Thursday, March 5, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Community

Ben Corey spends a chapter discussing community and what it means to enjoy Jesus' vision of community. It is clear that this is something that needs to be explored especially these days. And I say that because there is so much loneliness in our world. And in light of what Ben writes in this chapter, it's easy to see why.

He roots his basic idea about community in what happened with Adam once he was created.

Clearly God was happy with everything he created, and pronounced every single part of it to be “good.” However, God had yet to create a second human; Adam was completely alone. God notices this and in Genesis 2, when he looked at a single human being living alone, outside the context of community, we finally hear God say something he hadn’t said before: “It’s not good to be alone,” God pronounces. God knew it wouldn’t be healthy for Adam to live life on his own, outside of community with others. That, God said, would not be good. To rectify the situation God created the first community of two, and invited them to experience life together in intimate and meaningful ways.
Here, we see the first community, marriage, a place 'to experience life together in intimate and meaningful ways.'

Ben broadens this to apply beyond marriage. Community is something we all need even outside the bonds of marriage.

Living life as an individual apart from authentic and intimate communal relationships was never part of the deal. From the first humans created, God created us to be communal beings who crave, and actually need, to live life in the context of authentic, interdependent relationships with others. We were created for community.
With that established, Ben takes a look at a problem for community: American individualism. 
The undiluted version [of community in the early church] looked a lot different from American versions of Christianity. Western, individualistic culture invites us to embrace our independence and champion our ability to do this all on our own, but the life of Jesus invites us to embrace a healthy interdependency on others. The radical message of Jesus invites us to express and wrestle with our faith in a lifestyle of unbroken community with others. In Western culture however, living in community often is against the flow of how our society works. As culture has morphed deeper and deeper into a strictly individualistic-oriented culture, we now find ourselves in a world where it is not uncommon to not even know the name of our neighbors in the house next to us. What’s even scarier is that we might not even know the person sitting in the church pew next to us.
This is, sadly, all too true. And that's why I said that a renewed sense of community is something that is needed especially today.

Jesus understood this need, and He has provided for it. This is where we talk about the Church. It is the Church of Jesus that is to be the prime place for community for Christians. This is a key reason that Jesus is determined to build and protect His Church. We need it. So, I don't think that it's too much to say that the Church is indispensable for Christians. The imagery that Scripture uses reinforces this idea. 

The Church is a family. God is our Father and we all are brothers and sisters because we are all children of God. Think about what a real family is supposed to be. That's what the Church is to be. Real community.

The Church is a body. It's the body of Jesus. This one is an eye and that one is an ear. We are all different, but we are all connected. We are one body, and we need each other. After all how could an eye or an ear exist on its own. Not possible. As Ben writes,

the life of Jesus invites us to embrace a healthy interdependency on others.
So, to sum up, we were made for community where relationships with God and others grow and flourish. We were made for Jesus' Church.

It's here that I have to bring up one thing that Ben wrote that upset me - a lot. It's when he writes about his experience in a small group. It wasn't working for him and his wife.

We finally tried to shock the group into going deeper by one night announcing: “Our marriage sucks right now, and not a person in this room knows that,” but the silence and blank stares in response told us all we needed to know…so we moved on.
This bothered me because of the disdain being expressed here for other members of the family. This group, for Ben, was just another example of what he calls
watered-down American knockoff [of real community].
Really? What did they do that was so awful? Did they attack Ben and his wife? Mock them? Debate them on some triviality? No. Their 'sin' was that they didn't know how to respond to Ben's attempt 'to shock the group into going deeper'. Their sin was their ignorance. And so, Ben and his wife left that group. They rejected that group. Gave up on that group. As I read that section of the chapter, this verse came to mind, one that I have applied to myself.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
The point of community is not that it be, first and foremost, a place where I can feel good among people who are like me. It's a place to reach out and care for others as that Scripture describes. But Ben wrote,
Finding community where being me was okay, where my sacred space was respected, and where I didn’t have to have it all figured out, saved me. (Added emphasis is mine.)
Isn't this a little self-centered? Isn't this about loving myself first? How does that fit with Jesus' idea of community?

The Community of Jesus, His Church, is a place where we work together to help each other deal with and overcome lots of things. And that includes things like not knowing how to respond to someone's brute honesty. We are to work at that - and it does take work - and to do that while being patient with all the others you are working with, just as they are being patient with you. And being patient means that you don't bail when it gets too hard.

When I was a kid and would complain about having to go to another extended family event my mother would remind me, 'You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family.' The people of Jesus' Church are our family. There are some that we get along with really well. And then there are the others. But they are all family because the Spirit has made us family. And we need to act as if that's true - because it is.

So, I would like to agree with so much that Ben has written. But I want to go beyond what he wrote to express more of what it means to be a part of the Community of Jesus.