We are now venturing into the next phase of exploring community. The first ten chapters of our journey were exploring the call to community, but now we must delve into the formation of community, the honing of what exactly Christian community aspires to be compared to the imperfect visions we have seen across the ages in both our secular and sacred organizations. And, I wouldn’t have us pass by the quote from Eberhard Arnold’s Why We Live in Community that prefaces the section. Our efforts, thus far, from the time of Constantine to now, have been flawed and imperfect. The question is, can it ever be so again? Can we build this community in this world?
Having never heard of George MacDonald, and having first read this chapter before researching him, I placed his thinking sometime after Karl Marx’s works. The chapter overflows with what I expect to be the ultimate vision of communism (see chapter 7), but I was greatly mistaken. George MacDonald lived from 1824-1905 and was the mentor and/or inspiration for a number of notable and familiar Christian authors: Madeleine L’Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, the list goes on. He was a congregationalist minister who was uneasy with Calvinist doctrine (sounds like me!). He was more a “universal reconciliationist”, believing that all creation will inevitably be reconciled with God through Christ by the end of the eschatological timeline (also sounds like me!). Suffering, pain, sin, etc. were temporary things meant to realign the person with God, not an eternal condemnation. It is no wonder he never came up in my Calvinist, albeit fairly progressive, upbringing. He signaled a way out of Calvinism toward this vision that we have before us in this chapter.
What strikes me most in this vision is that, compared to the communism and communal control of property that we have seen in the 20th century, MacDonald’s communism is a communism of abundance and not one of scarcity. Capitalism and modern communism alike operate on a principle of scarcity, one in which labor, goods, and capital (money), are finite, measurable, and controllable (controllable in that either government or private interest controls supply in meeting demand). Supply almost never meets demand, and in such equates to either higher prices which lower demand or places more money in the private purse or equates to supply being doled out to partially meet demand. No, this communism is a communism in which demand can be as high as it ever needs to be and it is met not with controlled supply or a price of how much monetized labor and worth you’re willing to shell out, but with love and compassion. And the entire system depends on an agreement to work against our selfish nature and to safeguard the community against our own greed, our own agendas, our own visions.
At the end of the vision, once the story has ended, the curate exclaims, “I think that could be!” And the draper replies, “Not in this world.” The crux of our suffering as a people exists between those two people. There are those of us who can hold that vision, that divine idea, and aspire to it in our day to day work. Then there are those of us who doubt it. We still sorta hope for it, but it just seems too far fetched to actually work out and so we turn away from it.
For us as a community, perhaps the most grounding thing is to have that vision before us, hoping and working for it despite whether it comes to full fruition.