Ideas & Short Essays
Comments 11

Communion

This summer I’ve turned more attention to blogging, and I’ve started phazing out Facebook. In the process I’ve been pleasantly surprised to cross paths with several new blogger friends, bloggers who are Christians, and they are Christians with whom I share key commonalities, a form of fellowship, so-to-speak. It’s been interesting to flip my mind back into theological mode, here and there.

One perspective that I still share, that I still have in common with Christians is the sense that in some way there was a communion that was broken, that in some sense our original state of being is communion and harmony. So given that we are living in the days of rage, in a period of increasing cultural coflict, this idea of communion has come to take on greater meaning for me.

For Christians, the idea of a broken communion tends to be a doctrinal point about “the fall of man” or “the total depravity of humankind” or some point of dogma about how Adam and Eve fucked it all up. For me, though, it’s not about doctrine or ideology, it’s more just an intuitive idea, based on my own experiences and my own spiritual journey. To me, it’s not so much theoretical as it is a hunch, the sense that things don’t have to be this way.

It’s a hunch but it’s also based on my understanding of human history, particularly of the evolution of our species, as hunter-gatherers. Cats are born to be cats and do catty things. Dogs are born to be dogs and do doggy things. That’s how they evolved. They evolved to survive in the wild — and it is within the natural world that they flourish.

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For human beings it’s not all that different, really. We evolved for the same purpose, to survive and flourish in the wild. During our formative evolutionary years we were born into small hunter-gatherer bands and lived in close harmony with the wild world. People were free and more-or-less self-determined. We cooperated with the band/tribe, but these were likely egalitarian groups, from what we can tell, and this meant that we were as free as we probably ever were. When agriculture came onto the scene, we began to form our societies and cultures into hierarchies of domination and control, i.e., into the Game of Thrones world to which we have become accustomed.

Human beings didn’t evolve for the lives that we are living 

But it was a communion, the original state of being for humankind, a communion with the world and a communion with other humans. It’s pretty obvious to me that this is the whole point of the early chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve are metaphorical stand-ins for the human race: they gathered food that they found from the earth, with no real need to hunt because the bounty of the natural world was sufficient.

After the big drama of Genesis 3, there come details of the development of civilization, spread out over the next several chapters (until the story of Abraham). Hence in chapter four: Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instrumentsand pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of[g]bronze and iron. 

Then there are the growing pains of civilization (chapter 6-9) followed by details of how humankind formed themselves into greater numbers, i.e., into societies based on hierarchies of power.

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To clarify, I’m not saying that the hunger-gatherer period was paradise, per se. I’m just suggesting that it was what we evolved to be and to do.

Nor do I think there’s any going back. I’m not necessarily an anarcho-primitivist.

The questions that I have come back to communion. What challenges do we face, as a human species? In what ways does our break with nature impact us, mentally and physically? What kind of impact does the modern world have on us, with the proliferation of technology and with the ways in which capitalism and modern economics separates us from each other? What are the consequences of our mindset of individualism, if we evolved to cooperate with small bands and tribes?

As you can see, my concerns are quite down to earth. This makes me more of the “Old Testament” mentality, with its emphasis on culture and social justice and the ways in which our culture and society shape us and form us. In the ancient Hebrew law code, society mattered, and the idea (by and large) was to create the conditions for an egalitarian community of harmony and peaceful co-existence. It wasn’t meant to be conflict-free utopian, just a decent way for humans to live together.

That’s the “Old Testament.” Christian theology, by contrast, tends to get a bit carried away with grand metaphysical speculation about reconciling sinful humankind with a holy God, and so on. Hence the joke about Christians that they are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.

The New Testament writers, though, seemed to be bringing both together. The Apostle Paul had his big ideas about the cosmic Christ redeeminng the world, but this was meant to be only one part of a real-world vision for reconciliation and a concern for social justice. Even the non-human world was in on it: All of nature waits eagerly for the children of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19). For Paul, this would have been common sense. Having been a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” as he calls himself, Paul well understood the importance of culture and society, and he framed it in terms of communion.

