So I have been reflecting today on a novel I recently finished entitled Gilead. As a father, as a minster, and as a person who experiences the grace of God mediated through nature, this story was intensely compelling and personally refreshing. It is a memoir fictionally written by John Ames, an aging congregationalist minister who is close to death, to his young son whom he will not get to see grow up.
The overarching narrative is not what brings me to the blogosphere. There is a moment in the book that serves as the first domino is a series of thoughts that leads to my claim that it is time for us to abandon and dismantle the government and let every woman, child, and man roam as free as she or he wills.
A fire has struck a local church building and the residents of the small community rush out to salvage what they can - while the rain pours. Drenched they pool together resources and energy and time. John Ames is a young boy at the time sitting under a covered area watching his father work. His dad comes over, reaches out his ash covered hand, and feeds his boy a biscuit. Ames looks back on this moment as an experience of holy communion. As the story progress you see how this incident has a life-shaping impact on him.
This snippet is part of a larger motif in Marilynne Robinson's novel of the sacredness of all things, or the sacramentality of physicality. You also see this in how Ames views water or the opportunity to open your eyes and embrace a new day. I suppose it is a reaction against the compartmentalization of the holy so common in a more narrow approach to spirituality and religious life (a much needed reaction that I am glad she makes mind you).
I have seen this movement from a number of sources to reestablish the grace mediating ability of trees, of food, or work, etc. For many people tired of an old, segmented-from-lived-reality way of doing spirituality, this has been a medicinal move. Many people are coming alive to a God who is alive in so much more and in so many more places than just those activities/experiences officially sanctioned by the religions establishment. But just as a poorly done / narrowly defined view of the holy has diminished the sacredness of other things in life, I have also see this reaction conversely reduce the holiness of the community of believers gathered in worship, being transformed by liturgy, celebrating communion, etc. It seems that, for some, hallowing one thing requires them to diminish the other.
Can't we do both? Does doing one thing well mean we have to reduce something else as worthless? Just because some people have done something poorly - even destructively poor - does not mean that it should not or cannot possibly be done. If this is not the case, then (here it comes finally) it is time for us to abandon and dismantle the government and let every woman, child, and man roam as free as she or he wills.
Can anyone argue that government has proved to be a cancerous and destructive force on societies at times? Can anyone argue that the government in our own country is not hurting us in certain ways? Does that, then, mean that we should get rid of government altogether? As much as politics bothers me and as much of an emerging pacifist as I am, I would be scared to see what would happen if government was wholesale tossed out and we were left with the "freedom" that would ensue.
So, why mention this?
Well, I think this applies to a reactionary spirit that I hear from various sources about what it means to live as a Christian in our world today. Here are some things Christians and their churches do that have been done poorly and sinfully that some think should be dismantled in the name of a truer spirituality that I think just need to be reformed and done well:
Religious communities engaging in the social/civic/political realm
Churches collecting money from the members that make up that body
Christians establishing a 501c to help the poor
Global mission work
Christians owning personal property
Christians enjoying secular entertainment
Christians being fans of athletic teams
If our goal is the total reformation of our total lives into the total image of Jesus, then I think we have to caution against reactionary "dismantle the government" claims. It is possible, as with John Ames, to embrace the sacredness of biscuits while not truncating the sacredness of communion bread. Let's do both fully and deeply. Let's see what needs reformation and address it without closing down all government in the hopes of finding "freedom."