At church it may be a strange thing to ask the question, “What is community?” Yet, it is often the questions we think we have the most easy answer that make the most elusive results. We are constantly bombarded with various views by powerful interests in our society of what community can and should be.
So, what is Community? What does community mean to power? For politicians it represents bringing their constituencies the illusions of security. Post 9-11 this has been a sort of rallying cry. The problem with a security culture is that it always needs sinister bad people who are constantly cycling through our media, lives and conscientiousness. Someone always becomes to moral scapegoat for action toward security.
Look at the man in a turban on an airplane, take off your shoes and belt please. Do you see anything suspicious, please report it to the proper authorities. We will put that in a database and use our metrics to calculate the possibilities of a different threat level. Please get away from the razor wire and put away your cameras.
In our best Nancy Grace sneers our society sighs and breaths out collective disdain against those who do not conform to what we consider safe, normal. Son why are you walking in the middle of the road? Put down the toy gun! Why do you have to make a big deal, being a police officer is a difficult job? They did an internal review of that police officer in Red Bank, isn’t that good enough for you?
Many bear the burden in this view of community much more acutely than others. There are never 9 police cars circling around the Northside at midnight. Late night here we know the police swirl looking for a mythical creature the press, the mayor and the police have deemed “The Worst of the Worst.” Some people live sieged lives for other’s security. Some of our communities of the poor, homeless, immigrant, single women and african american pay a toll in a striving for a certain segment of our community’s sense of security. This is certainly not the interconnected community based on mutual salvation that we must seek.
Again, what is community? What does the Non-profit Chattanooga Housing Authority believe it to be? While real estate is whispered in back rooms with powerful developers, “officials” tell the “public” that no decisions have yet been made. Hundreds and thousands are left vulnerable to the basic human right to housing because apparently police equipment and salary for one year trump fixing buildings or providing real housing stock to the poor people our city has a compact with. Vouchers are distributed half heartedly to people with increasingly little opportunity to use them. All the while corporations get huge incentives to bring jobs to people who might move to our fair city, I guess the unemployed here are tough out of luck. Two more shifts at McDonalds and Mapco ought to bring them either one step closer to exhaustion or at least glimpsing the shining silver on the far distant table of the American Dream.
Again, what is community? What does the church believe about community? Let’s not talk in the ideal, the words we mutter during confession or worship. What is it we hear about community from the church? Unfortunately, too often the church becomes inseparable from the consumer society in which we live. The church has become a service industry of programs intent on padding the returns on the investments. Those dividends are in attendance and how much money comes in the coffers.
We hear it all the time in the Presbyterian Church. Is that a viable church? Viability is not the same as viable, at least to the potentates of church hierarchy. Viability is not to be dependent on anything outside of its own walls. So, wealthy churches the same size as this one are viable because they can afford things. A pastor, to pay all their bills, to keep up their facilities, etc… Even though the number of people is important, to many of these theological accountants it comes down to dollars and cents. How much do you have, how dependent will you be over the years on the hoards of cash the Presbytery and Presbyterian church has funneled into the stock market and banks. We don’t see our congregations any longer as good stewardship for the majority of our money, that is for money markets and bonds. We might be lucky enough to get a portion, but where will our life be without a bank account?
Again, what is community?
There is a kernel of truth about community that is revealed in Moses’ interaction with the divine. In a text where a golden calf takes front and center it may be easy to miss the radical shift in Yahweh’s relation to the emissary, Moses, in the presence of such golden bling.
Sitting in council with the most high, Moses is in the midst of high level meetings about the creation of the Ark of the Covenant, the Sabbath and the initial draft on stone of the 10 commandments. This was no small meeting, but one that stood for an entire nation’s covenantal history with their God.
Distressed about the absence of Moses the people fearing he may never come back turn to Aaron as second in command. In an act that must have been desperation Aaron takes their golden jewelry to craft a golden calf as a representation of the almighty.
This is where the text becomes amazing. Yes, the wrathful, jilted God appears here. The divine is willing to destroy all of Israel for their unfaithfulness. Yet, it is the offer to Moses and Moses’ response that leave me in awe.
“Look at your people Moses, the people you led out of Egypt. These stiff necked people are no good. Leave me alone. I will destroy them and make a nation out of you Moses.”
Moses has the opportunity that has been afforded to few others in the Hebrew text. Abraham and Noah know this call. They will be the powerful progeny, the father, grandfather and great-great grandfather of God’s people. The offer is no small one, power and notoriety beyond imagine.
Moses, however, does not leave the divine alone to once again destroy. Moses turns God’s phrasing back onto the divine. “These are YOUR people, YOU brought them out of Egypt. Will you give the Egyptians something to say against your power and might? What about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whom you have promised a nation?”
We are told that God repented of reeking destruction on the people.
Again, what is community? Is community safety for some at the expense of others? Is community a renaissance for those who can afford it? Is community growing church programs and bringing in more money to a church? Or could community be something that we learn from the courage of Moses? Facing down the most high when power rejects their relationship to all people and are willing to see their existence on this planet as of little consequence? Could community be reminding the powerful to repent of their neglect and forgetting their responsibility to broader identification as neighbors? Could community be reminding the powerful of their history, their role in putting people in the desert in the first place? Could community be less of a choice and more of a calling?
Moses is bold to not let God be alone to destroy. We must understand that our community is even worth fighting God about. Oppression can not stand, violence must abate, justice must be ours and human dignity must be hollered from the shores of the Tennessee River to the top of Signal Mountain. What is community? It is people worth fighting for.