For Lent I committed to a daily practice of words. Some days it’s a Lenten discipline. Other days it’s a healing oil of untold story. But everyday it’s simply my own Lenten journal: a practice toward resurrection.
While writing about the everyday practices destroying local economies and community, Wendell Berry states, “This, I think, speaks for itself: if you are dependent on people who do not know you, who control the value of your necessities, you are not free, and you are not safe.” (The Art of the Commonplace, p 166)
While his topic in the moment is the ruinous and now universal industrial/colonialist practices trampling local economies, communities, and households…I can’t help but read his words into my own story. And I hear both a word of critique and a word of hope. A hard word and a healing word.
In a moment of spiritual-direction, Walter Brueggemann gave me a similarly hard word. In the moment offered, it stung with truth…in an infection-clearing-cut-kind-of-way. It’s a truth that has brought much healing in my family over the past several months but also a truth that is a hard word. However, I trust confession invites salvation and truth begins healing.
The words WB spoke were in response to our end-of-conversation note review. After summarizing the conversation I asked, “What did I not hear that I should make sure to take home?”
WB replied, “I hope you will have the courage to stand up to the abuse.”
This morning I am processing the connection between these two statements. What does it mean to step away from abuse and live safe and free? What does it mean to be part of a community that DOES know one another and seeks to provide for the well-being of one another? What does it mean to practice dependence on a community who seeks the mutual well-being of the other?
I confess there are moments when I wonder if it’s even possible to break loose from the practices of individualism and live within a covenant kind of life, a gospel way of seeing, an open community-of-salvation in a values-bent world. I admit, my own experience has robbed me of all but hope. For some reason, as a pastor I struggled to open the doors to this kind of community. What I thought was self-exposure, vulnerability, common practice of well-being, commitment to covenantal dependence…didn’t result in a safe and free community. But rather created an opportunity for abuse. For those willing to deny themselves, to offer themselves into community…it turned from mutuality to manipulation by the unengaged. An unequal yoke of participation. An almost-community. At the expense of the engaged.
This is a hard word…but the abuse continues wherever there are those who seek to live off the vulnerability of others. The abusive trampling happens through the weight of expectation and opinion from those standing at a distance and not engaging in the gospel economy of confession, accountability, mutuality, and “one-another.” And to be specific, abuse happens in a community when some expect belonging but knowingly withhold their gifts and resources from the broader community. It’s abusive. And it’s living as a lie. To proclaim a desire for belonging…but only as a benefit to oneself is the definition of abuse.
But there’s also a hopeful and healing word…I refuse to settle for a way of life that only perpetuates the colonial principles of gain and gratification at the expense of others. I hold onto a belief that community is more important than the individual. That freedom is only found in covenant. That safety is found in the open hand. I trust it is possible…and I know there are those who have already stepped into such a life. I can see now that I am surrounded by such people. Not in an organizational kind of way, but a living kind of way. We do have many relationships who are yoked together, but to our surprise, most of these relationships are not in the “church” as we have known it to be. But yet we are part of a beautiful community of relationships…a daily offering of myself and my family in mutual well-being of others. AND perhaps this IS the Church. Alive. Active. Working. Moving. Sending. Staying. Growing. Being saved from the sins of ourselves. Daily adding. Daily giving. Daily evoking gratitude.
It’s a hard word…but one filled with hope.