another two years on

For some reason this morning I started remembering thoughts of hope I had for this community a while back. So I looked back through my journal (which is one of the main things journals are for) and was shocked to discover that I had written about those signs of hope almost two years ago.

So much has happened since then. Now I see those hopes as pretty naive, though I think there's still something important to hold onto there.

My thought then was that the community was moving in a hopeful direction, in three ways that seemed crucial for vibrant, Christ-inspired life together, for "kingdom of God" life. Shifting the basis for community away from some kind of conceptual or constitutional framework, and towards a friendship-basis, people held together and identified by their personal relationships with one another. Shifting away from a subsistence or survival mode in community life and work, and towards a giving or generosity mode. And shifting the church away from politics and communal decision-making, towards an independent prophetic voice that God can use to speak to us more clearly.

There have been significant changes over the past two years, both in leadership and structure. But the inability of those changes to significantly transform community life, or move it in the directions that seem to me crucial for kingdom of God life together, have shaken my hopes. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, it seems that an independent prophetic voice cannot be expected from a church tied into the communal model (or any religious/political mash-up). And even with new leadership and a sustained push for a new direction here, what has resulted is primarily just a new constitution. More emphasis on the relationship-on-paper. The need for unity being addressed by defining and clarifying conceptually, rather than the realization that what is needed—real, loving human relationship—is not something that can be defined or grasped. And it doesn't exist on paper.

I don't see the shift towards generosity on the horizon anymore, either. But that may be a matter of interpretation, and I'm open to being surprised. This shift, though, really requires God's intervention and support, and when we're still relying on our council meetings and constitutions, I don't see God giving much support to that.

What I am still hopeful about is the realization that any of us can make these crucial shifts in our own lives even if the community around us does not. The group may identify itself and its members on paper, but we don't have to accept that. Our community can still be friendship-based, relationship-focused (and I'm personally seeing more opportunity for that at the moment). And we don't have to let church for us be "the church of the current administration." The church exists where the independent, prophetic voice of the Spirit is heard. Look for it, find it, be it. (Some experiments in that direction have borne satisfying fruit lately, too.)

And when we are seeking that, then we can count on God to support us as we focus on giving, rather than scrabbling for survival.

I suppose the lesson of these last couple years should take me back to all Jesus said about living "in the world." Don't expect the society around you to live by God's ways, or make it easy for you. Don't place your hope there. The life of the kingdom of God never was, and never can be, offered by a humanly instituted society (or intentional community). But it was and is real. Offered by Jesus to those who will follow him.



They brought him a coin.

And Jesus said to them:
"Whose likeness and inscription is this?"

They said, "Caesar's."

Then he said to them:
"Render therefore to Caesar
the things that are Caesar's,

and to God
the things that are God's."


can't wait


lest I forget

I think I'm going to start a personal Veterans' Day tradition. Technically I'm a veteran, though I don't deserve any honor for it. It would be good to remind myself of that, every year on this holiday, by rereading the story of how I left the Navy:

I was walking alone along the road outside a monastery in England, thinking about where I was. AWOL in a foreign country. I'd gone on a two-week leave several months ago, but instead of driving back and reporting for duty on the aircraft carrier I had boarded a plane. It felt like the only thing I could do. And I didn't think I deserved to be punished for it, so I'd fled.

These weeks of walking the Scottish moors and visiting monasteries to rest and pray had soothed some of the turmoil inside me. But still I didn't know where I was going. The initial gut-wrenching fear had eventually settled into the thrill of a new adventure, but it was now threatening to sink into dread. What would happen if I stopped running? Was my life ruined? Turned inward, I didn't notice the trees around me or the ancient stonework of the monastery. Was this all a terrible mistake?

That was when I first felt it. Deep inside, down in a dark part of myself where I never looked, it felt like something was moving. Like the stirring of a hibernating animal, something large. The slow uncoiling of a hidden predator. I couldn't see anything clearly, but it felt real enough to inspire awe at the power of the thing. It was enough to frighten me, yet the deep sensation was not fear. I remember thinking: Not yet. But it was coming. And it excited me.



the separation of church and state

Been a bit busy with the boy lately, but I have had some new thoughts on the separation of church and state. It never held much interest for me before. Maybe because the usual debates on the topic have to do with personal freedoms or keeping religion out of government. The Christians that have addressed the separation of church and state (at least those that do so most loudly) usually denounce the concept, saying it excludes their most important convictions and practices from the public sphere. And those who vigorously support the separation, usually see it as protecting them from religious oppression.

But it seems to me that the church should be kept distinctly separate from the state (or whatever political power exists locally) so the church can speak relevantly in the public sphere. The church should stay out of power so the church can speak prophetically to power. Christians should be careful to preserve this separation so the church can be the church, in continual tension with the world.

If the church becomes one with "the current administration," if the church is endorsed by those in power, that doesn't mean God's people have won. As Jacques Ellul put it so well:

...if we do not believe that society is good and right, their approval proves nothing except that the [church's] action is in conformity with the world. It does not mean that the world has changed; quite the contrary. Each time the people of God becomes effective according to the world's criteria, this only implies that society has absorbed our action and is using it for its own ends and for its own profit. ...The efficacy we think we have is simply a power in the world's service, for the perfecting of its own being, for its better organization....
If the church becomes one with the current administration, then it's simply not the church any more. It's not the body of Christ in the world any more. It's not challenging the world like Jesus did (and does), it's justifying it, legitimizing it, using religious language (even twisting Jesus' own words) to bless it.

The church needs to stand apart like Jesus did, not to isolate itself from others, but to show there's a real, blessed alternative. To speak to others from outside the city gates, calling them out also.

Applying this more personally and practically, I've noticed that one of the places the separation of church and state gets dissolved is in Christian intentional communities. Especially those that share property and businesses communally among their members ("common purse" communities). Often the government of the community and the church are essentially one there. The political and economic power of the community is in the hands of the church, since the members are the same and the leaders are often the same also. No separation, so no independent prophetic voice from the church. Individuals within the community may at times speak prophetically. But the vote of the church is the same as the vote of the communal political body, so the same majority speaks for both. Perhaps the church there can claim to speak prophetically to "the powers that be" outside the community, but it can't speak prophetically to the powers that be within the community. Because the church there and the powers are one. And thus even when it speaks as prophet to those outside, it speaks hypocritically.

I've gradually, over a number of years, moved outside the church of "the current administration" here. Now that seems like the best place to stay. While continuing to find ways to work with, and cultivate, the church where it exists elsewhere, set apart.