More from that discussion...

That book [Anarchy Works, by Peter Gelderloos] looks interesting, thanks. And in good anarchist fashion, it's available free here.

From a brief perusal, though (and correct me if I'm wrong), many of the examples are similar to what I've seen before. For significant anarchist alternatives (like making healthcare accessible, removing the necessity of wage labor, defending against oppressors, etc) large numbers of organized people are required. In certain places and times in history this has been possible to some extent. But for the vast majority of us, those alternatives are not possible now, where we are. We can try to work in that direction, "convert" more people, organize, but the life we hope for is usually not achievable by the means anarchists offer. We just can't get enough people to agree and cooperate.

I think this also points to a place where anarchism (as a political approach) stands in stark contrast with Jesus. He did not achieve his freedoms and anarchistic life through organizing large numbers of people. Jesus' message was not "Organize." The kingdom of God was offered to us here and now as a gift of God, and his life was an example of what that looks like.

...But I have no desire here to say Christians are better than anarchists. Only that Jesus offers something much better, that we can live here and now. That's perhaps an even more challenging invitation to most Christians (who say "we can't live that way in this fallen world") than anarchists (who say "we can't live that way until this filthy rotten system is brought down").


real alternatives

A recent discussion comment...

It is helpful to point to the various real people throughout history who demonstrated some of the anarchistic aspects of following Jesus. But maybe even more helpful to demonstrate those aspect ourselves, showing how they can be lived in our time and place (or even simply that they can be lived here and now). Real, concrete, and practical examples are crucial. That's what we see in Jesus.

Anarchists, while often offering good critiques and well thought-out analyses, have often been weak in providing real, practical alternatives (from what I've seen, at least). The anarcho-primitivists are just the most recent and obvious example of this. Thus anarchists so often come across as merely critics, just throwing ideological bricks (if not real ones) at the real attempts others are making. Even if the critique is accurate, it's not much help if no concrete alternatives are offered, or if the proposed alternatives are not possible for people to live here and now.

Even if Jesus' teachings seem impossible to live by in this world, he showed it was possible (with a little divine intervention perhaps). That kind of lived example can really give people hope. It's hard for others to say it's not possible if we're doing it. And it's hard for others to say it's against God, if God seems to be supporting it in our lives, and our lives are beautiful.



a satisfying resolution

I attended our church here this morning, the first time in over a year. My extended absence had been weighing heavy on me lately. And I finally decided that I shouldn't wait any longer for changes that didn't seem to be coming, that what I was standing against was not the worshiping people of God but the poor leadership and exercise of communal power by the organization, and so what I should do is come back to worship and at the same time give up my membership in the church organization. I'll keep on visiting another nearby church, and also meeting with our little worship group, and probably spend some Sunday mornings by the creek. But I'll worship here again sometimes, too.

This feels like a satisfying resolution for the church struggles over the past couple years, and I feel like I'm in a better place now than I was when it began. The membership issue has been hard, as I recalled a week ago. I still wonder if I consented in order to fit in better initially. I know I've worried a bit about giving up membership, about whether it will be a problem for others now that I have no official connection here. Hopefully I've demonstrated by now that I'm committed to stay and help out in lots of real ways that people can depend on, member or not. But I feel much better having our connection based on lived experience together, and perhaps our shared membership in the one Body, rather than some frail and untrustworthy human organization.

Two things I think are important here: taking a clear stand in contrast with the status quo, and being present. Too often we feel pressured to choose one or another. Take a stand and leave, or compromise so we can stay and fit in. But Jesus showed us how to do both together.

I hope my choice of giving up membership can be seen as a way of laying down power, giving up rights. Putting myself at more risk. Because that's what is necessary to overcome the bondage of fear and be able to act in the freedom of love. And that's the path to new life, here or anywhere.


I made jam for the first time today. Raspberry, from berries we picked yesterday. Too bad a picture can't capture the aroma of the steaming jam being poured into the jars.

We dribbled the last bit over a couple brownies. Raspberries on warm brownies are amazing.


a difficult journey

I've been looking back over some journal entries from the past three years relating to my struggle with church membership...

Tomorrow Heather and I are going to "become members" of the church here. I've been a bit conflicted about it...

To make things as clear as possible, however (and perhaps make myself feel a little better), I'm making a few adjustments. In the commitments, instead of being asked, "Do you commit to...", we'll be asked, "Are you committed to...." To emphasize that we are not becoming members of the church, the body of Christ, tomorrow morning; we have been members of the body for some time. (3.15.08)

When Heather and I became official members back in March I had hesitations, but decided I was satisfied with the membership commitments. I still am, mostly. But the one about church decision-making has caused problems for me since then, bringing back all my objections to institutional membership. Finally I've decided I have to ask to be let off that one (though I should say that I don't think decision-making is worse here than in other churches; it's probably better).

