Now I have loved you like a baby
Like some lonesome child
And I have loved you in a tame way
And I have loved you wild
I have come to realize some small portion of the pain I have caused in this world. God has given me a great mercy that I am not aware of it all. Of all the revenge on all enemies ever wished, nothing would be worse than desiring that one morning they might see in the mirror all that they have wrought in themselves and others. Consider the times we have not seen Christ in the least of these?
Human beings are compelled universally to live in community. At least we know this, that we are born in community and we will die in community with very little to say about it. One of the truths confronted in Nothing Hypothetical poems is that radical individualism is both intellectually and practically indefensible. It is a product of a vain imagination.
Today few communities consciously develop their sense of non-negotiable belonging; usually micro-communities of ethnic or religious eccentricity. These local bodies and their quazi-local appendages of clan-like relations provide the last cohesive setting for persons to develop an awareness of real communion.
It is much more common to witness communities collapse when the people gathered are without the sufficient conditions for bonding to justify the personal risk and ongoing cost. And without walls the populous tends to migrate too much to coalesce around something other than personal convenience.
This leads me to think that the necessity of community in the past was a pillar of a functioning social group; individualism mitigated by necessity.
Modern marriage contracts may be laudable for a more just address of women’s previous legal vulnerabilities, but no fault divorce removes one of the strongest ordinary compulsions for working out a marriage with fear and trembling.
Since I first considered communion I have struggled with this.
There were different forces at work in elder days. I might have been born into my father’s guild, but to assume that there was not a consensual element to this is an over-simplification. There was social change even then via migration, merchant populations, military service, etc. There have always been stories of peasants falling in love with princesses and other fanciful notions of a change in one’s fated station.
Every child had the rational choice to not do as he was burdened by fate to do, yet the forces of society around him were equally opposed to such an action as they are promoting it now. Many of the ancient stories surround the devastating consequences of attempting to thwart such fate. Such stories had a function precisely because at some point many of the people in those societies considered the consensual limits of their birth.
Just because modern society’s predisposition is to encourage individualism, doesn’t mean that the act of surrendering that is only available as a manifestation of that individualism.
Take the Church. If I come to accept that the Church exists I do not consent to join, but more accurately I submit to its authority. This is not a willful choice on my part, but a disposal of my will. I can, to a lesser extent, accept the community of my workplace, which is not precisely the workplace itself but the community of persons which co-exists along with it, and thereby submit my will again.
This submission, kenosis (to be precise), is the only exit from your philosophical trap of individualism’s inherent extremism. I must disinherit my rights of volition regarding membership in the community I join. These communities cannot properly be democratic in nature though they may contain familiar elements to some degree or another within certain functional parts.
In both of these cases, my participation is not voluntary, or at least it is not fully voluntary in the sense that endangers the construction of a community. Perhaps it is the addition of cyphers against volition that make community possible.
Vows, for example, are critical in monastic communities. They remove a portion of volition creating a platform for greater community function. The military has its methods and mechanisms as well, which serve the same purpose. Sports teams have lesser, but somewhat effective traditions.
We take what we can get in life because our experience has told us that nothing more is available at a price we can afford. A BMW might be an ultimate driving machine, but I cannot even afford a replacement for my currently deficient vehicle should it fail at the side of the road.
What then of the ideal community; what does it look like and how can we have it? Which community shall we meditate on? And if one exists for us to admire it’s great virtue, how then shall we not despair at its remoteness from us? Shall I come to despise my home because it has no hearth?
I have known a couple monastic communities in passing and one I know very well. It might be such a virtuous community such that humans visiting it are visibly effected by it. Yet when you speak to its members they are strangely ignorant of the very medicine they are awash in. They know their deficiencies. So perhaps visitors have a delusional experience; believing we know the holiness of a place is a delusion if we do not equally know its folly.
But it does not matter whether or not we ever chance to participate in such a great community, either within such a community or without it we are called to love our neighbor better than our brother and pray for our enemies. These tasks don’t change with circumstance or environment. This sacrificial love is the fulfillment of life; it is theosis not civics.
I think this is what Bonhoeffer understood. Bringing any expectation to the community is to subjugate it and eventually destroy it. We must love its members as they are for what they are. This is the only hope of real community.
From “Life Together” several quotes:
One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood.
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung up from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christains with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first and accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
The West’s supreme potency lies in it’s utilitarian obsession. When there is plenty of food, clothing and housing for everyone all manner of deficiencies are tolerated. There is abundance in excess beyond all reason and this makes biting the hand that feeds terribly unpalatable.
In fact, so efficient is the efficiency that inefficient islands of anachronism are not only tolerated, but celebrated as is fashionable.
However, obsession ultimately consumes, just as sin ultimately ends in death. Nothing satisfies addictions. A utilitarian, standing and watching it all burn might still say to themselves that for a few generations we got as close to paradise as we could. We’ll get it right next time.
There is no communicating meaningfully with such delusional people.
God forgive the utopians. For them it does not matter whether it is good for as long as it lasts, or that the pessimist in them lives long enough to be satisfied that the end of it all is just. I don’t need to know that a strung out addict is slowly killing themselves in front of me. They have already begun when they take the first dose.
The urge itself is the damage done within the first step. I am glad they all tolerate me (I amuse them as is fashionable). But we may be nearer a time of wild dogs than we know. I do not wish it on anyone, even them that brought their disease with them.
For I know I am ill as well.
Saint John tells us not to pray for them that commit the sin that is unto death. Why does he do this? Because relief will not help these lost souls who’s only hope for repentance is the calamity of consequence.
To what extent is the overwhelming anti-culture, such as it is, still effective at keeping basic social order? All the doomsayers may yet be right, but it is fascinating to see that billions of people are still sufficiently interdependent on each other to understand that if they don’t play along at least marginally, they don’t eat.
However, sustenance isn’t life. We’ve simply enslaved ourselves to our passions and have productively redirected those passions as best we can. When will the slaves revolt, I wonder?
Another quote, this time from a friend:
There cannot be community without an ordering principle, an understanding held in common (and thereby made into “common sense”) about how to live well together. All other arrangements of people cannot constitute community, however laudable they may otherwise be.
This is correct, but thankfully the opposite is also true. Where an ordering principle exists, there is genuine community as well. Bonhoeffer calls divine love the highest order principle. But less debatable than that assertion, is that community exists regardless of our satisfaction with it. And Bonhoeffer’s advice rings true across many lower order communities.
Community exists, with or without our consent. We are born into our families and lie dead in our cemeteries. No one is truly alone. Our satisfaction with these communities is not a measure of their imperfections, but our own.
We bring our wish-dreams to the parish council meeting, marriages, friendships, neighborhoods, cities and nations and say, “make this be” or “make it not so.” And then, when those people do not sum up to our expectations, we thrash the corpses we have already murdered in our hearts. We have already made them objects, dehumanized, just like the pretty girl who smiled at the old man who believes he harmlessly enjoys it. There is nothing so harmful. There is no sin worse than not seeing Christ in the least of these, for what else in the end damns us?
(Some parts of this essay are drawn from other writings of mine.)