Like Jesus, Paul was a bit apocalyptic. They both were looking forward to the future, to a “kingdom” that was “not of this world,” not based on the Game of Thrones principle that might-makes-right, not based on violence but based on communion.

There would be a rupture, a divine intervention that would immediately end the empires of domination and bring about the new age of peace and communion. In this kingdom of non-violence, things would be inverted: the rulers of this world (benefiting from the exploitation of the poor and weak) would be struck down and “the least of these” would be called the greatest. There would be an open table.

But obviously that hadn’t happened yet. (And still hasn’t.) Hence for Jesus and Paul there was an “already-not-yet” dimension to this so-called “kingdom.” They believed it was coming — any day now — but they also believed in living it out in the present, as much as possible. Those with the faith to believe in something new and different were to actualize that newness, in the present, living as though any day now the new kingdom would come. It was important to purify one’s self and to lay the ground work for the new age.

Hence the early Christians lived communally, something like hippies I like to imagine, though sans the LSD. Although, on the other hand, they did have a lot of trippy experiences with “the Spirit,” seeing tongues of fire and speaking in other languages, and other pretty far-out shit, so who knows?

What we do know is that the earliest Christians had no interest in aligning themselves with Rome and with Empire. They lived “in the world but not of the world.” Their mentality was different, their perspective was fixed more on the idea of communion.

I think that my life has sort of followed a similar trajectory, in my own way. I’ve sort of always felt like I was in the world but not of the world, not completely at home with the way things are. And if you’re still reading this post, you’ve probably felt it too.

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To me, I’ve felt that I was living in a world confused by consumer capitalism, a world organized by a hierarchy of the “haves” and “have nots,” and while most everyone else seemed able to come to grips with this and live their lives in “normal” ways, I could never really make peace with it.

It’s never felt right. There’s a rupture in the communion. The order of things is rooted in power systems of domination and control, with the ultimate purpose of humanity now being economic growth — economic growth for the sake of economic growth. So what’s a dissenter supossed to do?

I suppose I’ve largely followed the already-not-yet idea, hoping for a new kind of kingdom, hoping that change will come, trying to purify my own mind, and trying, in small ways, to work to lay the ground work for something better. I’m not expecting an apocalyptic rupture, a divine intervention ushering in a new age where the lion lays down with the lamb. I’ll be satisfied with smaller ruptures, moving humanity a little closer to a better world, moving us toward a deepening of communion.

Whatever else might come of it, for me the idea of communion is a spiritually stabilizing concept in these days of rage. As we increasingly line up for battle, to fight the culture wars that began generations before us, and as we define our positions in terms of who we oppose, it’s important to be clear on what kind of world we are ultimately fighting for.

11 Comments

  1. ‘in the world but not of the world,’ me too. I could use it in conversation to explain my lack of interest in so many topics that preoccupy people, except that to do so might sound a bit pretentious, so I shall just say it to myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanx for the stroll down Christian-theology lane, Jonathan.

    I reckon I surely must be one of the “Christian bloggers” you interact with of late – one of those who has you reflecting on such matters as communion.

    You wrote a fairly long post here with numerous points that I stop and ponder along the way. It turned out I was quite busy today, and had to bail early on and come back to it later. I actually “like”d it before I was finished reading.

    No doubt you have a unique view of things, some of which I share some not. I am not so “Evangelical” that I feel a burning need to straighten those things out. I sense that with a lot of my bros. But its just not my way.

    I too have some unique thoughts on these matters. I may come back and share them later as time permits. After all, you are digging around in the stuff that jazzes me most.

    I will say again, I appreciate your sharing of these things. I appreciate your charitable exchange with me. I too sense a unique communion – one that has found some important points of contact, that though fragile and even vulnerable in the days of rage, find respect for each other and room for the differences even where I don’t actually support some stuff (and I figure vice versa).

