About Me

Arborg, Manitoba, Canada
Married to the love of my life with whom I (and God - all three of us) have co-created three incredible sons. Interested in philosophy, theology, and how to live Truth. Love music but couldn't carry a tune to save my life.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Boundaried Communities

(Note: This is the text of a meditation delivered in the early days of the ConneXion community.)

We gather here this morning as a community, as a community observing communion. What does it mean to be a community? What does it mean to build a community? What is the significance of a community observing communion together? We – meaning this group, we who have chosen to identify ourselves as the yada yada supper club – have always stressed the communal nature of our activities, both in what we do and in what we intend to do. We have become an identifiable community known as the yada yada people, though the name is often invoked with perplexed expressions. I think all of us have come to appreciate this community as a unique opportunity to indulge, both gastronomically and socially. We derive significant benefit from this group, but we also have realized significant responsibilities. We don’t just get together to eat, but in getting together to eat, we also get together to feed each other. This is the strength of community. Suppers are enhanced because, while all of us expect wholesome, nutritious, and delicious sustenance at home, we do not anticipate the same variety that we enjoy when we get together and pool the fruits of our labors. Diversity enhances our community.

Herein, however, lies part of our challenge. Diversity enhances our community, but yesterday’s diversity is today’s normal, and it is tomorrow’s threat of death by suffocation of tedium. Hence it is imperative that our community, which today thrives on diversity, continues to reach out to expand the boundaries so that our community and our diversity can grow and remain a vigorous experience of life. But herein also lies an ominous threat, because if our community changes it ceases to be the community we know; if our community changes, it dies, in a sense. The reality, however, is that if our community does not change it dies in every sense. Brennan Manning reminds us that to live without risk is to risk not living. So how do we build community? How do we ensure that the passing of today’s community becomes the seed germ for tomorrow’s healthy and vibrant community? Can we build community without risk?

We have often made the point that we intend to touch our community for God. This does not translate into the notion that we have failed if we do not convert our friends to Christianity. We will be successful if we build relationships and realize opportunities to share the lives of our friends and neighbors. We will have been successful if we learn to see our God in a new light through these contacts. We will have been successful if we learn to live with greater integrity than we did before, because integrity is a core doctrine of the theology which begins with “The LORD, The LORD our God is One.” Hence, it may well be that our reaching out will be most successful if our new friends (and all of us here are new friends by virtue of the dynamics of our interaction in yada yada) convert us away from our obsession with religion to a new authenticity of godliness.

Today we got together for brunch, and we thought it prudent to partake in an observation we call communion. Why? How is communion related to our community? I am sure there are many avenues that could be explored, but I am struck by a phrase in Paul’s introduction of the topic in 1 Corinthians 11:

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Why is it significant to Paul to note that the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place “on the night he was betrayed”? How clearly did Jesus foresee his betrayal? Why, if he knew he was about to be betrayed, and he seems to have had a strong sense even of who would do the betraying, did he not only stay, but even continue to feed those who would viciously feed on him, given the chance? Without wishing to undermine the rich theology that has been developed around this event, allow me to suggest that he did it because community was worth it. Paul’s reading of the crucifixion repeatedly emphasizes the unifying aspect of Christ’s death. National, social, cultural, religious, and gender distinctions, among others, all are swept away in the flood of Christ’s blood on Calvary.

Far more important, however, is the gulf between humanity and Deity that was bridged by the selfless giving of God’s self. In a large measure, it is this estrangement from God that drives us to barricading ourselves from others. The profound psychic uncertainty that comes from this estrangement allows us no security in unredeemed relationships because we recognize that the same insatiable desire for satisfaction that plagues us also drives others to seek solace where ever it can be found, and the prime targets to fill the void created by our distance from our Maker are those who bear the Maker’s image. We feel our need for relationship keenly, though we pretend otherwise, but we betray our deep seated need in our inability to give unless we receive. This concern to preserve limited resources for those who will cooperate in mutual trading causes us to establish boundaries and erect barriers designed to protect ourselves against unsanctioned demands of others who have not first agreed to give as good as they get. However, all the boundaries which we employ to secure ourselves against intrusion turn out to be fatal to ourselves because, in the words of John Donne “No man is an island”, and the more we insulate ourselves against community, the less we live.

Jesus does otherwise. He does not force himself into relationships in which he is not welcomed, but he establishes his boundaries as boundaries of invitation. What are boundaries of invitation? We normally use boundaries as boundaries of exclusion or, at a minimum, as a means to control access. What does it mean to say that Jesus established his boundaries as boundaries of invitation? When we define ourselves as a community we define ourselves as something that is at least somewhat exclusionary, but a negative definition is not a good definition; defining a thing by what it is not is not a satisfactory definition. A good definition tells you what a thing is, not only what it is not. However, saying what a thing is can be far more exclusionary than saying what a thing is not, if the thing is to be known as only what is positively included in the definition.

We define ourselves as a community, which immediately sets us apart, as something which the rest of the universe is not. We define ourselves as a community because we wish to promote certain values. However, we do not wish to define ourselves by excluding, but by including. We define ourselves as a community of God’s children, who are known by God, and wish to know ourselves and others in the light of God’s love. As such, we do not exclude people, but we do exclude that which runs counter to the love of God. However, to the extent that we see God’s love as an invitation extended to all, we establish our boundaries as boundaries of invitation. We do not include everything, but we include everyone who is willing to explore what it means to live as a community of God’s love.

Jesus establishes his boundaries as boundaries of invitation. When those whom he has chosen turn against him he allows them that latitude, but he does not rescind his invitation. He gives himself, not as a trade off for community, but as an invitation to community. The invitation can be refused, and Jesus can lose his life for nothing, but his motivation for giving is not mercenary. He does not give simply for what he can get, though he most certainly hopes to get. Jesus gives when return is uncertain because the hope – just the hope – of community is worth it. Jesus gives because he is a giving God. Because he is God he can give without return. He can invite without the assurance of an accepting response.

Herein, I think, lies the secret for our community, and the reason we share the Lord’s Supper. Paul quotes Christ’s invitation to do this in remembrance. We will not plumb the depths of what was done for us at Calvary, but we are invited to observe and to remember, but not only to remember. For it is in observing and remembering that we declare. We remind ourselves and the world of the God Who gave against all odds, and in a small but not insignificant way we participate in this giving, first as recipients, but than as sharers, not only with each other, but as an invitational community.

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