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Having participated in celebrating a milestone of a congregation’s ministry, I find myself questioning the validity of being “faithful.” It genuinely seems like such a simple word/concept, you might wonder at my capacity to grasp it. Yet, since that celebration, I have encountered the word in enough ways that I continue to circle back to the question, “What does it mean to be faithful?”

From the strictly academic realm, I offer you the Merriam-Webster online dictionary definition:

Full Definition of FAITHFUL

1 obsolete :  full of faith
2:  steadfast in affection or allegiance :  loyal
3:  firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty :  conscientious
4:  given with strong assurance :  binding <a faithful promise>
5:  true to the facts, to a standard, or to an original <a faithful copy>

How ironic that the M-W online dictionary (and I presume current print editions) indicate that being “[u]full of faith[/u]” is an OBSOLETE definition for this entry?! After all, it doesn’t seem obsolete to consider someone who is hopeful to not be full of hope. Or conversely one who is remorseful is full of remorse (or at least we typically hope so).
N.B.: This obsolescence is also noted in the online entry at Dictionary.com.

Any English/grammar majors care to enlighten me/us on why this one suffix application is no longer valid for this entry?

In the meanwhile, I’ll continue to try and examine what being faithful really means.

My wife and I recently celebrated a milestone wedding anniversary (yay, us!). Clearly, in the most direct application of the above definition, I have been “faithful” to her, “faithful” to the promises I made, “faithful” to my exercise of my varied duties as husband (or at least I hope so!). I suppose I could even stretch that to say my vows/promises spoken on that fateful day were “faithful,” in that they were made with a strong, binding assurance and commitment.

My wife, being no slouch, has been equally (if not more than) “faithful” in those same considerations.  Thus, we have a definitive, “faithful” marriage.

BUT…our marriage may NOT be “faithful” in its entirety. (GASP!) I don’t know if we are “faithful” to a given standard image/model/expectation of marriage (although I suppose for some we are, as we are a heterosexual union), nor are we an accurate copy of any other marriage, certainly not June & Ward Cleaver, Ozzie & Harriet Nelson,…(y’know I just realized I don’t know any present-day references for that). We’re also not quite Peg & Al Bundy, Marge & Homer Simpson, nor Lois & Peter Griffin, although those still seem to fit a general definition of “faithful.” Hey! They’re all still together, right?!

Drawing from the realms of literature, movies and music, “faithful” as defined above relates to remakes or cover versions, maybe even styles and genres. It is a means of comparison to the original item to determine if the updated work deserves attention and/or merit.  I’m sure we are all familiar with the complaints about how “faithful” movie interpretations of our favorite books are rendered. Similarly, recent film re-makes of “Vacation” and the soon-to-be-released “Ghostbusters” will be set alongside their source and judged “faithful” or not.
Musically, we are likely skeptical about updated versions of our favorite songs from our favorite bands or musicians. How could anyone else capture, let alone reproduce, that “it” element that made the original a favorite? (To be clear, I’m not talking about karaoke.) One example to consider might be Counting Crows’ version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi”. (feel free to provide or consider your own examples)
The question with any of these things remains, “Do they have to exactly duplicate the original in order to be considered faithful?”

Given the previously noted milestone, it represents one of the primary challenges (for me) in applying the word “faithful” to things within the church. Is it only “faithful” if we steadfastly, loyally, earnestly recreate a copy of a standard that has come before?  Unfortunately, I believe this IS the expectation of some (NOT all), within the church.  Even as individuals, are we only “faithful” if we pray/worship/serve in the manner passed onto us? Is there no room for variance?

If THAT is being faithful, then maybe I don’t want to be.

BUT…I DO want to be full of faith, despite it being an obsolete notion.  Maybe the reason it became obsolete is there exists no quantitative metric (fancy-speak for “no measurement”) to know when one is full of faith versus when one is full of something else. We don’t have a “faith gauge” with an obvious indicator or alarm to let us know when we need a fill-up. (Ooh! Maybe there’s a new topic/post idea! The church as a faith filling station?)

Faithful seems to be a word that gets tossed about, and I wonder if we keep using it but it doesn’t mean what we think it means (yes, a “Princess Bride” reference!)

Well, it seems then, being “faithful” is, or can be, a very nuanced thing. Clearly something I think I need to continue exploring.

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