    I should note quickly before running off… I recently watched a fascinating joint interview with Tom Holland and N.T. Wright – both ancient historians with deep insight into Greek and Roman Empires, and Wright who is a devout Christian. Holland who is not. And it is fascinating to see where they have come to terms with each other – some of them leaning heavily on St. Paul. And I find where Holland is a major scholarly contributor to the Roman Empire series on Netflix. And I found a recent article where he outlines that in recent years, even after walking away from Christian faith, he has discovered that his worldview is shaped far more deeply by Christian ethics and St. Paul’s writing – indeed that of all of modern democracy is – than he ever imagined going into the field. An article upsetting to many of his atheist supporters, I think, but coming from an outsider all the more potent.

    I will find a link and shoot it to you for your analysis – IN CASE you are interested. But of course I hasten to ad, this is not intended as a back door way of persuading you of anything, though of course I am happy to assist if it seems good to you, but rather as somewhat of a model for the kind of unique communion I have found with you… one that makes space in my imagination for the charity we share.

    Thanx

    X

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks AX, I appreciate it. I ended up having a fairly busy day. I capped it off with a walk in the rain along the river but I didn’t get far because the trail washed out – it’s been raining a lot. In any event, I think I’ll save the article for tomorrow.
      Cheers.

      Like

  3. As an outside observer (well, somewhat unusually detached anyway), I am watching the confirmation hearings on Judge K with suspicion ALL AROUND.

    “He said/She said” cases are notoriously difficult anyway. Always have been… or at least since the “she” part began to matter. And it does matter. It matters a lot! But when that’s all you got… is it enough to make the case?

    I say no.

    I am close to people who have been falsely accused. False accusation is morbidly terrible. It destroys lives. Once upon a time, it fueled witch hunts – and that was particularly devastating to women. We really must guard against them! The ONLY THING WORSE than the false accusation is the actual crime IF IT REALLY WAS COMMITTED.

    I believe in innocent until proven guilty IN A COURT OF LAW. I think that is one of the better features of our culture, and I hope we keep it.

    But the confirmation hearing is not a court of law. And I see the difference. So, I am not applying that ideal here, but it is related.

    I was very young when Anita Hill made her accusations. I heard the TV news today recite that only 27% of the American public believed her at the time. That is sadly, really low. However, she did make an impact, even if she lost her case. (Not that it was a regular case.)

    Nevertheless, she has helped shape the politics here, and the politics here ARE A MESS.

    Let’s not forget that D. Trump is considered illegitimate by over half the voting public, and this is yet another nominee he puts forth. I already chafe at that, and so do a LOT of others. How can such an illegit president make such lasting and powerful influence? I am not comfort able with that, just at that level.

    Kavanaugh may very well overturn RvW. He will be in a very powerful position to do that! Wow! And for my money (bad expression), I think THAT is the elephant in the room, politically speaking. As a Christian conservative, this is one issue that I will not be swayed about. Killing innocent babies is wrong. I wont be budged about that with any amount of rhetoric to color it favorably. YET, I (and I know this makes me a very unique Christian in America today) don’t actually have a dog in that fight. (I will be happy to explore that some other time, but it is a bunny trail off my present point, related though it may be). Point being, I don’t have a personal/spiritual vested interest in seeing Kavanaugh appointed over this or any other issue. Nevertheless, I sense this is the REAL underlying issue and the alleged rapes/attempted rapes etc, as important as they are too, are not actually the heavy weight issue.

    Thus, even though I see the rape allegations as VERY IMPORTANT, I see them as the tail wagging the dog. The side show is upstaging the main stage. So I think.

    NEVERTHELESS, this side show is where I have a more personal interest, yet even here, I don’t actually have a dog in the fight.

    Yes, I have close friends who have suffered false accusation. BUT… I remember Anita Hill when I was young and nobody wanted to believe her. And I remember that AT THAT TIME I was suffering sexual harassment at work from a superior colleague too. And I was a white man!

