To get to the bottom of this one we turned to early church fathers like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome and Polycarp. We've been reading their writings, some of which are the oldest Christian writings outside of the NT Canon. Besides being fascinating, they give us a record of the early church leaders who tried desperately to maintain and promote unity and love in a way that made me picture a large man trying to bear hug a tub full of jello.
The harder they tried, the more dissolute it became.
The more we love something, the more we tend to want to build a cage for it to "keep it safe". And yet a cage, no matter how gilded, is not that for which we've been made. It's only the open hand that is a suitable container for community.
"If there is true Christian love in a man, let him carry out the rpecepts of Christ. who can describe the constraining power of a love for God? its majesty and its beauty who can adequately express? no tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us. Love binds us fast to God. Loves casts a veil over sins innumerable There are no limits to love's endurance, no end to its patience. Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance. Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship. It was in love that all God's chosen saints were made perfect; for without love nothing is pleasing to Him. It was in love that the Lord drew us to Himself; because of the love he bore us, our Lord Jesus Christ, at the will of God, gave His blood for us - His flesh for our flesh, His life for our lives." - Clement of Rome
A sustainable community is possible if we allow ourselves to be what we are rather than what we want everyone else to be. Like a good marriage, we may come together for an ideal we perceive in the other but ultimately we stay together and build a marriage because we give up the illusion, empty our selves and embrace who the other really is. Instead of insisting each should behave like Christ we learn to discover the treasure that is Christ hidden in the other. Let our love for one another be the flexible container in which true community can grow.
"My friends ain't the way I wish they were / They are just the way they are" - Brother's Keeper, Rich Mullins
The Fathers, of course, have a tension between love (that we tend to define in too emotional a fashion over against the New Testament idea that is behavioral and volitional) and purity. That is, at some point a behavior is outside of the bounds of the community and thus forces separation. Jesus and Paul have this same tension. One accepts and seeks reconciliation, but can also expel (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5). Paul threatens certain behaviors with death or hell (1 Cor 10 -11). The Fathers rejected heresy. And some behaviors break the marriage bond.ReplyDelete
And then there is the definition of community itself. Friendship in Aelred of Riveaux, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Cicero (their inspiration) means agreement "in all things human and divine."
Part of our sadness in life is that we went to New Brunswick thinking we found community and discovered that the community we thought was there was not. God graciously brought us back to where we had and have more (of course not ideal) community, and can work on building more.
I'm afraid my German DNA lines me up with the Fathers when it comes to love. Like James, I'll show you my love by my deeds. The Fathers though, like Eusebius and others, seem to have a very hard time drawing exactly where that line is when one is "out of bounds". I think there is a line but I also think it should make us oftly sick to finally draw it.ReplyDelete
I'm afraid most of my reading on community lands with another German, Bonhoeffer, I need to get out and read more!
I think your sadness is common to most of us when expectation meets reality. One of the great mysteries to me in pastoral ministry is my ability to have a conversation with someone at 9 a.m. about how the church community we share has been exactly the kind of Jesus centered community they need and how supported and cared for they feel and then turn around at 10 a.m. to have another conversation with someone who feels exactly the opposite about the very same church community. It keeps me humble and it keeps me hungry.
p.s. thanks for taking time to read my ramble Peter Davids, you're one of my theological crushes!
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