Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Naked Community

So the other day, I found myself wondering what my little suburb of Annandale would look like if it were naked. Not stripped of clothing, mind you. That would be very unpastorly of me, and I'm also afraid my own contribution to that collective event would be rather unsettling. But rather, what it would look like if the two great powers that define and "clothe" our culture simply weren't there when we woke up one morning.

The powers in question: mammon and the sword. The sword is coercive power, and it is wielded by the state to undergird the legal frameworks of our society. Mammon is symbolic power. It drives the market, and is itself dependent on the power of the sword to establish and enforce the value of currency.

So our bedside radio chirps to life at 6:45 am one spring morning, and we hear it breathlessly announce that there is no longer any law enforcement. There are no longer any laws. No traffic cops. No courts. Nothing. Not only that, all currency is no longer valid. Our plastic is just plastic with random data encoded into a magnetic strip. Our cash is just paper with some trippy pictures on it. It all simply ceased to be meaningful or accepted.

Far fetched? Sure. A bit silly? Undoubtedly. But still interesting.

What would your community look like on the day of that announcement? The answer to that question, I think, is an interesting measure of just how healthy a society is. If the first word that pops into your head is "looting," followed by the word "pillage" and the phrase "everything on fire," then perhaps the place you are is not healthy. If you immediately think of staging a raid on your local Best Buy, then perhaps the you that you are is not healthy.

If, on the other hand, a society could just dispense with those things without batting an eye, then I think it would be in a rather different moral position. Would we still do what we do to fill our days? Would our relationships within our communities remain the same? Would our patterns of consumption be changed? For most social groups, the answer is yes. The changes would be huge. But the closer we get to modeling the Way that Jesus taught, the less impact this thought exercise would have. I can't imagine it having any meaningful impact within an Amish community, for instance.

How we react when we are truly, really, totally free is a good measure of where we stand relative to the Kingdom.