    Without going into detail, I was training as an EMT, and I had clinical training in a major urban Emergency Room where one of the trauma nurses, a very attractive, fairly young, lady nurse had charge of me. Her harassment was not the worst thing I ever experienced. Being a red blooded, American male, the attention I got from her initially was rather flattering! But I was spoken for and she turned very sour with it all when I did not respond favorably.

    My time around her lasted less than two weeks, but her talk and actions became VERY VULGAR – at least as bad as anything Anita Hill described regarding C. Thomas. And the scrutiny Hill faced for not speaking up years before began to eat at me. I had not spoke up either!

    Why?

    Pretty much all the usual reasons. I was embarrassed, afraid, AND I didn’t think it would achieve anything.

    But as I watched Anita face this scrutiny, I realized that if years later (like say today) I heard that that nurse was making a bid to be a Justice on the Supreme Court of the US, then I would feel compelled to speak up. This woman’s character is too questionable to just silently sit back and watch her judge the lives and laws of this land and not call for a spotlight on her.

    THAT would change things for sure.

    AND YET…

    The KINDS of things this woman, the nurse at my training, put me through were also my personal medicine. I was not long out of high school at that time, and around that same time I heard through a former classmate friend that another classmate of mine had considered suicide over an incident in which I had caused her deep pain and anguish in what I would now call sexual harassment. And I remember the event too! I had not taken it seriously at the time, but with Anita Hill’s testimony and my experience to give me guided reflection on such things, I realize that I had been cruel where I formerly thought I was just funny.

    Her name was Angie. And she was beautiful! I didn’t know her well, but on that day in high school when I found myself sitting with her and one of my main buddies in the library talking, I was thinking I was hot stuff just to be in her company. I felt she was “outa my league” really. I never would have dreamed that if I asked this girl out that she might accept. I felt inferior to her and her crowd. I shouldn’t have, but I was young and dealing with things too.

    Anyway, Angie was very petite. She was not big anywhere, but to be honest, I found her to be very attractive LOOKING. I don’t really get into fashion and fitness and all that, but I can say there was nothing about her physically that was not attractive, and only guys with boob fascinations could possibly find her lacking. I would not have been alarmed to see Angie on a magazine cover. She was outa my league.

    But my buddy, it seemed, had a rapport with her that I did not have. And he made reference to her small figure and told her that if she would scratch her mosquito bites, they would grow.

    Angie laughed at this.

    I took it to mean she was comfortable in her own skin and though it surprised me somewhat, I took it to mean that it was funny.

    I am sure I was not the ring leader on that occasion, and I don’t recall any remarks I said, but I am sure I said something and joined in the laughter not realizing she was laughing nervously about it. I can imagine myself pouring fuel on this fire, but I seriously do not recall what my specific remarks were. But I am sure that I felt impressed with myself for even sharing a moment of laughter with Angie even if it was at her expense.

    So, some years later, a friend of a friend informs me that Angie went home that night fighting back tears and seriously contemplated suicide after that. I never spoke to her again, so I can only presume that report is accurate AND since there were only 3 of us present at that otherwise innocuous scene, it tells me this report is likely true… that it did impact her very negatively, that she told a friend about it way back around that time, and since those things are likely true and accurate, I believe her.

    I was the scumbag.

    I am sorry for that.

    I am quite certain Angie was not the only victim of my careless cruelty in my youth, and really even throughout my life.

    And for that matter, that nurse was not the only person to ever victimize me.

    So what is my point in all this?

    Angie’s feelings matter to me. So do mine. And if that nurse were to make a bid like Kavanaugh is doing, I would speak up against her. Not because I hate her or want to do her in, but because if we as a nation are going to trust her with our Justice system, not only do we all have a right to know, but she needs to be examined closely.

    I would like to think that my character has grown and matured since that day with Angie. If I were under this scrutiny, I would be honest about what I remember and about my concern for her feelings today. I doubt seriously that would mean much to her. At least I really couldn’t expect her to find my growth and regret to be meaningful to her personally.

