Claiming the Deep, Invisible Bonds of Community’.

Posted: April 29, 2021 in Uncategorized

Claiming the Deep, Invisible Bonds of Community’.

This morning I want to acknowledge that with the arrival of Covid 19 the world has changed. And particularly with what we mean by community, churches and gatherings have been curtailed in the interests of stopping the spread of the virus, not I said spread and not getting rid of the virus because even though they might be one and the same I suspect we will have a form of the virus with us long into our future as a human species. Just like many other viruses we have learned to live with. Don’t get me wrong there is still a need to ensure human safety from a killer virus but managing it has always been our approach. What I am concerned with today is the effect this global example has had on human community and what that means and how we maintain it. ‘Tacey’ an Australian theologian says that:

“The art of community is the art of the soul, and community is what happens
when deep, invisible bonds are shared…” 
(Tacey 2003:217).

This suggests that community is more that just being together for events or collective gatherings. Rex Hunt tells the following story when talking about our Gospel reading for this morning. He speaks of the vine as the metaphor followers of Jesus might have seen his activity as depicting. In speaking about a vine Rex says: When Tarzan swung from them, they were a mode of jungle transportation. When he and his mate were asked to dig one out from the front garden of a home in suburban Epping, it was nothing short of a pain in the proverbial. The image of a vine, played with by the storyteller we call John in this morning’s gospel story, is also a rich source of reflection and comment on community’.

We might see the story as John having taken the image of a vine, an organic also e ‘sacred’ as beneath and around us, rising up, rather than above us, condescending. (William Loader web site, 2009)

And also, a bit more. That relationship is what matters, and what flows from those relationships. Now we know that much of this is not new. Either to this week’s gospel story or to the Jesus story as a whole. But the inclusion of this story might mean that in John’s world. There might have been a question around the loss of community. And this prompts us to ask; what about our modern, secular world and our sense of community, our sense of society.

We might also ask is this challenge about community new? Is Covid 19 the only wake up call we as a species need? And where might all this, concern about community touch the raw edges of our everyday, 21st century, life.?

Maybe the vine or ‘organic’ metaphor is a strong challenge for us today? Is it a challenge to those contemporary Western corporate and political leaders of society who tend to argue that: “the well-being of society as a whole will be maximized only through a corporation’s self-interested me-first pursuit of profit.” (Lerner 2006:104)

What the challenge highlights is that this opinion is not only a difference of opinion about what constitutes ‘society’ or ‘community’, but also a clash of values as well, as is that which came upon us in the recent economic ‘crash’. One set of values, based on ‘consumerism’ and modern individualism, sometimes now known as materialism believes that:

  • all persons should be responsible for themselves and look after their own interests;
  • help given to others for nothing in return only diminishes the initiative of such people and leads them into a permanent state of dependency;
  • efficiency is the key to a healthy economy, and
  • competition is one of the chief techniques for promoting efficiency so competition must be increased. 

The other set of values, based on respect for the sacred in the other, calls for: 

  • co-operation instead of competition;
  • a vision which says look after others as much as ourselves;
  • a recognition that we have a common destiny or no destiny at all; and
  • justice and fairness in all our dealings.

Now of course, as many others have pointed out quite clearly, and New Zealand theologian Lloyd Geering being one of them, – it is much easier to name the social values we need than to put them into practice. And just as it is much easier to analyse the situation than it is to change it. The main question we might be left with is has do we live as ‘community’ for the common good.

Noel Preston an Australian sought an answer and suggested that we could make sense not only of Jesus’ own, individual life, and also make sense of this life lived in relationship with many others. In a kind of personal credo, Noel Preston offers these thoughts on, or characteristics of, a renewed 21st century faith. He says focus on;

  1. An Eco-centric and not anthropocentric world view

That means to reject human-centred theology, which subtly endorses our species’ destructive dominance of nature, in favour of a view which takes seriously the intrinsic value of all life. I look at this a bit differently. I don’t agree about the need for a new non-human centred approach but rather I think we do need a new theology of the human place in the wholistic interdependent world. We need to acknowledge the anthropocentric world view as the only way we can meet the required responsibility for the planet and that the key thing is that we need to acknowledge that is a life time task of keeping ourselves humble, sceptical of easy stories and ensure we participate fully and responsibly in shaping our world. The second foci he says is to be;

  • Inclusive and not exclusive

Not just in a gender, race or species sense, but also, in recognising that the truth to live by may be revealed in varying and multiple ways. The richness of ecology, biology and cosmology is that it is always serendipitous, always random, always different, always organic That was why Jesus was able to say there is an alternative way of being, a new way, an alternative to the economic, social and religious way he lived with and had the insight to see.. The third foci is that this alternative way of being human is that it is:

  • Mystical rather than literalist

That a new way of looking at this is to see that it centres on an experience of the sacred in the midst of not alongside of or over but as life’s uncertainties This ‘community” is a dynamic event seemingly fragile but triggered more by cosmic connectedness with other creatures than by codified religious institutions or social or economic forms. Community is rooted in;

  • The goodness of life rather than its undeniable tragedy

This suggests that we do not need to fix the horrible negative things of the world with programs of repentance and restructuring and new directions in theory. Yes we need to live the questions but ‘Life’s purpose’ is less about putting right or fixing things and more about celebrating original goodness rather than seeking salvation from original sin. Stop at the last words in the stanza of the first creation story, “And it was good” Don’t go on to the second story where the bad in the world, has to be a human fete accompli.

Noel Preston’s vision and mine is that of a renewed 21st century faith being based on a sense of community built around the ideal of love. Is the response to make and it invites being understood in political, economic and social terms “as community of eco-justice.” (Preston 2006:296)

While some argue such a faith is too removed from traditional or fundamentalist, religious thought, or that it is too trendy; as if that is a negative? It seems to me that it is not far from the re-imagined sense of community, the Galilean sage from Nazareth inspired in a storyteller we call John.  For him community is what happens when deep, invisible bonds, like that of a vine, are embraced and shared, rising up around, among, within us, where. “the well-being of others contributes directly to the well-being of oneself.” (Birch & Cobb 1981:277)

And to return to what this understanding of community is based upon is the “Road not taken” by Robert Frost that reminds us that we might look again and discover that there is a choice that we are being asked to make, Listen, to the sage of Nazareth or to the clanging cymbal that is making the loudest noise.

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,”

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

And in closing the challenge is to keep the vision of community based on ‘Love’, alive for it is never too late to seek a new world and a new heaven, or as Tennyson said.
“Come, my friends.  ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.” (Tennyson, quoted in Preston 2006:307) Amen.

Birch, L. C. & J. B. Cobb Jr. The Liberation of Life. From the Cell to the Community. New York. Cambridge University Press, 1981.
Lerner, M. The Left Hand of God. Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right. New York. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
Preston, N. Beyond the Boundary. A Memoir Exploring Ethics, Politics and Spirituality. Burleigh. Zeus Publications, 2006.
Tacey, D. J. The Spirituality Revolution. The Emergence of Contemporary Spirituality. Sydney. HarperCollins, 2003.

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