Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Community as a public 'halfway house'

Saint Patrick by Derek Powell

A challenge from Parker Palmer - highlighted by O'Steven

Goal - is for the community of faith to become a 'halfway house', helping people move from fear of the world around them, into a role as co-creators of a world which is both God's and our own.

To begin - we must first abandon our idealized image of the family as the foundation for our faith communities in which intimacy is the primary and often exclusive goal - dominated by the expectation of closeness and warmth. Faith communities formed in that image of life together are not likely to prepare its members for full public involvement.

Envisioning - our faith community as an idealized family causes many problems
  • devaluing conflict because we want to maintain a facade of peace - we hide disagreements instead of getting them into the open where we might learn from them, working through our problems
  • apparent unity is fragile and unfulfilling, and behind it one often finds anger, frustration and other taboo emotions
  • church community as an idealized family also hinders heterogeneity (public diversity) - squeezing out people with whom we cannot achieve intimacy (since intimacy often depends on social and economic similarities between people)
  • such a community does everything in its power to eliminate the strange and cultivate the familiar - so it can neither welcome the stranger nor allow the stranger in each of us to emerge
  • such a faith community creates barriers to public life, becoming self-contained, joined only by those who conform to its ideology
Church community then becomes a place of retreat rather than engagement, innovation, and change, paralyzed by a fantasy image of the ideal family, unable to imagine new structures which might help humanize the surrounding public in need.

Redefine - we need to redefine our faith communities, and envision creating spaces which are not mere extensions of private security and familial intimacy, but which bridge our public and private lives - leading us from the familiarities of private life into the strangeness of the public realm.

All faith communities - (and families and marriages) have deep conflict, and the task there as in all human relations is not to perfect or abandon relationships, but to let the conflicts and contradictions pull us open to larger truth. As Christians we understand all our relations - even the closest ones - to be broken and imperfect, but forgiven and redeemed. We are called to live in the recognition of both realities.

God's Kingdom - is unfolding as faith communities resembling family formations - but only in as much as we are able to regard all our neighbors (and societal strangers) as our brothers and sisters; when we can embrace all of the contradictions and conflicts of public life with familial compassion, knowing that under God, in our astonishing variety, we are made as one.

Domesticated faith community - until we abandon the notion of community as an idealized vision of the family and let that word embrace far more than it normally does, we only further domesticate our faith communities by conceiving them in unrealistic and ideal familial terms.

Community as a "school of the Spirit" - is perhaps a better way to envision our faith community, places where God is continually drawing us out of ourselves into the larger public life. Our idealized images of community will always fail us, as they project upon the community such needs for personal nurture and support as can only be met by our relationship to God.

Unmasking - Community life is a continual process of unmasking, of having to let go of illusions about ourselves and others. It is a place where the nudging of the Spirit, holy teachings, show us where the power of life really lies.

The external stranger - reminds us of the inner stranger who we do not want to acknowledge or confront. It is a painful experience, but only as this darkness is "educated" out of us will we be prepared for life together. Such pain is not a denial of community; it is a fulfillment of the role that community can play in our lives, the role of drawing us out into a renewal of public life.

What is missing - are the relations of strangers who will never achieve intimacy, but who meet with a sense of commonality which makes creative conflict possible - meetings of the sort which characterize the healthy public life. Can our Open Hand community learn to model that mode of relationship?

The faith in which our community is grounded emerges from a story of conflict. Never in the biblical record is that conflict finally resolved, we have not been delivered into a utopia of perfect harmony. But in our unfolding story, conflict is the context in which the faith is taught. In the midst of conflict God the teacher moves, offering the gift of reconciliation even when it is refused over and over again.


No comments:

Post a Comment