The Intangibles of Community and Kingdom
by Leonard Hjalmarson

"Many people are either unwilling or unable to suffer the pain of giving up the outgrown which needs to be forsaken. Consequently they cling, often forever, to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, thus failing to negotiate any crisis, to truly grow up and to experience the joyful sense of rebirth that accompanies the successful transition into greater maturity. "
M. Scott Peck

I'm a detective searching for something I have never seen. I'm a hound sniffing for a scent that is only a memory of heaven.

I hear others talking about the object of my search; I know its the same object, because they have that same look in their eyes. And sometimes we use the same language.

The language we use is often technical descriptive language... we use the term "Missional community." Those who have been on the journey for a while know what these things mean. And most of us are fairly articulate about the definition.

But even while we strive for understanding, we know that we won't reach it because we can define it. Sometimes we wonder if the opposite is true; that to define it is to lose it forever. We know that there is a danger in definition -- we can think we have attained to something because we can describe it. Even more frustrating, the questions we ask determine the answers we will find. Margaret Wheatley notes that,

"We often tend to limit our explorations of what's possible by surrounding ourselves with large amounts of information that tell us nothing new. These measures lock us into learning about a predetermined world. They keep us distracted from questioning our experience in a way that could create greater possibilities.

"There is an important humility associated with trying to direct our activities by setting goals or measures. Every act of observation loses more information than it gains. Whatever we decide to notice blinds us to other possibilities. In directing our attention to certain things, we lose awareness of everything else."

The intangibles grip my heart. It's the intangibles in the dance of word and Spirit, and things that defy description that empower the journey. We are going to a city we have not seen, but we pray, "Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven."

Lately I've been using the word "ethos" to describe these intangible elements, because I haven't found the right word yet. It may not have been invented. It may not matter.

We know it is something completely new. We know that the city is not built with human hands. But we run up against paradox. The city isn't built with human hands, yet it will appear among us if we have eyes to see. The kingdom is both present and yet to come. Together we are "being built" into a living temple and a holy priesthood.

"A new church means reformulating the faith in radical ways in the midst of a community that has to begin again. For Ezra, as for Moses, new church starts do not aim at strategies for success, but at strategies for survival of an alternative community. What must survive is not simply the physical community; what must survive is an alternative community with an alternative memory and an alternative social perspective rooted in a peculiar text that is identified by a peculiar genealogy and signed by peculiar sacraments, by peculiar people not excessively beholden to the empire and not lusting after domestication into the empire.." Walter Brueggemann, "Cadences of Home"

Because it is something new, we know that those who find it must have left something else behind. We know that transition raises new questions and a new insecurity. Because it is a spiritual reality, only the naked can go there.

"People cannot discover new lands until they have the courage to lose sight of the shore." Andre Gide

It isn't easy embracing insecurity. It isn't easy leaving our comfort zones, our titles, or our previous understanding behind. Because the goal is a living community we know that it is a place where there are no professionals, only amateurs.. "amati" is Latin for "lover" and professionals are hirelings who arrive with the baggage of identity and status.

This is why it will be unlikely for a denomination to make the transition, though there is hope for individual communities. For the denomination there is always too much to protect, and too much at stake. There are too many established modes and means, and too many with titles and power unwilling to forsake them.

Every noble crown is, and on earth will forever be, a crown of thorns. Thomas Carlyle

In one "Jesus" movie there is a scene near the end where Jesus appears to His disciples in the upper room. Together they kneel in love and awe as He smiles at them. They are united in worship and in love. There are no "apostles" or "leaders" .. together they are lovers and servants, and in His presence they are all on the same level.

Community and mission are both about love and emptiness of our own agendas. Only those who "forsake all" for the sake of love can reach a city not built with hands.

So it seems that a precondition of the emergent church is emptiness. Only the empty, the poor, the naked and the disenfranchised can see clearly, because they have no vested interests and nothing left to lose. This is why Jesus says that we must become as children in order to enter the Kingdom of God.

