To dwell in a place.. to inhabit it.. is to know and be known. And isn’t that at the heart of all our longing?

I received two notes from friends this morning. One cited “The New Evangelical Scandal” from CIVITATE. The other was a reflection on what is missing in so much popular theology. Both spoke to me of the seriousness of the malaise we face as we have been formed more by the ethos of our culture here in late modernity, than by the Spirit of Jesus.

The citation from Civitate was to the effect that young evangelicals (though many would not even use the label) complain about the forces and ideology of individualism, yet their dominant understanding of both spirituality and freedom clusters around personal choice. But if identity is so free-formed, then it is not rooted.. either in a particular tradition, nor in a particular place. So it is our fundamental values that prevent community and prevent the disciplines that we need to form us as a peculiar people — which would enable our witness to an alternate kingdom.

The second bit of mail was curiously parallel to the first, though the starting point was Andrew Perriman’s critique of ReJesus – or really, his critique of the methodology. His complaint is that we abstract theology from the narrative. But this is merely another form of reductionism – it is another outcome of modernity. Truth, we believed, could be “objectified,” removed from its soil and placed under a microscope, toted up and dropped into a few points that could be distributed to the masses. We end up believing in belief and following truth – abstracted from the life of Spirit. Jacques Ellul would have readily understood this dynamic.

I had exactly the same feeling when I examined a catechetical manual for those preparing for baptism at a large Mennonite Brethren church. I saw propositions.. divorced from their place in salvation history. The goal was obviously knowledge and adherence to belief, more than it was entering a life or a relationship with a living Savior who is manifest in a living community and a living tradition. Truth that is de-storied is de-incarnate, impersonal and mere technique. This is not “truth” in the biblical sense, which is always personal and relational.
Well.. all this connects very strongly back to some of the work Parker Palmer did in “To Know as We are Known.” Knowledge in modernity was a means of violence. More recently Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas wrote, “Living Gently in a Violent World.”

It seems to me that our inability to inhabit a particular place is rooted in fear and anxiety. It is the fear and anxiety that drive us to search desperately for that which we deeply need: to know and be known. Yet only those who deeply inhabit a particular time and place will know and be known. You see our predicament?

Fear drives us.. keeps us restlessly moving.. and thus we are unable to dwell deeply in the place we live. Fear contributes to fragmentation. How will we then become whole? How will we then be known?

And when time is commodified (time is money) how will we learn to rest? How will we embrace the very disciplines that can help us to inhabit the places we live? Here is where Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas offer us a gift.

In the second chapter of their book Hauerwas quotes Paul Virilio: the dominant form violence takes in modernity is speed. Hauerwas writes,

“Gary was.. mentally disabled. Gary also read Scripture [in the gatherings]. It would take a long time. But for the church to learn to wait for the lesser member to speak is to witness to the world a different way of living..” (45).

And this is what L’Arche has to offer us: it calls us to slow down. Patience is the first thing we learn when we begin to deepen our humanity. “L’Arche offers a kind of time, a kind of patience and a kind of placedness that comes from faithfulness and produces a different understanding of catholicity. That is how L’Arche helps the church find the gospel.”

If God really chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and the foolish things to shame the wise, then ecclesiology should begin with 1 Cor. 12:22. Radical? Crazy? Yes.

As Gordon Cosby once phrased it, “We must be friends of time.”