Author's Note: Some of my thoughts about both Christian Community and Christian Theology have changed since the following article was written. In due course I hope to write about those changes. In the meantime I am posting the article as it is. To comment on this article, go to my blog Brooklyn Quaker.
Our Friends Meetings often lack the full measure of spiritual power, social relevance, and deep fellowship which characterized the early Quaker movement. Perhaps if intentional communities are established and begin witnessing within them, whole meetings can begin to move toward a more committted, radical, joyful, spiritual community than now exists among us. This is a proposal for such an intentional community within a Friends Meeting. The proposal discusses what the foundation, lifestyle, mission, and means of organization or discipline might be in such a community.
Our individual lives and communal life need a deeper foundation than most of us have yet built upon. A deep darkness is the current ruler - not only of the world around us, but sometimes of our Friends' Meetings and of our own souls. Entering community shold involve an act of repentance for each of us: a deliberate turn away from the darkness to attempt to walk with each other in the Light. What I mean by darkness is this: the life cut off from God, lived destructively, or lived in bondage.
We live in the darkness when:
Anyone leaving the darkness is at least a tiny threat to the American empire: she or he will cease to be a manipulable consumer, a reliable "patriot", or decently silent about crimes against God and humanity. Therefore, there are many social pressures to submit to the darkness and even to call it Light. Drawing together in community may in itself help us to resist those pressures. Ultimately, however, the source of darkness is in ourselves as well as "out there". So we need to do more than huddle with each other if we want to walk in the Light; we need to build on a new foundation.
That new foundation has many names in Christian/Quaker tradition. It is called The Way, The Truth, The Life, The Word, The Lamb, The Seed, That of God in Everyone, and the Light of Christ. This Light or Word is alive and active in every human soul. It will teach and lead us if we will put our faith in it. It was fully embodied in the Life of Jesus of Nazareth through whom many came to obey it. It is embodied again whenever a people gathers in it and lives by it. It is the free gift of God to everyone, yet it is also "costly" in worldly terms to many who accept it and live in it. Life in the Light is rightly known as the way of the Cross, since it often involves painful renunciations and sometimes even death. Yet it is also a Way of joy and freedom which is worth whatever it costs.
We walk in the Light whenever:
The earliest Quakers, like a few other groups and many individuals in history, lived and walked in this Light. Christ was embodied anew in their Meetings. In their worship, they waited in silence on the Living God. The Spirit swept over them, united them, shook them, moved them to tears, to deeper silence, to ecstatic speech, or to vocal ministry. Ultimately it remolded them and changed their lives. I propose that our community meet often in the same kind of silence and be fully open to whatever God may do. I propose that we be careful to neither program things into those meetings nor limit the Holy One by programming things out.
There are certain general features of community lifestyle which we can visualize and hope for without imposing a premature detailed blueprint.
The work of God on earth is done by human hands. It includes both service to those in need of it and also radical witness or radical organizing which calls people out of the darkness that breeds war and oppression.
Many community members may find their opportunities for service primarily at work. All of us, in fact, should work at jobs which are useful to people, though not necessarily at "service" jobs as often narrowly defined. In addition, some of us may be called to other service as volunteers, or the community as a whole may be led to undertake joint service projects.
The other part of our mission - which might be called radical evangelism - will be at least as important as social service. Service alone leaves untouched not only the spiritual darkness in individual human hearts, but also the vast institutions and social arrangements which are built on it and which therefore spread death and destruction over the Earth. We should be prepared to wage the "War of the Lamb" with spiritual weapons against this darkness in order that, in James Nayler's words, "God may wholly live in the heart of man, and man wholly live in the work of God." One an imagine all kinds of actions or campaigns undertaken in this vein. Some of us might, for example, labor to expose the wickedness of imprisonment in varioius dramatic ways, to educate ourselves andothers about alternatives, and to personally call upon individual judges, policepeople, jailers and guards to repent, leave their jobs, and walk in the Light. We might carry this witness into jury selection rooms and labor with citizens waiting to be called for jury service about the nature of what they are doing for the State.
