Thursday, May 13, 2010

Communes

Someone, somewhere (like probably Pastor Marty, to whom I just intimated I might not be going to Life Group tonight since I'm studying for my final tomorrow), is going to think I'm slacking off from my studies just to blog. But I'm actually hoping this will be part of the studying process--I'm not even making an excuse.

So here are the first musings of the day. (That you get to know about, anyway!)

Remember that time I said I wanted to be a non-pot-smoking, non-promiscuous hippie? (Remember when I spelled "hippie" with a "y"?) So that little dream was kind of the hermit-hippie version, but for a long time--like, probably since college--I've also had this dream of living in a commune. Which might be why the discussion of monasticism in class kind of draws me.

Uncle Phil was an actual hippie who did live in a commune once, and it was a "Christian" one supposedly, but it got very controlling and very dysfunctional and he has nothing good to say about it. I was a little kid living in Honduras at the time, so I don't know much about it other than dark looks and oblique intimations that it wasn't a good experience. And an LP that came out of it, which I actually liked a lot growing up. But--maybe because I was a little kid and don't know much about it--I still find the idea of communal, sort of monastic living appealing. Jesus and his disciples didn't live in a monastery or anything, and it was a mixed group--men and women--and some of them were married and some of them were single, but they lived together. Some monastic orders, though not "co-educational," really weren't separatists from the world, but actually reached directly into their surrounding culture or sent monks off in groups to travel about and evangelise and care for people's needs. I like that. I think there's something fortifying about belonging to a group like that, working through all the personality differences and stuff, and reaching out together for the common cause of Christ. I don't really think there's another common cause that would make working through the personality differences worth it, frankly--it's too much hard work to just do it for the heck of it, but it's a great exercise in becoming a stronger disciple of Jesus if He's the reason for it. (And help in it!) I like the idea of people belonging to each other because of Jesus, and each being able fully to exercise their gifts for the community--because they're together in life, and not just for Sunday mornings and specific churchy stuff during the week. I like that ancient and medieval monasteries set a rhythm of work and worship, and that their adherents were constantly being reminded to worship God in their work, and also to take time to pause to be with Him together. I think I would learn to pray better if someone told me that at such and such time a day, we were praying, and not doing anything else.

A few years ago the nearby Yankee Drummer Inn went out of business. For the last seven years I've had this back-of-the-mind idea that a group of Christians should buy it. We could all have lived in the rooms, and cooked in the kitchen, and worshiped together in the events hall. I thought we could all keep going to our regular jobs so that we could keep making inroads into the wider community, and maybe people would be drawn to our smaller community and we could disciple them there and stuff.

Sometime this year they tore the whole thing down. Now there's just a chain-link fence and a bunch of weeds. There isn't even a hole in the ground. So much for that idea.

But there still is that controlling thing. St. Benedict, who established that rule of monastic life that so many other monastic communities since then have either ascribed to or adapted, said that the most important thing in communal life was obedience. You had to have an abbot, and the brothers (because of course these were celibate communities) had to have the humility to obey the abbot without question. I kind of wonder if he's right. I wonder if, in order for a group of people to live together effectively, you have to have a sort of authoritarian organisation. I wonder if "controlling" is the nature of monasticism or communism. In that case, Uncle Phil's experience is probably less than unique and maybe there is nothing good to be said about monasticism. The best that could happen in this scenario would be for the person in charge to actually not be a control-freak, and be trustworthy, and for the people not-in-charge to be committed enough to the endeavour and humble enough to not assert their own opinions all the time.

Something in me recoils at that idea. I guess if you enter a monastery you take certain vows which aren't necessary for being a Christian, but are necessary for being in the kind of community you're joining. You voluntarily decide to set your individualism aside, at least in some respects, for the sake of the community. Is that what we're supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus, or isn't it? He came to bring us into unique community and reconciliation with Himself and others. He told us the best we could do was to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbours as ourselves. That doesn't leave much room for selfishness, and it's pretty clear that God doesn't want to leave us any room for selfishness. That's why He came down here in the first place. I think there's probably something bracing and freeing about living in community if it's done well, and something that forces us to die to ourselves in ways that we can't when we're living out "this American life" or whatever.

I don't live in community right now, though (unless you count Oscar). I've looked for roommates on and off since Roommate-Sarah, and I had the Sixes here for a while (they're coming back this summer!), but it seems like intermittent hermit-dom is my lot for now. So I'm glad Jesus came for individuals, too. I suppose the main thing is to be His disciple in whatever state He calls you. It says that in the Bible somewhere, I think . . .

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