We are going to paint with a wider brush today. I’ve elected to combine the institutions of friendship with a host of similar institutions such as: academics, athletics, the arts, local community groups, hobbies and other interests.
Just like the institution of the family, these institutions of community play a very positive role in our world. On the surface, subverting a healthy functioning community seems like the wrong thing to do.
We must grasp not only the definition of subversion, but it’s purpose. I’ve shown that subversion means to turn from beneath or to undermine an authority. Why would we want to do that to the local scouting troop, marching band, sports team, or our closest group of friends? My thesis is that institutions of community are important and we need them for growth, but it’s imperative we don’t derive our identity from any of them. Subversion is required to prevent captivity to any system.
Institutions of community are not bad or evil, in fact they are vehicles for much good. Nonetheless, each comes with an elixir that anesthetizes us to our true self. Each institution only succeeds if it’s able to keep us “in.” Institutions grow by assimilating outsiders into insiders, and the trade off is that they give us a pseudonym, an quasi-identity, but not our true self–which comes only from our Maker. If we accept the trade, and settle for the identity of an institution, then our masquerade begins as we lose consciousness (doze off) of who we are. The illusion is that we are our activity, our title, our contribution, our participation, as if such things defined us. It’s wonderful to have our passions, interests, hobbies, or pass-times, but it’s another thing for them to have us.
Paul says “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, rulers and authorities…” Romans 6:12. Institutions offer us a surrogate self, it gives us something but then imprisons us. Paul tells us that when these go wrong, the power is not the people in the institution (flesh and blood) , but the “present darkness and spiritual forces of evil.” This is why in the story of Jesus in the desert, the Devil was able to offer him all the kingdoms of the world, their authority was actually his to give (Luke 4:6). This doesn’t mean that the world belongs to Satan, rather that institutional evil is all his.
While this may be a thick pill to swallow intellectually, it isn’t difficult experientially. Go back to Junior High or High School. Recall how it felt to be excluded, diminished or forsaken. Why did it hurt to the core? Recall your friendships and other groups. Why do you think it was so great to be the captain of the sports team? Remember all the cliques? Cliques provided us an identity as we transition out of institution of family. We conformed by trying to be someone. It felt good to belong (identity) and horrible to be excluded (isolation). Some adults never get over this and spend all their lives, money and time, trying to prove themselves to some group or maintain possession of a fleeting existential sense of belonging. From where does MOFO come? Most people call this a living hell, that is precisely the bibles’ definition.
Institutional power emerges everywhere. It’s the opposite/(adversary/Satan) of a life of liberty and love. Institutional evil exchanges love for control. The solution is not abandoning our community institutions, but subverting institutional corruption with love and inclusion. Jesus called this being Salt and Light (Matthew 5:13-16). This is impossible if we derive our identity from the community.
Our communities do not define us. They are not our home. The big story of the bible is that community cannot provide true ontology (being). This is why Jesus says we can gain the whole world and lose our self (Luke 9:25). Jesus had friends but they didn’t define him: “faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to bear with you? “ (Matt 17:17). He had local community but it didn’t define him: “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among relatives of his household.” (Mark 6:4) Scholars believe Jesus was a carpenter, but never once does he identify himself as such. Undefined.
The correction is supposed to be the Church.
- It’s a living organism, not a dead institution.
- It’s a group of extremely diverse people who serve one another, not a group of conformists who plunder others for gain.
- It’s a collective that lives by one rule, that of love, that infiltrates every nook and cranny of the world like a virus. It’s not an angry mob locked in arms, governed by many rules and oppressive leaders who wage war on the world.
- The Church is any person whose life compass is True North, not a corner building, or social club that employs ethical violence on people to gain conformity.
- The Church is supposed to be all people, entering their favorite communities, and influencing them with love for one another. As such it’s the invisible fragrance (2 Corinthians 2:15), not the annoying contender who gets offended easy at every meeting.
- We don’t GO to church, we ARE the church.
The message then is much bigger than we see at first. Subversion is the hallmark of the Church, it should make everything in the world better. Instead we have institutions that call themselves the church that scare and threaten people and much violence, hatred and pain is left in its wake.
If you understand what I’m saying, then you know at a very deep level that showing up in your very life every day with love, patience, kindness and gratitude is the path of true friendship and the redemption of all things. You, by whatever framework you define yourself, are The Church. Only those who are free and empowered to leave such communities have the ability to bear light and repair them.
“A tree is known by its fruit.” (Luke 6:44). So is the Church.
Consider the driver who lets someone cut in front of them. Consider the leader who isn’t climbing for a title, power, or benefit, but is willing to risk exposure for the sake of others. Consider those who cannot settle for the status quo but courageously seek incremental change. Consider the clerk, maid, or worker who truly serves others from the heart. Consider those who suffer under the tyranny of institutional power and hunger deeply for things to be set right. To all of you who are tapping into the heart of this message, you, all of you, are displaying the greatest power in the universe. Your are the church whether you attend one or not.
You are embodying the power of all human evolution, transformation, progression, and hope for the future. Do not lose heart. Do not quit. And as James Finely would say; never ever brake faith with your awakened heart. Go out and live YOUR life from the center of love. Make your incremental difference. Our world is counting on you and because of you, it will never be the same.