On orthodoxy and community

Rod Dreher is concerned about the relationship between orthodoxy and the current emphasis on community within the church in  Christianity without Orthodoxy, in doing so he perhaps has two questions in mind.

First, there is the matter of practice,

How do you decide right from wrong on a controversial church teaching? . . . How do you determine that now is the time for you to stay when a divisive issue comes up in the church community, or when the line has been breached, and your understanding of truth requires you to leave on principle?

In his southern context, the question of race (and Jim Crow) lurk right below the surface, if that. And then there is a second, not-quite-the-same question, one certainly more global in nature:

We are so accustomed in our culture to not applying reason to religious experience, to only thinking of it in terms of emotional resonance, that to draw those lines seems somehow, well, un-Christian to many. How any religion survives the loss of a sense of the need for orthodoxy, I don’t know.

Both questions are rather protestant in nature, the former being the classic practice flowing from conviction (typically biblical). The latter one would appear to imagine the existence of a common orthodoxy, expressed across very diverse traditions. A fundamentalism, if you will (we differ but we all believe the same core truths). A more honest approach may be to acknowledge that what the Eastern church means by “orthodoxy” is not the same as what Rome means, let alone what an Evangelical may believe. This would be a functional definition of orthodoxy rather than a specifically theological one.

Of course, Dreher could be thinking of the more specific and normative meaning of orthodoxy as that practiced by the Eastern church (aka the Orthodox Church).

As to the relationship of orthodoxy and community, the relationship is surely dialectic. Orthodoxy explains what the community is about, it interprets the historical experience with God. The shape of the community  expresses some convictional norm, an orthodoxy at least of culture if not of theology/ideology. These convictions may be expressed explicitly in statements, and more often or in parallel, by narratives — the stories we tell about where we have come and how we got here.

In similar fashion, the practice of the community reflects or exegetes the convictions of the community. Hence the charges of dead orthodoxy or of hypocrisy when the practice of community appears at variance with the statements of formal orthodoxy or belief. What we state we believe exists as a hypothesis to be demonstrated in how we live. Practice and conviction walk together.

Desiring community off the grid

Jim Heynen had a very distinguished, even illustrious career in guiding institutional change. Now he’s living off the grid in the depths of Manistee National Forest  and wondering about community

I wanted isolation and, just beyond my isolation, I wanted community. The Bitely Tavern, with its world-class olive burger and falling-down back wall, is a start. But I came for more: the bonding of neighbors who have differences, but share a common need for one another.
The forest has made good on its promise. We have serenity. But this “community” thing has proven elusive. I’ve wondered if there’s any such thing; it feels like snipe hunting.

His conclusion is that community is something he must create. This leaves a sort of an urbanist question: how do we live together if we insist on our privately living apart?

There are all sorts of analogs here, perhaps the best being that of the old monastics: do they leave separate as hermits (per Desert Fathers) or in a monastery, in community?  Here, Benedict is as good a help as any: community takes enclosure, stability. It’s sticking to it where you are. To the extent I create community at all it is through the door of service.

 

Memorial Day

The people whom I would honor on Memorial Day are by definition insensitive to that very honor. They are the names graven on memorials, found on tombstones, even plaques in church. They did not sign up to embrace the death that came to them (and certainly not its manner), they went for the reasons we all take for big projects, that mix of idealism, hope, of helping your friends, and sometimes simply because some one told you to go.

Each was loved; each left a gap, a heartbreak; each was a possibility that stopped.

Each was particular, growing up in a house, on a block, down the street; each had a home.

No matter how long the list of names, they are not a statistic. In our remembered loss we find a vision to see anew each of the living as loved, particular, next door.