Yesterday as I waited for my wife to return from shopping I overheard an interview with a scientist who was talking about Watson and Crick, the two researchers who in 1953 uncovered the function of DNA. What struck me about the discussion was two things:

1) at the DNA level structure is function. DNA functions by replicating itself.
2) both harmony (structure and community) and irreverence (playfulness and chaos) are necessary for new paradigms to emerge, because those who are within the system (at authority levels) usually have too much at stake to embrace sweeping change. This means that new paradigms are only discovered/embraced by those on the edge, those who are not afraid to challenge the established wisdom.. those willing to ask hard questions and those with nothing to lose. One author writes of Watson and Crick that,

"it was a tale of boundless ambition, impatience with authority and disdain, if not contempt, for received opinion. ("A goodly number of scientists," Watson explained, "are not only narrow-minded and dull but also just stupid.") Yet the Watson and Crick story is also one of sublime harmony, an example, as a colleague put it, of "that marvelous resonance between two minds--that high state in which 1 plus 1 does not equal 2 but more like 10." (

Last year a friend related to me that the physicists who are researching quantum dynamics and who are working with the very smallest particles came up against another mystery. It seems that while there were some things that were definable, one of the largest questions remaining was about the power in matter. No one knows where it comes from. This caused one scientist to theorize that, "Perhaps the power is in the blank spaces."

Blank spaces are what we lose when we organize. Blank spaces are those elements of community that remain shrouded in mystery. In fact, community itself IS a mystery. You can plan it, organize it and pray for it and still not get it. It requires something spontaneous and unreachable by human effort and thought alone. It requires more weakness than strength, and we aren't very good at weakness. Community is a gift, and we aren't good at receiving. Margeret Wheatley comments in "A Simpler Way,"

"There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor. It requires a new way of being in the world. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what's possible. Being willing to learn and to be surprised.

"This simpler way to organize human endeavor requires a belief that the world is inherently orderly. Life seeks organization. It does not require us to organize it."

Community is where we have to go to faithfully express the life of Jesus. Unfortunately, we have built congregations rather than communities, buildings rather than temples of living stones, and audiences rather than families of faith. We have chosen this easier path because we can manage congregations, while communities have a life of their own. A community is a different KIND of thing than a congregation or a mere group. Clay Shirky writes,

"[Building a community] will require different skills and attitudes than those necessary to build an audience. Many of the expectations you make about the size, composition, and behavior of audiences when you are in a broadcast mode are actually damaging to community growth. To create an environment conducive to real community, you will have to operate more like a gardener than an architect."

It isn't about building anything.. it is about grace and mystery and God and the creation of space for community to happen. It's about environment and ethos. It's about joy and playfulness.

"We need explorers, those willing to venture where there are no maps. We need tinkerers... Tinkerers have skills but no clear plans. They make do with the materials at hand. Tinkering opens us to what's possible in the moment." Margaret Wheatley

* * * * *

On Mission and Renewal

"The mission of a community is to give life to others, that is to say, to transmit new hope and new meaning to them. Mission is revealing to others their fundamental beauty, value and importance in the universe, their capacity to love, to grow and to do beautiful things and to meet God. Mission is transmitting to people a new inner freedom and hope; it is unlocking the doors of their being so that new energies can flow; it is taking away from their shoulders the terrible yoke of guilt and fear. To give life to people is to reveal to them that they are loved just as they are by God, with the mixture of good and evil, light and darkness that is in them; that the stone in front of their tomb in which all the dirt of their lives has been hidden can be rooled away. They are forgiven; they can live in freedom." Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

Main Navigation


Old Blogs
About Len



Emerging Women / Renovare / Christians for Biblical Equality / Soul Horizon / OpenSource Theology / Jesus Radicals / Regeneration / New Phuture / The Off Ramp / Society for Kingdom Living / Cutting Edge / Relevant Magazine / Shoot the Messenger / Vine and Branches / Sacred Future / Tribal Generation / Reality / Waves Church / Matthew's House / Praxis / Post Boomer / FutureChurch / MethodX / TheOOZE / ginkworld / ::seven:: / emergent village / Highway Video / emerging church / Sojourners / Ship of Fools / Beyond / Next-Wave / Small Fire / ThePowerSurge / dtour

• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on April 21, 2003