    And for me, this is where my real reaction is. I think this stuff matters. I don’t think it should automatically sink Kavanaugh, but I would like to see him own up to his mistakes as part of his character examination. That said, I suspect that given the political climate, THAT would not be given a fair shake since I think the REAL issue here is not the rape stuff but the abortion issue.

    If this man really raped or attempted to rape a girl, that should disqualify him, but if that is not proven, OR if the preponderance of evidence does not support that, then it is a He said/She said, and I would look for this strength of character to help me make my decision.

    I just don’t think character is the real issue we are dealing with. I think our political system is in such a deep meltdown that we are using character as a smoke screen. And that troubles me.

    Its my thoughts….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, here in America it is all out political war. This is true for the current round of confirmation hearings (for Kavanaugh) just as it was when Republicans refused to consider any and all nominees under President Obama. There is a “by any means necessary” approach by contemporary politicians. This is part of a larger culture war, and this larger culture war has been raging since the founding of the Republic. The last few decades of relative calm are really the exception to the norm. There’s always been a war between those who want progress (on issues related to race/gender/class/sexuality) and those who don’t.

      Like you, I was raised in a culture where toxic masculinity was normative. I came of age in rural Indiana, and the version of fundamentalist Christianity that I grew up with explicitely stated the superiority of men. There was no term such as “toxic masculinity” in my vocabulary, but I definitely lived it, and it’s a severely destructive perspective and way of life.

      In terms of Kavanaugh, I still think that character counts, especially when nominating a judge to the highest court in the land. The character of a judge should be impeccable. Recall that Moses’ father-in-law told him that Moses shouldn’t be sitting around all day judging folk but should instead appoint good men of character to do this work so that things were more efficient. The accusations brought against Kavanaugh are quite intense, and if true would mean that a rapist is on the verge of being nominated to hold one of the highest, most honorable offices in the land. In a more sane political environment, this would give people of goodwill pause. In the current environment, Kavanaugh will likely be pushed through, irregardless of his past behavior.

      For some women, this issue with Kavanaugh is actually far more disturbing than the toxic behavior that came to light during the recent #metoo activism. That a man accused of quite heinous sexual predation could be simply forced upon the American people by a Republican Party — a party who does not have the majority of support from the American public — seems to have triggered a good deal of stuff. It means that in 2018, the Supreme Court still looks for all the world like a good ole boys club.

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      • I know this changes the subject, but you reference your faith before — growing up.

        I wonder…

        I try not to make book recommendations. I usually don’t like getting them. I don’t think I ever made one to you, but I will make this exception either way…

        I read a book by Brian Walsh and his wife Sylvia Keesmaat called Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire a little more than a dozen years ago. It pretty nearly destroyed my life. They challenged my faith in that book like no other.

        I don’t expect my personal reaction to be yours or to convince you to check it out actually, but it cuts deep. To be honest, its not the easiest book to read AND I think I had the pump primed because I have read so much N.T. Wright, and he was Walsh’s teacher once upon a time.

        Anyway, I think you are a reader/writer who can handle the challenge of the reading and will find the content enlightening/challenging too.

        I will not hold you to it, but I will say this much… if you do read it, let me know what you think. I cant imagine someone reading it and not wanting to talk after.

        Here is a link:

        https://www.ivpress.com/colossians-remixed

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll look up the Colossians book. Sounds like a good addition to the bib studies library. Have you read God and Empire, by Crossan? He’s part of the Quest for the Historical Jesus movement. It’s as in depth a critique of empire and of civilization as I’ve seen from a biblical scholar.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Crossan…

        No. Not much. He is a respected scholar and I have found his worthy contribution in several places but…

        Basically, I am very conservative. Crossan is very much not.

        That said, I have read a little bit of liberal stuff here and there and been deeply challenged by some things that I wouldn’t normally be inspired by. I don’t want to did JDC, and my opinion is based largely on reaction of others I admire who have analyzed his stuff more than I care to do.

