Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Members of One Another": To Know, and To Be Known, Part II

Craig sent me this via email nearly a year ago, and I had intended to make it a blog post. I obviously forgot. But now I'm posting it, and it fits in perfectly with the current discussion!

This quote from St. Basil of Caesarea (~330-379) gives a wonderful account of the value of life in a Christian community:
    We are ‘each one of us, members of one another’; but if we are not united in harmony into one close-knit body in the Holy Spirit, but each individual chooses solitude, not serving the welfare of the community in the manner well-pleasing to God, but satisfying the private desires of self-fulfillment, how, when thus separated and divided, can we preserve the mutual relation and service of the members, and their subjection to our head, that is, to Christ? For when our life is thus divided, how can we ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, or weep with those who weep’? It is scarcely possible for the individual to know what is happening to his neighbor. Then again, no man is capable of receiving all the spiritual gifts. . . In the community life, the private gifts of the individual become the common property of his fellows. . . the activity of the Holy Spirit in one man extends to all the rest at once. . . What scope will a man have for showing humility, if he has no one before whom to show himself humble? What chance of showing compassion, when cut off from fellowship with others? How practice patience, when there is none to oppose his wishes? . . . The Lord washed the disciples’ feet; whose feet will you wash? Who will you look after? . . . When brethren live together in community, then there is a stadium for athletic exercise, a method for development, a combined course of training and practice in the Lord’s commands. And its object is the glory of God. . .

    - From Regulae Fusius (‘Long Rules’)

St. Basil here is actually contrasting a monastic community life with a life of solitary monasticism, which was common in the fourth century, when he wrote this. But his main thesis is freshly relevant today, in our hyper-individualistic society (when you think of it, ‘hyper-individualistic society’ is really pretty oxymoronic, isn’t it?).

American Christians of the 21st century strongly tend to conceive of the Christian life in individualistic terms – me and my relationship with Jesus – but Basil makes some very sharp points about the limitations of an individualistic Christian life, and the corresponding value of some kind of community life together with fellow-Christians.

-Submitted by Craig


Joe B said...

For some years we unMonks of the unChurch have grappled with the practical side of communal-slash-community living, but without actually living under one roof or in the same cul de sac. Craig's crew actually live in very close proximity, kinda fusing worship and daily life.
My conclusion? It's darned difficult. The gravitational pull of just living like everyone else is overwhelming.
Heck, you can roast a pig, hire a band, rent an inflatable bounce-house and send engraved invitations...and its still hard to get even close friends to hang out a while. Let alone to live in actual, functional community. It seems to me that if people don't actually share a kitchen (as they did in ancient times), the idea of "living in community" can be only an idea.
Is biblical koinonia (common living) truly nothing more than going out to eat together after church? Is that all there is?

Joe B said...

Here's a very controversial matter that both the monastics and the 19th century utopians faced:

"Living in Community" is living like family (thus Christians call each other Brother and Sister.) BUT. True families are constructed with sexual bonds. Marriage. Bed. Sex. Offspring. Kitchen. Household. Relatives. Tribe. Ethnos.

Like the The Monastics, the 19th C. Shakers forbade marriage because it limits community to those in the sexually forged circle of family. The surprisingly successful christian 19th C. Oneida community in New York took the opposite tack: EVERYBODY was married to EVERYBODY. That's right, sex for all! (Only without children. And arguably, the demise of the community was when they decided to start a "breeding program" that allowed babies.)

Can you believe I even brought that up? But since I was talking about the walls that divide us...

I think there is a lesson in these experiences of the monastics and 19th Century Utpoians.

What is it?

Scott said...

Ah yes, we've talked about the Oneida community before... I remember now. THAT'S an interesting one!

We almost need an informational link for people to see what you are talking about slightly more, if they haven't heard of them. I'd go with THIS or even this Wikipedia entry. Hopefully those are fairly accurate.

It'll be an interesting discussion to see what everyone actually agrees with, concerning the Oneida-ans, rather than just what they disagree with. :-)

Craig said...

Hmmmmm. . .

I can’t help thinking that going off on the non-standard sexual practices of the Oneida community would be missing the point a bit. Obviously, it is possible to have an intense Christian community life with one wife-per-husband (and vice-versa). And that was certainly the case in the early Church.

But I will admit that intentional community life is not easy, and in many of the same ways that being married is not easy. Just for one example, it more-or-less forces you to confront your own selfishness at a pretty down-and-dirty level. . .

Craig said...




Scott said...

I know, right? Two awesome topics: Community and Sex! And yet... nothing.

Joe B said...

Yeah. I think when it becomes "Community-Sex" the visual backdrop drowns out any rational thought.