Monday, June 18, 2018

That Elusive Utopia

Christian activists are these past few weeks making familiar demands for justice, for our society to embrace an ethos of radical economic and social equity in which none are excluded.  Radical inclusion!  Income for all!  Health care for all!  Shelter and food for all!

It seems a tall order, this pie in the sky utopian vision.  Which it both is and it isn't.

It is a tall order because it's a huge thing, a Kingdom of God thing.

And yet it also isn't, because there's nothing stopping a group of people from doing just that.  If you want an absolutely just society, in which everything is shared and nonviolent, and gracious mutual care defines the ethos of that culture, then do it.

Create it.

Meaning, form a community that lives out the value set you ask of the rest of our culture.  Share everything.  Welcome all, particularly those who are socially or economically marginalized.  Live intentionally, humbly, and collectively. 

Show the world what that looks like.  It can happen.

Having studied both microcommunities, monastic orders, and Old Order Mennonite lifeways?  I've come into encounter with numerous faith-grounded communities that have committed themselves to living out...right here, right now...the ethic that they preach.  They don't talk about the Benedict Option.  They live the Benedict Option.  Sometimes as actual bona fide honest to goodness Benedictines.

This is not an easy thing.  Any form of community is a challenge.  Countless utopian communities have formed, leaping into existence on the imagination of earnest hopeful dreamers of dreams. 

They fail.

The communities lack resources, both material and human.  They have competing internal visions that tear them apart.  They get consumed by the driving ego of their founder.  Or they're made up of gadflies and daydreamers who lack the practical skills to make it work.  Experts in third wave feminist discourse, introverted writer/pastors, and performance artists aren't a good foundation for a utopian collective.  At least not one that lasts more than a weekend.

They fail, ninety nine point nine five percent of the time.

But point five percent of the time, they work.  They are sufficiently oriented towards practical skills and away from the fantasies of ideologues.  They have strong boundaries, the ethical and normative frameworks that must exist if a community is to cohere.  And they survive the "founder transition," finding stability of collective identity after the passing...or ejection...of a charismatic founder.

And I wonder, as I look to movements demanding a just society, where that equitable society...inclusive racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically...exists now.  Meaning, not made up entirely of educated bourgeois, but including folks who come from the struggling "lower" echelons of our culture.

Is there such a place, among the soft bubbling of neomonastic and intentional communities?  Would it be replicable?  Spreadable?

Evangelically viral, the kind of place that would concretize the vision and show how it might be done?

I'm not sure such a community exists.

If you know of it, tell me.