LIVING TOGETHER IN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

The House that Jesus Tried to Build

Christian Community

Psalm 133
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Thirty-plus years ago
I was part of a spiritual community
and the suggestion was made
that we should all live in community—
Buy a big house, together.
Share all expenses, together.
Live the Christian dream, together.
Then as conversations progressed,
it became clear
that what the community was actually about,
was support for the two self-proclaimed leaders.
The rest of us were being “called”
to care for their spoiled children
while they roamed about the world, teaching,
alone, and not together.
We declined.
Christian Community is about community,
not about superstars, or even lesser stars.
Christian Community is about
support for all, not most supporting a few.
Well, here’s a thought:
Christian Community is about Christ,
and we are all called to be Christ,
so that still makes us all equal.
True Community, Christian or other:
Few can actually live it.

Christianity Socialism and Communism

In a nation where a goodly portion of its so-called Christian population is terrified of Socialism, let alone Communism, the Christian Ideal of community seems far fetched and remote.  There is a frantic panic to eschew anything that seems as it it might be tainted with Socialism.  The house that Jesus attempted to establish has been torn down by those very people who claim to follow in his path.

Whoever heard of Christians taking part of what they earn/own/possess/save and giving it to others who are in need?  Well, Jesus has!  It seems that much of  the community of Christianity has turned narcissistic, avaricious, and has become alienated from its foundational roots and values!

I tell people that Communism, sans Lenin is simply Christianity without Jesus the Christ.  Socialism is a step in that direction, but one where we don’t give up our individualism and we remain autonomous, and collectively get to choose how much we, as individuals, get to help the rest of the whole.  But we have turned selfish and spoiled and invented a form of Capitalism that provides a small few with the possibility of achieving a dream by way of eliminating the less able.  We have terrible-twos-temper-tantrums that we call political movements to get our way, and be they liberal or conservative, they are destructive for the human spirit.

An American Ideal Gone Haywire

The truth of it is that while many Christian Americans may claim to believe all that stuff written down in the Christian Scriptures we call the Gospel, they don’t.  Those on the far left have more or less discarded Jesus, and those on the far right have discarded Jesus’ values.  The Idea and Ideal of our Christian faith has turned into the froth of droolers who aren’t bright enough to wipe the evidence off their own shoes.  We have sunk sharpened teeth deeply into the flesh of  our humanity and we are tearing it from our own bones.  I do not understand stingy Christians who are so afraid someone else might get some of what they have that they vote against their own well-being.  I do not understand the poor enabling those who steal from the mouths of their own babies.  I do not fathom any political or national system such as America’s, that claims to be the most wonderful Christian Nation in the world, stealing from the pockets of its working class, and funding wars, corporate bailouts, and systematically slashing its Constitution so as to eliminate its actual Christian elements.  While the Christian Far Right has opted out of the Darwinian conversation and turned their backs on evolution, they have fully embraced the ideology of Social Darwinism to the detriment of the Christian Ideal, which is the antithesis of anything Jesus proclaimed.

How a Christian Community Would Appear

Psalm 133 refers to the beauty of community members living together in unity, and I take that to mean in our own time a place where the community gathers–the world!  A true Christian Community contains more faiths than Christians, because Jesus has invited all into community, and that community would appear as a community that truly cares for its member/components, and follows Jesus’ mandate to care for the widow, orphan, naked, homeless and whomever needs help, and nurtures those deemed the least of the least.

Yes, there are in fact many good Christian Americans, living and acting as Jesus taught us, but it’s hard to include the Christian far right among them.  Where American Christian politicos make claims that America is a Christian nation and cause it do the opposite, a true Christian Community actually cares for its members.  It defines its members broadly and offers hope and succor to all in need whether community members or not.  No borders, no boundaries, no selfishness, no fear of others, no expectations of a high quarterly return–just a love of Jesus and the ideals Jesus expects us to live by.  We need to remember that Jesus does not care about America, or Americans, any more or less that he cares about England, Australia, Russia, China, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico, Canada, or those who live there.  Jesus cares about building up the Community (Kingdom) of God, and that Community contains all that is created, and apparently, if we are to believe Jesus, especially, those we hate and fear, and we are to love each of us equally.

