Posted by: dacalu | 14 March 2010

A Solitary Christian?

I’d like to say a word or two this week about the idea of a solitary Christian. At some level, I think this has to be an oxymoron. How can one love one’s neighbor, if one is alone?

Now, history compels me to make a comment about this specific question in the light of the Protestant Reformation. Should solitary monastics and hermits be allowed? Yes. That’s not really where I’m going with this, but it becomes important in that I want to say more than, “we should socialize.” I want to say that it’s important to engage in conversations about our faith – or, to be more prosaic – conversations about our relationship with God. It can be so simple to take that for granted; it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a relationship with God does not take work and reflection. Just like a marriage, or a business, our relationship with God take maintenance.

As Christians, I think we have an obligation to love one another primarily for the benefit of the other. But we have a secondary obligation to love one another for the sake of the revelation that comes from living in society. If each of us is indeed made in the image of God, then we may see God in one another. Do we not have an obligation to look, to explore, to seek out God in all people?

One of the reasons I value the Anglican tradition is that there is a great love of studying different perspectives, different visions of God across the continents and across the centuries.

This is why I have so much trepidation – even fear – of an Anglican covenant. Our loose association of churches stops us from imposing one country’s vision of God on another country. It forces us to interact as equals in a way that a single church would never allow. Rome, for all it’s good intentions, has institutionalized a hierarchy of people and of cities so that one opinion can dominate another. I do not want this for us. I want us to do the back-breaking work of learning to live with people we cannot coerce.

Am I total anarchist? No. Really do value our bonds of mutual affection, our common history and traditions. I also think that bishops and national churches are necessary for good order. But there must be a balance. A balance between the need for conformity – to serve a common end – and the need for liberty – for each of us to follow God’s call where ever it leads.

Community is a virtue. It forces us to be humble and to recognize that God is God of all. It makes us realize that our own vision is limited, must be limited, by our humanity. Community helps us define our edges, our wants, and our excesses.

Community is a virtue, and as such it must be nurtured, encouraged, and strengthened. It cannot be enforced. That which is obligatory cannot be virtuous. If we want to grow character in individuals, we must never enforce conformity.

Scary isn’t it. That we must actually convince one another – and suffer the consequences when we cannot agree. Coercion sounds lovely at first. It makes common action possible, but somehow it never comes out right. If our goal is to make Christians of all nations, we must show them what it means to be vulnerable, to be open, to be willing to hear. This is the seed that needs to be planted.

And so I encourage you to reach out to others this Lent. Ask them about their relationship with God. Do not judge; only listen. Find out what God may be saying through them. Find someone utterly different from yourself, and learn more about the central passion of their heart. Whatever their response – be it inspired, or diabolical – you will understand them better, and perhaps yourself as well.

May God open your heart to all good things.

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