Monday, January 15, 2007

Can O' Worms (Exiles 1)

This post was inspired in part by Jamie Arpin-Ricci, and also from my reading of Michael Frost's Exiles, which I HIGHLY recommend. I'm only half-way through it, and it's encouraged, challenged, frustrated, and caused me to put it down repeatedly to think about implications and possibilities. Books that accomplish this are gems. Get this book.

Frost talks about communitas early in the book, which he describes as a community that has a goal beyond itself -- in order words, it's not community for community's sake, but rather community gathered around a common vision.

Frost couples this with the concept of liminality -- a radical middle state where faith, uncertainty, and experimentation are embraced and explored. It's not unlike "chaos theory":
"Complex systems tend to locate themselves at a place we call 'the edge of chaos'. We imagine the edge of chaos as a place where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant, and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy.

"It is a zone of conflict and upheaval, where the old and the new are constantly at war.

"Finding the balance point must be delicate -- if a living system drifts too close, it risks falling over into incoherence and dissolution; but if the system moves too far away from the edge, it becomes rigid, frozen, totalitarian. Both conditions lead to extinction.

"Too much change is as destructive as too little. Only at the edge of chaos can complex systems flourish." (Michael Crichton, The Lost World)
Where Frost's comments open a can o' worms, which is making me think long and hard (I did mention that this was a journey, eh?), is where the concept of communitas intersects with liminality. Let me explain:

Many people who are currently in a season of detoxing from church are reacting against a one-vision, get-with-the-program-or-find-a-new-church mentality. A phrase that many have adopted was the cryptic observation: "We had to stop attending church to learn how to be the church." This has been an important step in the detox process.

And now here comes Frost, suggesting that community that exists only for the sake of community (just "being") is self-centred and narcissistic. Communitas is a deep community, but it's based around a common goal or vision. The can o' worms is the edge of chaos between genuine community which does not revolve around peoples' "performance", and yet is still intentional about the advancing Kingdom.

See what I mean? This book is making me ponder. What do y'all think? Is communitas just another example of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss"? Or is just "being" the church only a leg of the journey, and not the destination?

(I'll get to Jamie's challenge and liminality in the next can o' worms.)