Recent frustrations with intentional (or "institutional") community had me thinking again about how our institutions influence us. Because it seems to me that our human institutions are fundamentally opposed to the work of the Spirit.
People are always and everywhere drawn to institutionalize, for two reasons, I think. Because there is valuable power in many people (and their wealth) working together under a unified leadership, and because that kind of power can be grasped and controlled by people. It's a power we can make, and make ours.
Those two characteristics, however, are also what distinguish our institutions and their power from the nature and power of the Spirit of God. God's power does not come from unified, organized human beings, and it cannot be controlled by human beings. The Spirit "blows where it pleases." This is the Spirit we see in Jesus, and the power seen through him, which did not come from the masses nor could be controlled by the leaders and which accomplished what no human power can accomplish.
The Spirit and power of God, by its very nature, thus trivializes and threatens all our human institutions. It forces a choice on us: You cannot serve two masters—which will you choose? We are all invited to be one with others in the corporate entity which is the body of Christ, but we cannot simultaneously be a part of multiple entities, just as no body part could simultaneously serve multiple heads. Ultimately, the presence of the Spirit and power of God reveal that all our corporate institutions are fundamentally false, imposters. Thus our institutions must oppose God's spirit if they are to continue in existence (in people's minds at least).
This opposition can be seen in practice most markedly in institutions that were originally formed following some strong movement of the Spirit. Some real good is seen, people are drawn to it, inspired by it; there is a feeling of unity and power. In order to hold onto this, an institution is formed, named, and gradually defined with policies and structures. Then the work of gathering more members and more resources begins, so the good work can be made more widespread and effective. But this doesn't help God's Spirit. It is a human attempt to take over, an attempt to domesticate the Spirit. The eventual, invariable result? Memberships and policies and structures that are empty and crumbling, because the Spirit has left the building. Like the wind that blows where it will. When the Spirit does reappear, often through outside individuals, it invariably announces that the institution is spiritless, lifeless. And is then openly opposed.
The ironic thing is, even when we notice this happening, the usual response is to try to come up with new, improved structures and policies. But any institution or community we build will necessarily oppose the Spirit in this same way. Only the one community that we do not build is unified with God's Spirit.
As Jesus showed and taught us, that community will always exist scattered and mixed among all the human institutions of this world (until the end). Not dominant in any place or time, ever. Always made up of the weak and few, where "two or three are gathered in my name"—but united with the weak and few everywhere, as the one Body, supported by God's power. That's what we are invited to see and be.
And it ain't no intentional community.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I came across this famous line again Sunday. Nice imagery. Wages... free gift...
I just feel like thanking the folks at Canonical for an easy and impressive (and free) upgrade to their newest Ubuntu operating system, "Precise Pangolin." It makes our older computer perform like a new one. Everything works, it's pretty, it's Linux (so no worries about malware, etc), and did I mention it's free?
Years ago I mentioned open source software as an example of a "gift economy," and I'm just more and more impressed about what can be accomplished when people care more about the work than about making money from it.
I noticed this line in a psalm yesterday; it's actually a frequent sentiment in the Psalms. I've written about waiting on God quite often over the years. A frequent experience. And difficult to deal with, as the psalmist makes very clear. I think, though, that I haven't recognized how waiting in faith is one of the greatest challenges we face. When I think of challenges to faith, I usually think of some persecution or attack or crisis, not the long, slow passage of time. It's often time, though, that breaks us. We could withstand an attack, but we can't hold on to a promise when year after year passes and we can't see the end of the waiting.
Yet it's endurance that is the true sign of faith, willingness to wait and persist in hope and obedience no matter how long it takes. "The one who endures to the end will be saved."
One thing we've been waiting for—enough real friends gathering here to form a more natural, organic community—is starting to look closer to a reality. There were hints before. But recent unexpected changes are bringing those friends closer.
Just a little longer to wait...
from the Onion
The strawberries are ripe now; we picked a bunch Sunday. And Heather's also starting to distribute the earliest vegetables from the new community garden. That's something I'm really happy to see. There wasn't enough help to run the CSA (shares of vegetables to customers in Chicago) this year, and Heather was hoping to be pregnant this season (and still may be) so she couldn't run that garden. And proposed the idea of a community garden instead. Where she (and a few helpers) could grow food to give to families here on the farm, and maybe some extra to give to others.
I really like the shift from having to grow enough to fill fifty shares each week (which customers had already paid for), to growing what people here like and being able to hand it to them. Lots less pressure, and a more personal approach. It adds to the community spirit here too.
It also is a good example of a shift away from survival mode, scraping by, and towards a spirit of generous giving. That's one of the most important shifts needed here. And it's important in any community (or family or individual). The spirit of generous giving is the spirit of the body of Christ, always. If we find ourselves falling back into fear, focused on our own survival, protecting ourselves from others rather than giving, then we can know we've gotten away from the spirit of Christ. In a community, it can be very hard to turn that around. But we can be sure that God wants us to turn it around, so can look for the opportunities God offers us (if we're not too afraid to see them). Heather's community garden is one of those opportunities, I'm convinced.