Monday, March 2, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 12

The set up was divine. Within an eight-block stretch of homes located off the central vein into Denver, God placed all twelve people from our 'intentional Jesus community.' I use an innocuous term because we couldn't agree on what we should be called; labels weren't our only point of disagreement.

The twelve of us moved to Denver in 2006 in obedience to God, in pursuit of something relational and apostolic. Some called it 'the group.' Others called it 'our church,' with various modifiers--house, organic, simple. But the terms no longer matter since we're no longer together. The twelve has divided into subsets of threes and twos and ones, spanning no farther than eight-states.

It's been nearly two years since I left what Hipps would call a 'communal experience' (pg. 122). From the early church to the Jesus People USA, to the 1400 block of Denver, CO Christians have celebrated the life of Christ in microcosms. I am a statistic in the opening of Chapter Twelve, "Next Door Enemy." Citing an article from This Magazine entitled "Better Living: Too Many Social Experiments Start with the Best Intentions and End in Disaster" (June: 2003), Hipps notes that 'nearly ninety percent of these communal experiments in North America fail" (pg. 122). I would not call my 'experiment' a failure, nor a disaster--for those are short-sided and corporate words-- but my flight to the Midwest betrays my better judgment.

Without getting into a theology for the house church movement, it is safe to say the model is biblical, and its traction in Eastern countries (e.g. China) still captivate me. Unfortunately, the context of Acts and the culture of Asia are different than the deeply selfish wiring of the West. Hipps offers his criticism: "Our deep individualism is partly to blame for the high failure rate of intentional communities..." (pg. 124).

In studying other cultures (minimally, I admit), I have seen the collective identity prevalent in the East (and biblical times). Our Western independence is entrenched in a rebellious history, early adoption of literacy, industry, factory, and democracy. These are all good things...with unintended consequences.

It is no surprise, then, that violent crimes occur at higher rates, that marriages dissolve more frequently, and that the apex of innovation is in Western countries. We have the lowest cultural sense of shame and highest cultural sense of materialism on the planet. And we cannot be so naive as to think these cultural factors do not sully our church experiences.

When was the last time you saw healthy church discipline?
When was the last time you saw an intensely flawed marriage chose reconciliation over divorce?
When was the last time you saw an offended person leave the church and return later because
  1. someone pursued them (or even noticed they left)
  2. the deserter swallowed his pride and submitted to God's leadership?
I'll hazard an answer: It's been a while.

For some reason, in a profoundly autonomous culture, conflict has become a swear word. We'd rather curse from a distance or exit quietly than take turns sparing in the ring. The word conflict envisions a boxing match where two people take turns punching. Com + flictus = together + to strike. Individualism likes to afflict and inflict, not conflict.

Hipps outlines a 'theology of conflict' (pg. 126) based upon the Mennonite rule of "Agreeing and Disagreeing and Love" (pp. 127-129). "Perhaps the most powerful part of this document is the first point: 'Accept conflict,'" Hipps states at the end (pg. 129).

I agree: reconciliation is impossible when everyone leaves the ring.
Integrity Check (these words included)
Hipps: 45
Total: 605
Percentage: 7.4%


willtolive said...

Sorry it took me a bit to respond, new trimester=new crazy kids=crazy couple of weeks ;

I sadly say that I HATE hearing the quote from Hipps that most of these "social groups" fail, but I have realized it more and more that it "seems" like a hopeless dream to get people to actually fight for real relationships in America.

Lindsay and I have talked about moving out of country for this very reason, but I don't want to flee just because it "seems" impossible.

I hurt that "our group" never seemed to show fruit. I felt completely committed and hopeful. I feel like William Wallace when he is on the battlefield at Falkirk.

Nonetheless, I have been stuck with sorrow at how I contributed to the fruitless fig. So, I await for God to do His work instead of me trying to make it happen. I await and HOPE because I believe, though rare, people who long to love others and God, can be found...even in America. Although the way is narrow, a few DO find it.

What do you mean, "you would be more bold?"

Sprained Ankle said...

Speaking of GID, I think you still work there, I used this conflict demonstration in a class when talking with h.s. kids about managing conflict. The liked the fighting analogy.

I told you around the campfire - differences aside - that night you were a strong leader. I haven't wavered from that belief.

I forget when and where I said I would be more bold, but I'm growing less insecure (or more aware of it, and thus less controlled by it) all the time. Asking tougher questions, praying on sight, sharing struggles.

Hope is powerful. Hold on.

willtolive said...

You said it in your response to me in your Chapter 11 blog.

Thanks for the encouraging words. Just this weekend we "ran into" some people at a Mattress store (the owners) who were reflecting the Kingdom and it sparked a conversation and they invited us to dinner Sunday night...great times and at least one night of community connection.

You can write that on your wall/bookshelf! ;