Meditations on Community
It’ s quite strange that as for the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the idea of community within a Christian context, the good folks over at Jesus Manifesto have written an article which expresses my thoughts almost word for word. It was enough to make me wonder whether repeating such thoughts here beyond simply linking to them would even be necessary. However, you can’t keep a good man down, can you?
To compliment my earlier posts on state non participation and the contrast between idealism and realism, the question remains that even if Christians are to remove themselves from the myriad power structures of the world which breed and exacerbate injustice, then what exactly is it that Christians ought to be doing themselves? Surely being a peacemaker means more than simply disbelieving in violence? Does not being defender of the weak constitute some form of action? And if we are to speak out against injustices in the world, then how should we be acting in order to compliment the voices we raise? The fight for justice most surely means far more than endless ranting.
The difficulty is found in that the individual is left wondering exactly what it is they can do about these issues, and the article at Jesus Manifesto to which I linked highlights this problem somewhat. While the individual is certainly empowered within their own sphere of influence, there is inevitably (and perhaps somewhat tragically) a limit at which their efforts will prove fruitless. This is actually through no fault of our own, but rather due to the fact that Christianity is not meant to be an individualistic faith, but rather one which is pursued in the solidarity, accountability, and community of others who are working toward the same spiritual and social goals. While our relationship with God in Christ will certainly call us to periods of solitude and private contemplation, these periods are usually followed by a call to sharing and action among others. This is true even of the monastics, who, though they separate themselves from society, nonetheless commune with one another rather than constantly being in solitude. When all is said and done, we are formed in the image of community for the purpose of community. Just as God resides as an eternal expression of relational love, so we too who are created in His image find our ultimate satisfaction within relating love to others.
This ties in well with the quandary faced by Christians at large today, about how to possibly combat so many social issues and injustices. It is possibly time to consider that the reason we so often feel inadequate and lacking in resourcefulness is because we are taking on an individual fight when in fact the fight is served in community. This realisation is especially pertinent to a time when many who feel burdened or disillusioned with situations in the world will compromise themselves and turn over control and responsibility to those very power structures from which we are called to be separate. And who can blame us when this happens, in all honesty? We’re all guilty of this, this sense of feeling so helpless and exhausted that we search within the realms of partisan politics and capitalist economics in order to provide our salvation. “Perhaps we can reform the system! If we vote a certain politician into power who defends some of the issues we believe in, then we can make a difference! If we support this corporation, we can provide jobs and aid for the poor!”
Many don’t perceive there to even be a problem with this line of thinking, and I perceive this to be a great tragedy of how we as a Church (and indeed, as a human race) have been so heavily duped by the trappings of Empire that we can see no distinction between our operation as Christians and their operation as institutions. These thoughts are even more heavily highlighted when one stops to ponder that many simply don’t have time and space in order to commit themselves to working in ways that would otherwise directly tackle such problems, and therefore the decision to place reliance upon the institutional frameworks of society seems all the more justified.
The solution is not in such insidious compromises, but rather in the effort to return to our state as a community operating together in the unity and sanctity of the Holy Spirit. Rather than investing ourselves in partisan politics and inequitable economics (which stifles our prophetic voice by restricting the power of God to act through us), the time has come to embody an alternative to such systems. As much as we might try this as individuals, and even succeed in some places, such witness against injustice only comes from our collective effort as a body of believers who commit ourselves daily not just to our respective positions of work, but also our primary work as people called in the Spirit of Christ to love. When this happens, even those whose professions demand copious amounts of time find themselves able to live out the changes they would wish to see in the world, by actually living as the change themselves. Community is more than combined effort; it is the embodiment of an alternative economics, and an altogether way of life. Martin Luther King Jr. recalled in one of his addresses that when the early Christians entered a town, the status quo became disturbed by their very presence, and were often the target of incredible accusations such as “turning the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6-7) The Christians’ way of life was too much for the people around them, it was TOO BIG to even measure. By the otherwise simple actions of sharing wealth, renouncing possessions, and loving each other, the Church was set at odds with Caesar, and the Empire trembled.
Does the Empire tremble today? It doesn’t have much reason to, we keep electing its officials into power and relying on its corporate outlets! How are we disturbing the status quo today? Are we providing a witness to the Caesars of our time? Or have we tragically become Caesars ourselves?
The time has come to “come out from among them and be separate.” (2 Corinthians 6:17) Not in the sense of being completely dissociated from society, but rather impacting it and transforming it. Instead of stifling the power of God in our lives and being spiritually estranged from one another, let us seek the alternatives in our time, in the here and now, and no longer relinquish our control over to the god of this world. Let us embody a better way to live, so that as Mary herself sung, kings might be shamed, the rich made low, and the poor brought high. May all of us come and stand together in the equalising reign of the Almighty God, whose Kingdom usurps all other kingdoms before Him, and whose economy will never leave the poor unattended.