familiar voice. Or perhaps a familiar Voice.
At its best, the church is a place that creates durable relationships. People come to know God as they come to know each other. As Ken Callahan has said, it is a place of roots, place, and belonging...like Cheers, where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came [Editor again: always?!]. That’s why folks come back week after week. Not because they feel like they have to. Not because someone told them to. It is durable relationships that keep people connected to their faith and to their church.
It may be a tall order, rebuilding atrophied relationships and creating them where they may not exist, but that is our gospel call. Making disciples of all nations doesn’t mean requiring they proclaim a certain belief. Rather, it means showing them the profound joy that comes with living in a community grounded in love. You might say it means “connecting people with the unconditional love of Jesus.” If there is a clearer statement of our purpose as a church and as a Church, I have yet to hear it.