Community. A truly ubiquitous word on this campus that is applied to all sorts of contexts and activities. Admissions hammers it home to prospective students, we stamp it all over our marketing material, Residence Life makes it a focal point of their programs, and we even gather together once a week for “Community” Worship.
For many, this word describes Malone, and rightly so. But I fear that sometimes we do not reflect enough on the true nature of genuine community and what it demands of us. We must not neglect or forget the depth that genuine Christian community offers.
So, if actual Christian community extends beyond a smiling face or a lip-syncing contest, then what does it look like? Maybe the better question is: What gives Christian community an unparalleled depth and reality that cannot be offered elsewhere?
The answer is simultaneously simple and complex: the cross. The image and the reality of the cross convey to us deep truths about community. They tell us that Christ’s death was, and is the great equalizer for all individuals—in that we are all together sinners, in need of God’s grace. They tell us that true relationships and genuine community, can only come through a love that is faithful to the point of death. The beauty and truth of the image of the cross extends to those individuals and communities that are willing to embrace this calling on their collective life together.
But how does this apply to our life together here at Malone University? It is no secret that our school—our community—is currently navigating difficult challenges. Whether it is financial constraints, staff and faculty cuts, potential changes to our divisional status, imposing federal regulations, or decreasing numbers of high school graduates, there are, no doubt, daunting obstacles ahead for this community. But since when are genuine Christian communities defined by their immediate circumstances? It is how a community responds that defines who they are and illuminates the foundation on which they stand.
To put it more simply, a community of people that embraces the cross necessarily embraces a deep and paradoxical spiritual reality. This reality is that when difficult circumstances are met with a kind of sacrificial faithfulness, true community is realized. Parker Palmer, a Quaker writer and thinker, echoes this point when he says:
We will always be disillusioned by community. But in the spiritual life disillusionment is a good thing: it means losing our illusions about ourselves and each other. As those illusions fall away we will be able to see reality and truth more clearly. And the truth is that we can rely on God to make community among us even–and especially–when our own efforts fail. By being willing to suffer the failings of community, we give ourselves the chance to draw closer to God. By entering and staying with community, we enroll in school of the Spirit where we learn about the Source that sustains our life together. And here is the paradox: as we become disillusioned with community and more dependent upon God, we also become more available for true community with each other.
I think Palmer is right. The very core of Christian community, which is what we claim to have here, is paradoxical in nature. The brilliance of this reality, once realized, is absolutely staggering. The reality of the cross means that challenges are met with perseverance, disillusionment is met with hope, and death is met with life.
Therefore, the Christian community becomes, in a very real sense, immortal. By putting Christ at the center of our life together, we inherit the eternal life that Christ offers. The difficulties that face this institution, as well as all of higher education, cannot overcome the life that we have in Christ. So with Christ as our model at Malone, we too must be willing to carry the burdens of each other and even of the university. When this happens, we participate in the community that is offered by the cross, a community full of hope and life.
I will end with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his work Life Together. Bonhoeffer claims:
By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world….God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.
Mike Terry is a senior Bible and theology major and student body president.