Implementation is the task of the church over time. It isn’t believing the doctrines that will do it, but consciously, and conscientiously, living in ways that are aligned with, express and enable the principles, the fundamentals, of community formation, development and organization. Jesus laid a new foundation for community: radical equality around the table and across the board. That’s the idea. Now, how do we put that into practice? How do we live that out, in every moment, for the rest of our life? That is the work of the church.
The work of the church is treating one another well. The work of the church is caring for one another the way we need to be cared for. The work of the church is implementing the Greatest Commandment. The work of the church is being the right kind of help. The work of the church is being the right kind of company; the right kind of community.
Jesus came creating the right kind of community, the foundation of which was justice and compassion, and an abiding respect for the value of one another. He prayed, “May they be one, even as we are one,” and said, “As you do it to the least of my brothers (and sisters), you do it to me.”
The right kind of community is characterized by caring presence. Members of the right kind of community are with one another in ways that are good for the other. Members of the right kind of community are good company, and the right kind of community is a good place to be.
Members of the right kind of community understand, along with Shel Silverstein, that “some kind of help is the kind of help that help is all about; and some kind of help is the kind of help we all could do without.” And, they endeavor to offer “the right kind of help,” which is, of course, where it gets tricky.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” and members of the right kind of community respect the boundaries that separate us as much as they honor “the ties that bind us with bonds of mutual love.” Members of the right kind of community do not “mind one another’s business.” They are not “co-dependent.” Their happiness does not depend upon, or require, others being happy with them. They can very well set limits, draw lines, sing their own song, and march to their own drummer. They can very well “define themselves while staying in touch,” and “be a self in relationship with other selves.” And, they can bear their own pain.
Bearing our own pain is an essential requirement of community. Carl Jung and his disciples have all understood that the failure to bear legitimate suffering is at the root of all pathology. Suffering—pain—that is not borne is passed along, passed around. When we don’t carry our own cross, others have to carry it for us. We become a cross when we refuse to carry our cross. The right kind of community understands the nature of cross bearing, and refuses to try to be more helpful than is possible, or helpful.
The cross can be understood literally as a tool of political oppression and control. It is how the state executed its opponents and detractors. It is a particularly cruel way of driving home the point that you better not mess with City Hall. On that level, the cross is “borne” only by those who incurred the wrath of the state during the time it was used by the state as a means of execution. On a deeper level, the cross (and communion table) represents the essential truth: “Ain’t that how it is, though?”, and stands for all of us as the way of “the life of Christ,” and of our life together. The right kind of community understands the place of the cross in its life and in the lives of its members.
The way of the cross is the way of life and death. The way of the cross is the way of choosing how we will live our lives; deciding who we will be; determining what we will do; resolving who we are and what we are about; coming to terms with how it is with us; reconciling ourselves to the nature and circumstances of our lives; and making our peace with the fact that living requires us to “give up this to get that.”
One of the truths that define me, for example, is that I want to be the best father in all the world, and I don’t want to be a father at all. The question is what am I going to do about that? How am I going to live in light of that? There is a cross to be borne here. There is a price to be paid to “live well.” What will we sacrifice? What will we embrace? What will we surrender? What will we embody? Who will we be? The right kind of community understands the nature of the struggle, the place of the cross, and the price that must be paid to be who we need to be for our own sake and for the sake of one another. The way of life is also the way of death. We carry our cross daily in the service of life. “Ain’t that the way it is, though? Amen, ain’t that the way it is!”