Recently, David Brooks wrote an editorial in the New York Times entitled, “How to leave a mark on people.” “Some organizations are thick, and some are thin,” Brooks explains. “Some leave a mark on you, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory…a thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person – head, hands, heart and soul.” According to Brooks, thick organizations often share a physical location, where people meet regularly, face to face. Thick institutions often have and practice shared rituals – such as fasting or reciting a song or a theme. “Thin institutions,” observes Brooks, “tend to see themselves horizontally. People are members for mutual benefit. Thick organizations often see themselves on a vertical axis. People are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.”
The thick – thin analogy helps in defining a healthy spirituality climate for men. With the thinning of church life in a post-Christian culture, men need and are looking for a thick community A very good example of a thin community is the suggestion recently by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of the possibility of Facebook providing community and a sense of belonging, filling the gap left by falling church membership. Connecting over the internet will never produce the thickness needed for community. There is no sense of God’s presence or the practice of interpersonal relationships.
When I thought of the thickness of spirituality I thought of C. S Lewis’s quote regarding the presence of God. “The Presence of God is the most real thing we ever encounter. If we are to have an appropriate image of God’s presence, we should envision God’s presence as something heavier than matter.” It is what Leanne Payne calls the “unseen real.” We can’t see or feel the Presence of God, not because it’s unreal or not there. We can’t see it because the reality of God would blind us. But this reality, the presence of God lives within us. God’s Spirit living within and among us makes for a thick community.
This was Paul’s prayer for us. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:16-17). Rick Richardson gives testimony to this reality in his life. “When I began to take to heart Lewis’s insights, my soul expanded….My soul came alive….My mind had new ways to imagine the substance and beauty of the heaviness of the Spirit of God…..God’s spirit is more real than flesh and blood.” He goes on to say, “I feel more sound, more right, more solid at the center of my being.” Now that is a dose of thick spirituality.
Here are a few things that would make for a thick community of men. First and foremost, would be the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Men would be expected to surrender daily to the Lord Jesus. Egos are checked at the door. Men come humbly together at the foot of the cross in surrender. Remember God opposes the proud, but give grace to the humble. Secondly, the insistence of acknowledging we are sinner, being helpless in changing ourselves. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8). Third, the willingness to take up our cross, meaning that we each have our unique spiritual battles and habitual sin patterns that we struggle with. We need the help and encouragement of other men. “If anyone would come after men, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24).