On the Corner
by Robert Docter –
Oh Captain, save us from a retreat into religion!
The religion I’m talking about is what happens when we find ourselves “going through the motions”—singing our songs—playing our horns—strumming our guitars—obediently following the prescribed rules of the group—and forgetting what we are all about. It happens when we overlook the reasons for doing what we do—when we modify our motivation in such a way that our purpose becomes self-fulfilling rather than God-focused.
It happens when we talk Christ but don’t live him.
General John Larsson likes to quote William Booth. One of his favorite lines seems to be Booth’s description of a Salvation Army corps. “A corps is not a flock led by a pastor—it is a force led by a captain.”
I think we have been working too hard at becoming a flock rather than figuring out what it means to be a force. Maybe it’s because we have too many officers who don’t know what it means to be a captain.
Here are my thoughts on being a “force.”
Christ must be at the very center of our being—at the center of the corps. We must feel his presence within us. Sometimes that feeling is painful—jarring. I think it happens when we fail to imitate him—especially in our interpersonal relationships. Feel good about that pain, because you know you can still feel him. Sometimes its very reassuring, confidence building, centering. Sometimes he gives us peace. He must be our reason for being—not the rules, not the schedule, not the habit, not even our “occasional” obsessive drive to be responsible. If we forget why we are engaged in that behavior, we have lost sight of the goal.
Compassion must be evident in our interpersonal style. This means we must be genuinely empathic. We must feel with those around us who feel lost, forgotten, pushed aside, lonely, and hungry for human touch. We need to communicate true and honest concern and understanding of the problems they face in a manner that is designed to be unhurried and helpful.
Compassion is Christian love. It is welcoming people into a fellowship. It is the evidence of Christ within us. It is a willingness to forgive others fully.
Commitment is achieved through a process of development. It’s not something that is passing or occasional. It’s not inconsistent. It reveals itself in relationships. We need commitment to Christ—we need commitment to the Army and the corps—we need commitment to each other. As we grow to full commitment through the power of love and grace, through increased understanding of the role of the Army in the world and in our world, and through a recognition of the reciprocal nature of commitment, we choose to focus exclusively on a mission that fits our skills and personality and that challenges us to grow.
Community develops in a corps as its members learn to work together and grow together. It is built on a group having common characteristics. In a corps, notably, those are a common purpose, a common belief system, a common ethic, and a common desire to be part of something. It is not a group of people who dress alike. It does not require people to be alike. It does ask them to participate—sometimes, even from a distance.
Caring for those denied social justice by the whims and bigotries of society is an essential characteristic of a corps. We love God through loving the “least” among us. We determine needs and minister to those needs. We discover the empty places in our cities and find ways to fill the voids. We find empty places in people’s lives and seek to reveal the love of Christ for them with such simplicity that his power fills those places with that
Captains—listen and lead—please—and thank you.