ON LAMPS AND PATHS

On Lamps and Paths”
Psalm 119:105-112
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Hiking a trail at night—
High Sierra, 8,000 feet,
bright moon on granite,
patchy clouds,
sometimes shadowed,
sometimes lit.
Sounds come from the shadows
and I sense a presence,
and a waiting…
And I wonder,
and I know you know how I feel,
my thin flesh holding in my life, and
an unknown hunger, not mine,
lurking tree to tree, rock to rock
patiently waiting for my slip,
should it come,
and a feast.

And I wonder,
Are not we all on a night-trail,
having a spotty light with which to see,
and stalked by a hunger that
desires the meat on our bones?

A Light To My Path

Preached August 14, 2011

There will be some who read this poem and think of paranoia and dysfunction, and they may be right, but not really.  Of course, I should say that if you are hiking alone in the High Sierra, as I did for years, you should be just a little paranoid.  It just could save your life.  But, and you actually know this, I am thinking in metaphor when I write of being stalked by a hunger.

We all have something that wants the flesh off our bones.  The question is, What is the hunger that stalks you?

For some the hunger is an addiction.  This could be alcohol, drugs, a hobby gone berserk, something that steals from the person you are—fear of something real or imagined, tangible, virtual, but palpable.

It could be that we have fought our way to the top of the dog pile and have a temporary victory, but the little dogs are already snapping hungrily at us.  It might be that it is our own perfectionism that is tearing at our flesh, and we are destroying our own peace and well being through trading satisfaction in work well done for discontent.  There is a possibility that we have been so profoundly betrayed by another that our entire world has not only been re-arranged, but destroyed as we know it, and we have taken on their betrayal, disaffection, abandonment, and dysfunction, as caused by our own imperfection, and assumed the fault.

It truth, it doesn’t actually matter what the cause, the effects are all of a kind—they are painful, harmful to us, disastrous for our future, they steal our joy and well being, and they can set us up for futures that are bleak and arid renditions of our once lush, verdant selves.  Any one of the above examples can make us feel deep shame and do great damage to our spiritual selves.

What do we do about it?  Well, the first suggestion I want to offer is the scripture on which I have based this meditation, Psalm 119:105-112, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.”  This is actually worth some consideration on our part.

The word to which I believe the Psalmist is referring is not simply a text or two of scripture, but the entire spirit of God that is reflected in its words.  For us this is what I refer to as the Gospel of Jesus—the hope and promise found in the stories of his actions.  We are loved by God.  We are cared for by God.  We are offered comfort in our times of need.  Most importantly, we are judged by God as persons worthy of God’s most intimate fellowship, and good enough to be loved by Jesus, and an invitation to life in the community of believers we know as Christ’s church, and a life in the Spirit of God.

We need to develop a trust in God’s word that we are basically good enough for God’s love.  If we can do that, we can learn the one lesson Jesus learned that he based his entire ministry upon–FORGIVENESS!  I am writing here about learning to love God enough that we can learn to forgive ourselves for whatever we think we need to forgive ourselves.

The alternative to this is a pale life that has most of its joy wrung out by our self-judgment, and self-recrimination.  We develop a loss of courage and pluck, an overall spiritual malaise takes over our lives.  We develop a lack of vigor and an unwillingness to try new things and take risks, and worst of all, many times we develop a deep abiding anger and rage that ruins our physical well being as well.

Give it up, people!  Learn to love yourselves as God does, as Jesus does.  Learn to hold yourselves in love.  This is a matter of spiritual life and death.  Give in to the love of God.  There is a presence within us that is not God, that would tear the spiritual flesh off our very bones, and it is us.  Accept this, and trust that the love God is greater than this self-destroying presence, and offers us self-love as well as God’s love.  It is this self-love generated in us that heals, renews, and restores our wholeness.  It works like this: God loves us; we learn to love God; as we learn to love God, we learn to love ourselves; as we learn to love ourselves, healing begins; then we truly begin to love God.

OF LADDERS AND PASSIONS

Up and Down As On a Ladder

OF LADDERS AND PASSIONS
Genesis 28.12
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

I have a ladder within me,
and on it I ascend and descend —
highs and lows,
pinnacles and pits,
glory and despair.

