In Matt Wiebe’s latest post Against “A Sense Of” he writes:
“We’d like to cultivate a sense of community” is a nauseating phrase. It’s not that I disapprove of community, but rather that we’d settle so readily for a mere “sense of” it. We desire a sense of belonging, but seem unable to pursue belonging proper. We must resist our tendency towards a mere “sense of” things and follow the arduous path towards the real.”
Permit me to indulge in a rant of agreement.
The language of “a sense of” leans towards some sort of emotivist Christianity. I am part of a small Mennonite University and the most common comment given by students in interviews about the University is “I love the sense of community.” This begs me to ask: Is that all there is here? A “sense” of community? I thought we WERE actually a community! Or even when a person finds him/herself overwhelmingly welcomed into a community, any community. People exclaim: “What a sense of hospitality!” as if hospitality and community are things we feel rather than things we participate in. We ARE a community. We ARE the body of Christ, because God gives us to ourselves. We receive and participate and become the community. We don’t “sense” God’s presence; rather, as Rowan Williams puts it,
“For God to create is for God to ‘commit’ to his action, his life, to sustaining a reality that is different from him, and doing so without interruption. If I might offer an analogy…think about an electric light burning. The electric current causes the light to shine, but that doesn’t mean that the electric power is something that was around only at the moment you put the switch on, so that the light itself is a rather distant result. On the contrary, the light is shining here and now because the electric current is flowing here and now. In the same way, it is the ‘current’ of divine activity that is here and now making us real.” (Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust (London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) 35.
In short, “a sense of” points to our lack of trust in God’s work in the world. We don’t “sense” God’s work in the world (as if it is something “out there”); we are God’s work in the world.