Or we could wage similar campaigns against exploitative advertising, or military recruiting, slum housing, sexist or racist employment policies, etc. I mention specifics only to convey the idea, not to dictate the actual direction. That direction should be dictated only by the Spirit of God leading us individually or collectively to action. We should not allow some grand political strategy, the current headlines, or anything else under heaven set our priorities, tactics, or targets of action for us. Every action taken in the name of the community should be approved in a community business meeting gathered to seek the will of God.
Christian community should not have hierarchies of human authority, arbitrary rules, or coercive discipline. This does not mean that it is without any form, structure, or discipline at all. I tentatively assume that we will have at least two households in some proximity and that no community member will live alone. I assume that within each household there will be a common kitchen-dining room and common meeting room of some kind but also private bedrooms for each individual or in some cases for each couple, and perhaps othher private space for families with children, so that they can be together when they want to be.
Each household should have a procedure for convening business meetings after the manner of Friends. Such meetings could consider the proper allocation of household chores, purchase of needed goods, allocation of income & expenses, etc. Each household should have an appointed clerk or clerks to record the sense of the meeting on each issue which arises. In addition, the community as a whole should have its own business meeting to deal with overall community business, the reception of new members, the writing of support minutes for various forms of witness, etc. The purpose of community discipline is to help each other to walk in the Way which God has shown us, but without coercing one another. This will be difficult for those of us with liberal do-your-own-thing Quaker backgrounds. No discipline will really be possible for us unless all of us are willing to submit ourselves and our own wills to the will of God, the mind of Christ.
This is an easily distorted idea, leading people to submit to less-than-Divine authority. The Bible, the pope, the bishop, the minister, the individual conscience, and even the community itself can become false gods. Nevertheless, despite its seeming elusiveness, the word of God does become embodied and dwell among us full of grace and truth, teaching and leading us directly if we will learn and follow. Just as each of us in our own lives can try to bring our fallible human consciences closer and closer to the infallible Christ who enlightens it, so our community can come with time to embody more and more fully the Presence of the Word among us. Thus the true Will of God will somehow be disclosed - sometimes to the group, sometimes to the individual. By holding each other in the Light, patiently counseling, reproving, encouraging, and listening to one another - and by learning to wait together in pure silence before God - we can come to unite in that Will and move in it.
I suggest the following structures and processes to help us in our attempt to be faithful.
If one member's conduct or attitudes continue to trouble another member even after counsel is given and the two cannot agree, then eihter of them should feel free to call on a third Friend to meet with them and work for agreement. In those hopefully rare cases where even these steps fail and the grounds for disunity seem important, then the counsel of the community business meeting should be sought. The meeting should seek the guidance of christ before taking any action. If a case should ever arise in which a member continues to trouble the entire community by conduct which appears contrary to God's will and detrimental to the community witness, the community may consider disownment as a last resort. A disowned member could then be asked to leave our households.
In no case, however, should downment be a pretext for shunning or for denying friendship to an ex-member. Nor, if we can avoid it, should we send anyone away from us without material means of support. Our goal should be to make downment as non-punitive as possible and non-coercive as possible, lest the threat of it hinder free obedience to God and make individuals timid when the community itself strays from the Way. Downment should simply testify to an already manifest disunity.
No human hierarchy should be allowed to replace Christ, the Word, as our Leader and Teacher. No ministry should be institutionalized and no minister hired. Clerks and other officers (if any) of the community should be appointed by community or household business meetings as appropriate and should not be repeatedly appointed to the same jobs.
I have great hopes for what the Lord may do through such a community as this. I hope that Friends who are interested will contact me at 240 Cumberland Street, Brooklyn, New York. If we come together in submission to Christ's easy yoke, we can find a new inner freedom, deep peace, and deep joy, while releasing powerful forces for good in the world.
May it be so!