My biggest disappointment is that I may have overlooked this before because church membership seemed necessary for us to be able to do the retreat work here. I might have overlooked the problem because I didn't want to see it, or was afraid of the consequences. (9.13.08)

[From a letter written to the church:]
For a number of years I've been troubled by how churches appear to operate so much like other human organizations, when the church, the body of Christ, is supposed to be so unique. Jesus seemed to offer so much to his followers when he gave the Holy Spirit. He promised we could always be connected to him like branches to the vine, and that he would unite us all as one and guide us all by the one Spirit. This seems very different from any human organization, since it offers what no amount of human effort or ingenuity could ever produce.

In my experience, churches seem most like other human organizations when they are gathered for church councils or members meetings. This is when I have seen most clearly the dependence on authority structures and the struggles to influence and make use of the power of the group. (Decision-making by vote is perhaps the clearest exercise of this power.) Fears of group power often appear then also. And these times of group decision-making seem to be when the temptation is greatest to follow and trust the will of the people, rather than the will of God.

When Jesus invited us into the kingdom of God, I believe he was offering us an experience of common life incredibly better than any human organization can accomplish. God himself would be our father and master, leading us not by any hierarchy but directly, through his Spirit within each of us, and not by group pressure but by our free acceptance of the Spirit's prompting. We could be parts of Jesus' own body, with him as head. This means we could experience a unity beyond our ability to achieve, and a power working through us much greater than “the power of the people,” the power of our organized groups. I believe this also means that we are not responsible to manage this common life that Jesus offered. We do not set the policy for this group or determine its membership or make the decisions that guide its course. We are not in charge of it. The weight of oversight and decision-making does not rest on us. In this family of God none of us are the parents, we are all the children. All that is asked of us is to obey our Father, trust in his care and oversight, and enjoy the miraculous common life that he gives us as a gift. (9.13.08)

I eventually realized that, whether or not the organization is much like the actual body of Christ, we ourselves can live as the actual body of Christ (the body he alone offers to us). And so experience all that Jesus promised for his followers. That is much more important than trying to get everyone else to live up to that ideal, especially when they don't seem to want to. (1.31.09)

I think I've been moving in the right direction here for a while, towards the margins, towards simple service and away from governance and positions of control. But I've felt conflicted about not attending the church lately. And when I think of the other options, other churches around here, I don't see them as much better in the areas that troubled me so much in this church. What to do? I don't want to reject them all, but neither do I want to affirm them wholeheartedly. Did Jesus show the way to respond to this situation, to the various religious establishments that certainly include many of God's people, but are also human organizations rebellious against God?

My most satisfying church experiences may have been when I was on the road, visiting different churches regularly. A perpetual visitor. And now that I think of it, that seems like what Jesus was, a perpetual visitor in the synagogues of his time. He didn't reject them, though he did challenge their ways (and got thrown out of at least one for telling of God's displeasure with them), but Jesus insisted that the most important thing was not where we worship but that we worship in spirit and truth. (Jn 4.19-24) He also compared that Spirit of truth to the wind that blows where it wills—not where people want it to. I'm thinking that I'd like to try to be a perpetual visitor, in several churches near here. Ready to worship with all of them, standing with God's people in all of them, but also a question mark, holding back from fully identifying with that institutional group. Because the organization is not the Spirit, and that's obvious in so many ways.

I find myself feeling much more satisfied with that as a long term response, even if I do eventually join worship here in the community again (every once in a while). It brings back thoughts on church membership from years ago: "I am a brother to all who are also part of Christ. I will recognize them, not by their official affiliation, but by their Christlike lives." (8.22.10)

I hope others can do the same.


Lots of driving today, for my weekly vegetable delivery to Chicago...


for labor day

Come to me, all ye heavy laden,
all ye weary from the road.
Rest your head upon my shoulder
and let me take your load.
For see, my yoke is easy,
my burden very light,
as the sunlight on the meadow,
as the south wind in the night.

Leave behind your anxious labor,
follow me, I will care for you.
For the name of my yoke is freedom
and all my words are true.
Oh leave behind your money,
your glory, let it pass,
as the rain upon the river,
as the dew upon the grass.

Come and drink of my still waters,
without money, without gold.
Of the light in my green valley
no tongue has ever told.
Oh turn and be like children
where my children's laughter runs free,
as the stream upon the mountain,
as the wind upon the sea.

That's a song Heather wrote, to the tune of the Irish folk song "Down by the Sally Gardens." And for a fuller commentary on Jesus' words, there's this: "Come to me, all ye who labor for a living"


"the Lord is not slow"

"Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Pt 3.8-9)
I noticed these lines this morning. They reminded me of what I was saying before about bearing the tension: "In most cases, it takes people a long time to learn a hard truth. When we just make our objection and go, we relieve ourselves (and others) of discomfort, but we don't give much time for anything to actually sink in." Understanding that, I think, also helps us understand why God sometimes seems to take such a long time to respond, to bring justice, to fulfill his promises. He doesn't wish that any should be crushed, but that all should reach repentance.

So, Peter says, "count the forbearance of our Lord as salvation." Not the quickest salvation, but the most complete salvation, if we have the faith to wait for it.