        The Jesus Seminar, in my opinion, is disastrous stuff and has been totally upended. So, that part of the Quest does not fascinate me.

        On the other hand, Wright rocks my world. He has made sense of stuff for me like no other. When I was in school, I discovered Wright, but we didn’t do much with him. But after I left, I was intrigued enough to start reading everything he writes. Except now his writing is so prolific that I just can’t keep up.

        Then there’s Walsh.

        Walsh was one of Wright’s main students who helped Wright write some of his massive magnum opus. And you can plainly see the influence there, but Walsh is more daring both exegetically and in application. Walsh gets it all up in your grill. It gets in your business big time.

        Walsh feels a bit loose to me as well. And I have stronger disagreement with Walsh than Wright.

        Still, Walsh is the one that gave me the knock out punch with Colossians Remixed.

        I am Gen X. I was very nearly a disaffected youth growing up. Imagine a guy who looks like Slash from GnR (minus the hat) walking across mainstreet into traffic and not looking for oncoming cars. Then imagine a car screetching to a stop with the horn blowing. Then imagine the Slash guy turning to give you the bird while smacking the hood of your car.

        Well, that was me…. for a time.

        I was raised in the church too, but I was seeing right thru it and calling out the bunk when I was 12. When I was 16, I left the church. When I came back at 24, I was going to give it a CHANCE, but I knew that there was no point playing… either REALLY give it a chance or why bother?

        I guess I am still giving it that chance, you might say. However, I like to think I have matured a lot, which I am sure I did (however it is debatable whether moving the maturity needle all that way only got me up to baseline).

        Anyway, I say all of that to say that in all my schooling, from childhood on and in all subject matter and even outside of academics, whenever I found someone describing me or my generation, I always felt that they got me wrong. I was always the exception to any rule. Even being a disaffected youth didn’t REALLY capture my story. And so all the advice in the world from Ann Landers to Paul Harvey to David Horowitz to Rush Limbaugh, to Howard Stern… NOBODY knew me.

        And then I read Walsh and Keesmaat. And suddenly, I was nailed. They got me down where the marrow meets the bone. I found myself in their book, in the worldview they were teaching me – all of it.

        Targum teachings may have their place in the ancient world, but they are a loose fit for mine, but other than that, I was a roundish peg in a hole that suddenly fit for the first time. And my eyes were opened to the Bible and to the world like Neo taking the red pill.

        I remember sitting in my fav deli thinking: In the empire, everyone wants to be branded. But what does that mean… exactly. And there I was talking to my friend about it when suddenly I saw a guy walk in wearing a tee shirt with a LEVIs logo on it. And I saw it. I mean, I can kinda understand that the Levis denim company would put their tag with their logo on the jeans, but this guy thought the logo itself was cool and needed it on his tee shirt too. There is the advertising function in that, but otherwise it is a jacked up thing. Levis should be paying that guy to wear that shirt, but instead that guy paid to advertise for Levis. Hmmm…

        Branded.

        And sure enough, someone came in with a football jersey that said Elway on it. Hmmm…

        Branded.

        Then another guy came in with a tattoo of the Harley Davidson logo on his arm.

        Branded.

        This doesn’t REALLY make sense. Its an artificial world where the people are making themselves artificial in it. Slaves to the grind, to the tower… Like coppertops in the Matrix.

        So why was I all bent on Jesus? Did I wanna catch the Rapture??? Is that it? Some pie-in-the-sky thing??? Or does Jesus have something to say to all this branded business???? All this worship of money, sex, and power???

        I will let Walsh and Keesmaat take it from there, but this is the threshold where they brought me and from which my life became destroyed in every conventional sense.

        You may not be so affected, but I bet you will find it engaging at levels not common to Evangelical American Christianity, and it may challenge you too.

        But I am now selling you a book. And that is actually about the LAST thing I really want to do.

        So I will quit.

        Like I said, IF you actually do find yourself in that book turning pages, I bet you will have a reaction to share. I will let the chips fall where they will…

        Thanx for talking to me about it though…

        Like

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