Some might argue that my birth,
and my coming into this world of the profane,
could be considered a descent
from a sublime heavenly realm.

Others might argue that by coming
into this world ex nihilo
I entered a new and sublime threshold of existence.

I argue that regardless of any glimpses
others may have had
of any other dimension of time,
this dimension is all I have,
and can have.
I believe that God is God,
I hope for a life after this one I have,
but for now all I have is now.
And, in what I understand as the now, is what I term life.
I climb my ladder in this particular here and now,
not in a past time that has expired—defiled or blessed,
not in a future time to come—hallowed or mundane.
And yet,
nestled securely in the now,
all these past and future times and conditions
exist on the rungs of my ladder.

As a child,
explosive with energy,
I was confined to a sick-bed for three years—
climbing and descending
on the rungs of my ladder,
while immobile
and tethered by bleach-whitened sheets.
I lived as I waited to die.
And then I did not die,
but was left with only memories of dying,
and a profound understanding
of the sacredness of my clambering
upon this ladder.

When I was fourteen and healthy,
a girl whom I would never love,
yet never forget,
kissed me with her tongue —
prolonged and wet,
and I floated on a universe of new feelings.
She took my hand and
pressed it hard to her small breast,
and I felt her nipple swell
strong against my palm…and after awhile,
confused and disillusioned,
we stopped at that.
Later that night,
and in my sleep,
I climbed my ladder to its height,
and then descended it to
the adolescent humiliation
of a wet, sticky, bed.

Success and failure,
bitterness and sweetness,
joy and sorrow:
these are the extremes of this ladder.
My interior life moves across time, rung by rung.
More than once my career has climbed on these rungs
to the glory of national recognition
and to the agony of abject failure and defeat.

I have come to love every moment
spent on the rungs I have climbed.

Beyond the passion
of a fourteen-year-old boy’s
first experience of a young girl,
I have known mature and lasting passion.
I have loved the same woman for forty-six years,
and it is the juices of our passion—
the convex rises and the deep crevasses
of her body—
that hold my memory
in times when I am alone.
These memories convince me beyond doubt
that this ladder is more than a totem,
but that it is the very nature of my life and my heart and my joy.

Friends exist on the emotional rungs of this ladder.
Recalling the good times with an old friend—
the old jokes, and the memories of sweet triumphs,
as he lays dying,
then praying over the dirt of his grave.

Lovers exist on these rungs, too—
lost chances competing with ecstasy.
Recognizing forbidden fruit for what it is,
but rejoicing in the offer and the possibility.

It seems that as I ascend
I pass myself as I descend,
and though this seems an impossible incongruity in real time,
it is an acute reality on the plane of my emotions
where I exist.
The more fully I live,
the nearer I am to dying.
And I anticipate that in the end,
both the fullness of my living,
and the completeness of my dying
will ascend the ladder,
rung by rung,
and they will meet
where endings and beginnings
melt into themselves
and take the final step
into transformation.

At the lowest ebb of one of my many failures,
when this time,
defeat turned me unrepentantly bitter,
cruel,
and relentlessly lost,
uncharacteristically for that time,
I saved a lost kitten from death and
kept her and
learned her measure of trust and
in a span of time
learned to trust myself once more.
Years later,
with the cruelness loved out of me,
I took her trust and ended her life
as a gift born of mercy.
What once would have been a vicious disregard for life
became one of reverence for life’s quality.

And so the ladder
rung by rung.
Always climbing,
Always descending,
but always ascending.

And if God be God,
and interested in ladders,
or the climbing,
what would the nature of this God be?

I think this God would be of ground and of air—and of ladders.
God being the ground from whence my ladder rises,
and the earth in which my ladder is founded.
God being the airy reaches to which I climb,
and the Grace within which I have been held.
and the Other to which my ladder reaches.

Occluded and substantiated;
Transparent and insubstantial,
and the four being one.
I climb my ladder from God,
with God,
through God,
into God,
and I do this whether I ascend or I descend.

From the hot, wet rapture of a first kiss
to the rattle of a bone fragment
in the crematorium’s ash,
I climb,
and I descend,
my ladder.

