Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four part series by Dan Oudshoorn exploring some obstacles (and possibilities) in creating liberated communities. In this series, Dan offers a hearty challenge to our rather bourgeois attempts of living into the root of Jesus’ kingdom. It seems particularly appropriate for the Lenten season.
I would like to begin by reading a passage from Slavoj Žižek’s recent defense of communism in light of the failures of democratic liberalism and the horrors of global capitalism. This passage relates a joke that isn’t funny (and I warn you–it is vulgar) but it hammers home a point that I hope will be taken very seriously by those of us gathered here today. Let me quote Žižek:
In the good old days of Really Existing Socialism, a joke popular among dissidents was used to illustrate the futility of their protests. In the fifteenth century, when Russia was occupied by Mongols, a peasant and his wife were walking along a dusty country road; a Mongol warrior on a horse stopped at their side and told the peasant he would now proceed to rape his wife; he then added: “But since there is a lot of dust on the ground, you must hold my testicles while I rape your wife, so that they will not get dirty!” Once the Mongol had done the deed and ridden away, the peasant started laughing and jumping with joy. His surprised wife asked: “How can you be jumping with joy when I was just brutally raped in your presence?” The farmer answered: “But I got him! His balls are covered in dust!” This sad joke Žižek goes on to say] reveals the predicament of the dissidents: they thought they were dealing serious blows to the party nomenklatura, but all they were doing was slightly soiling the nomenklatura’s testicles, while the ruling party carried on raping the people…
Žižek tells this vulgar story in order to argue that both liberal and radical leftists have been unable to offer any sort of serious resistance or sustained alternative to the death-dealing power structures of our world. I begin my presentation with this passage, because I would like to suggest that a good many of us involved in some of the more ‘radical’ forms of Christianity are guilty of the same offense. We are so busy congratulating ourselves for moving into poor neighborhoods, for practicing alternative modes of hospitality, for growing our own food and for living simply that we have lost track of the fact that we’re not really making any significant difference. Perhaps we are able to love and serve a few individual people along the way but nothing we are doing is truly challenging the death-dealing powers of our day, and the degree to which we have become captivated by our own radicality is the same degree to which we have become blinded to our own complicity in the abuse of others. Thus, although I might be inclined to apologize to you if you were offended by the vulgarity of the passage I read from Žižek, I hesitate to do so because the fact is that the people are being raped and this should make us reconsider the significance we ascribe to sharing space with others who generally turn out to be like-minded, middle-class young adults. Self-congratulating attitudes about self-serving efforts are far more offensive than anything Žižek writes.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me, I think that a movement towards a more intentional way of sharing all of life together is absolutely integral to what it means to follow Jesus and serve the God of Life. To simply live the way in which our culture teaches us to live—growing up, getting a job and credit cards, developing debts, buying a home and a couple of cars and settling into the practice of bourgeois comfort paired with bourgeois charity and family values—seems so far away from the pattern of life established by Jesus, Paul, the prophets and the Deuteronomic law that I am baffled that those who live this way find their inspiration in the Christian story. I can only conclude that most of us don’t actually spend any time reading the Bible or, just as likely, that most of us are looking at the Bible through such warped lenses that we can’t even come close to understanding what it says. Reading the Bible should lead us to more intimately sharing our lives, our possessions, our time, and our space with one another. Observing God’s gift of gracious abundance, patterning ourselves upon the life and deeds of Jesus, and relying upon the empowering Spirit of Life, should lead us to engage in practices that our culture will consider to be risky, foolish, and even threatening. This is why I have spent four years living in intentional Christian communities.
Thus, by critically questioning our efforts to engage in alternate forms of intentional Christian community, I am not suggesting that these efforts are fundamentally misguided. However, these efforts are often flawed and are easily perverted. Therefore, in subsequent articles in this series, I would like to highlight three areas that deserve special attention if those who desire to pursue intentional Christian communities hope to do so in a way that is both meaningful and expressive of their commitment to following Jesus.
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Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
Liza Minno Bloom
Eda Ruhiye Uca