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Church Was Supposed to Be an Alternative Society

Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Community

Church Was Supposed to Be an Alternative Society
Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Living in community means living in such a way that others can access me and influence my life and that I can get “out of myself” and serve the lives of others. Community is a world where brotherliness and sisterliness are possible. By community, I don’t mean primarily a special kind of structure, but a network of relationships. On the whole, we live in a society that’s built not on community and cooperation but on individuality, greed, and competition—often resulting in oppressive economic systems, unnecessary suffering, and environmental devastation.

God will always bring yet more life and wholeness out of seeming chaos and death. It seems to be the very job description—and full time occupation—of God (see Romans 4:17). In the words of Timothy Gorringe and Rosie Beckham, “Faith in the resurrection is the ground on which Christians hope for a different future, a transition to a society less destructive, more peaceful and more whole. Living in this hope grounds the Christian ethic of resistance and calls ekklesia [the church] to live as a ‘contrast community’ to society.” [1]

Building such communities in contrast to the surrounding society of emperor-worship was precisely Paul’s missionary strategy. Small communities of Jesus’ followers would make the message believable: Jesus is Lord (rather than Caesar is Lord); sharing abundance and living in simplicity (rather than hoarding wealth); nonviolence and suffering (rather than aligning with power). Paul was not just a mystic, but also very practical.

Paul seems to think, and I agree with him, that corporate evil can only be confronted or overcome with corporate good. He knows that the love-transformed individual can do little against what he calls “the powers and the principalities” (see Ephesians 6:12). Today we might call powers and principalities our collective cultural moods, mass consciousness, or any institutions considered “too big to fail.” These are our idols. We are mostly oblivious to this because we take all our institutions as normal civilization and absolutely inevitable. It is the “absolutely” that makes us blind and allows us to make passing structures into complete idols. Because we partly profit from these frequently collective evils, it doesn’t look like evil at all—but something good and necessary. For instance, I’ve never once heard a sermon against the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods,” because in our culture that’s the only game in town. It is called capitalism, and we live comfortably because of it. It is only our unwillingness to question such powers and principalities, or in any way limit them (which is worship), which makes them into a false god. “The angels of darkness must always disguise themselves as angels of light” (see 2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

The individual is largely helpless and harmless standing against the system of disguise and illusion. Thankfully, we’re seeing many people, religious and secular, from all around the world, coming together to form alternative communities for sharing resources, living simply, and imagining a sustainable and nonviolent future. It is hard to imagine there will be a future without them.

References:
[1] Timothy Gorringe and Rose Beckham, Transition Movement for Churches (Canterbury Press: 2013), 79.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 105-106.

Image credit: Welcome (detail), Canticle Farm, Oakland California. To learn more about Canticle Farm, visit https://canticlefarmoakland.org/.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we took down the fences between our yards, . . . we were also taking down the fences in our hearts. That’s when we really began to know and love our neighbors and make peace with one another.  —Anne Symens-Bucher, Canticle Farm
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