FIVE THOUGHTS ON GRACE — #5, THE IMPASSIBILITY OF GOD

Five Thoughts on Grace — #5, The Impassibility of God
Psalm 86:1 15-16; Mark 13:36; 1 Corinthians 11:25

God Cannot Be Moved, Changed or Affected? Naw! That would Make God a Cosmic Mannequin

The idea that God cannot
feel any pain or suffering
has been taken to mean God cannot not be
moved or changed or swayed
or have the Godly Mind changed
by any created creature.

GOD CAN NOT BE MOVED!

Or can God?

THE QUIBBLE is that while
the divine nature of Jesus cannot suffer,
the human nature of Jesus can,
and therefore the divine being
is informed of the suffering,
but nonetheless is not changed—

THE REALITY is that this God, then,
would be an insane God that cannot feel feelings.
The very nature of God is to both
change and not change—
it is that nature that cannot be changed.
The nature of constant change
cannot be changed!

ANOTHER QUIBBLE: we must
not make God human—with human characteristics,
a worthy enterprise—

ANOTHER REALITY: but that would mean a God
with no self-image,
and if we are created in God’s image… ?

It was the hope of the Scholastics to define God in such a way that left no know room for any human attribution, and so a nature for God was defined, but as a God having no heart or soul.  The Doctrine of Impassibility claims that God cannot be moved to feel, but nonetheless is not indifferent to human suffering.  The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, states, “Those who ascribed impassibility to God have been much concerned to avoid the suggestion that God can be acted on or affected in his nature by anything created” (S.V. “Impassibility,” passim).  This statement gives me some issues with which to deal.

First, if this is true, how then can God answer prayer?  Second, if God cannot be acted upon, how could there be a Christ or a Holy Spirit–these are purportedly personas of the Divine Reality that, indeed are touched and acted upon.  Also, and third, if it is true that God cannot be “acted on, or affected by anything created,” then the incarnation is a total impossibility, and any argument to attempt to justify any dual nature of Christ is simply gobbledegook!  If God is truly impassible, then how could there be a coming together of two distinct natures—divine and human?  It would seem that if God is impassible, then there would be no coming together, and God would be akin to something described in the DSM-4—wacky as a loon, and totally undesirable as an object of our worship.

Then how will we look at this idea that God cannot be moved to feel?  I begin with the early Church Fathers who wanted to make a clear distinction between God and human.  These early theologians saw the incredible difference between an entity that is never beginning, never ending, always being, and they felt it important to make a dramatic separation because all adjectives applied towards this divine being were just too puny to work.  The God of the Old Testament was considered to have been made into something too emotional, passionate—dare I say, human-like?

And it is probably OK to make such distinctions, except that these distinctions took hold, and became doctrine and absolute conditions for God.  Once the doctrines froze up, God became so unchangeable in God’s dogmatic context that God ceased to be God, theologically.  God became a kind of a Cosmic Mannequin.

I believe that God is God!  I do not believe that theology/doctrine/dogma can make God other than what God is.  I also believe that all statements and conditions for God that theology had devised are simply and only small parts of any definition of God.  I am also not sure that it is possible to make any sort of categorical and final statement about God at all.  I do believe that it is correct to state as, theologians, the conclusions we have drawn about God that are based upon our own personal experiences of God.  I do not consider those statements to be binding on God, or me, but to be simply part of a larger, very large, conversation about God.

What are the conclusions I have drawn concerning the nature of God?  I have experienced a God of love, tolerance, gentleness, generosity, latitude, change, growth, hope, and grace.  For the God I have found to be worthy of my worship, I have discovered a God who is personal, values hospitality above piety, and is so much a part of creation that God grows and stretches, cries and moans, withers and shrinks with the singular exigencies within the whole of creation.  The process of evolution is the process of my heart and soul, and the very process of the God of all.

I move back to Grace again.  If God were truly impassable, then there would be no Grace, there would be no Jesus, there would be no Holy Spirit, and certainly, there would be no Creation.  IF God cannot feel the feelings of created beings, and if God cannot be moved, then God is just plain stuck in Eternity, unable to be God.  The God I find worthy of my worship is a God of surprise, wonder, AND the God of Jesus!  And, Jesus has taught me all I need to know about God, and Grace—talk about surprises!