Friday, January 12, 2007
Community: Day 3
Again yesterday, as we learned to do from Bonhoeffer, we began the day in prayerful gratitude followed by a Scripture reading from Philippians 2 and prayerful response.

We then continued our discussion of Bonhoeffer. He has some really harsh words for "emotional high" experiences, and so we talked about how that might translate into our own experiences with youth camp or retreats like Emmaus Walk. He writes,
Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal to the sounds, sober brotherly fellowship of everyday life (39).

He seems to have a very strong reaction against defining Christian community by emotional experience.

The proximity of location of members is significant as people live near one another. Also significant are shared meals, or the fellowship of the table, and its intersection with Eucharist, especially when they are done in the same space. There is a sense of Sabbath to regular mealtime as it creates a rhythm of rest throughout the day. You stop what you're doing. You sit down. You share and you eat together.

Several practices of sustaining community are implicit in Bonhoeffer's writing. There's the ministry of listening. If you're not listening to your brothers, then you are not listing to God. There's the ministry of helpfulness, a willingness to be interrupted because more often than not, opportunities for service come as interruptions. There's the ministry of bearing one another's burdens. The peculiarities of others becomes an opportunity for bearing. It is crucial that we have a sensitivity to others' frailties. There's the ministry of proclaiming the Word person-to-person.

There's the ministry of confession. Though, for Bonhoeffer, there is a limit to our self-revelation. We are not called to reveal all of our deepest, darkest secrets as confession can often become extremely manipulative within community. And with that we wrapped up the Bonhoeffer material.

Next, we poured over Community and Growth by Jean Vanier. Vanier has a PhD in moral theology and philosophy but is best known as the founder of l'Arche, an international network of communities that live with the mentally and physically handicapped. It's a great book, though a bit difficult to digest over a couple of days as I did. Sometimes I felt like I was reading Mr. Miyagi--these disjointed aphorisms, though extremely wise thoughts about life together.

He has this idea that a community is either increasing or regressing. That made me think about the Woody Allen quote about relationships being like a shark: It has to constantly move forward or it dies. Like Bonhoeffer, he's critical of emotion as he emphasizes the day-to-day ordinariness of community:
A community which is just an explosion of heroism is not a true community. True community implies a way of life, a way of living and seeing reality; it implies above all fidelity in the daily round (109).

He's aware of the dangers of idealizing community, and yet he's sensitive to the harsh critique of individualism. A Christian community is not supposed to be like the Borg where individual identity is dissolved and resistance is futile. A community needs individuals to be individuals. For a person to love community, it means loving the least and the poor. What it is we offer to others outside the community is an extension of what we offer to one another. Friendship that encourages fidelity is the sweetest.

He also makes an interesting comment regarding the bane of the existence of chuches everywhere: meetings...
If we are to love, we have to meet. Creating community is something different from just meeting one with another, as individuals. It is creating a body and a sense of belonging, a place of communion, and this means meetings! (284).

Here are some other quotes that jumped out at me...
But then too, as they lift their masks and become vulnerable, they discover that community can be a terrible place, because it is a place of relationship; it is the revelation of our wounded emotions and of how painful it can be to live with others, especially with some people. It is so much easier to live with books and objects, television, or dogs and cats! It is so much easier to live alone and just do things for others, when one feels like it (26).

It is difficult to get people to understand that the ideal doesn't exist, that personal equilibrium and the harmony they dream of come only after years and years of struggle, and even then only as flashes of grace and peace. If we are always looking for our own equilibrium--I'd even say if we are looking too much for our own peace--we will never find it, because peace is the fruit of love and service to others (46).

People enter community to be happy. They stay when they find happiness comes in making others happy (78).

It is only as we put our roots down into the earth that we begin to see the fruits. To be earthed is to come alive in a new sense of mission. A new capacity to give life is born, not by myself but in the body of community (83).

Yves Beriot, a French educator, has said how important it is for people to visit communities and act as sponges which soak up the anguish. All communities feel far from their ideal, and more or less unable to cope with the violence and anguish of the people they welcome. We are all far from the ideal of the Gospel and this causes a latent anguish and guilt which sap our creative energies and can lead to sadness and despair (129).

There's so much more, but it's a text I can go back and chew on over and over again.

Next we cracked open Gerhard Lohfink's Jesus and Community. This is a work in biblical theology is response to Adolf von Harnack who wrote, "The kingdom of God comes by coming to individuals, making entrance into their souls, and being grasped by them. The kingdom of God is indeed God's rule--but it is the rule of a holy God in individual hearts." Lohfink isn't too keen on this idea. Rather, his basic idea is that the reign of God is manifested in the people of God, not the persons of God.

Lohfink looks in depth at the synoptic Gospels, situating the words of Jesus in their Jewish context. He places the work of Jesus in continuity with the Old Testament, and then analyzes the faithfulness of the work of the apostles and later church fathers in this transmission of the message of the kingdom of God.

He's deeply concerned about the gathering and restoration of the people of God (again, not individuals). He recognizes the diversity of the first community of Jesus, the Twelve, and offers the symbolic and theological significance of these characters:
Some evidence suggests that Jesus deliberately chose the Twelve from different regions of the country and from different factions within the Judaism of the day in order to make obvious the gathering of all Israelites (11).

For Lohfink, the contrast-community of the Church is to look like the Sermon on the Mount. Dr. Pohl broke us up into groups and assigned us each blocks of Matthew 5-7. The question she posed was, "What would a community look like for whom the Sermon on the Mount is a joy and not a burden?"

We had about half an hour to work this out together and then report back to the rest of the class. This proved to be a valuable exercise, and it ended our day.

I'll need to give you Fridays notes tomorrow. This is enough to ruminate on at once, and the bed is calling since work comes early in the morning.

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posted by Peter at 10:18 PM
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