Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Love and madness

My old schoolfriend - another James as it happens - has recently become the vicar of a church in Luton. His inaugural address to his new flock was based on Acts 2; he explored something of what it means to live with 'everything in common'. It was good to listen to him, even if he has developed a mysterious southern accent in the years since we were schooled near Liverpool. (Apparently his church is called 'Saint Frarncis'...)

Before he delivered his talk - which I understand was greeted with enthusiasm by the good people of Saint Frarncis - he tweeted to let me know he was going to mention me in it. His actual words were: In my first sermon at StFrancis, Luton, I intend to quote Tertullian, Tom Wright and @n0rma1 (that's me, by the way, for those unfamilair with Tweet jargon) - in no particular order.

Good heavens. Two titans of theology, one ancient, one modern - and me. And in no particular order!

James referred to me and the community life I and my sisters and brothers pursue as a noteworthy way of living out the challenge of Acts 2.

It was a blessing to be considered a blessing, though I did wonder if James was rather too swift to pidgeonhole our lifestyle as 'a calling for some'. It's not that I disagree, it's just that in my experience that sort of talk tends to lead to many Christians breathing a sigh of relief and getting on with being the same as everyone else.

But I mustn't be glib. You can't sustain a common-purse-community life without being convinced that you can do no other. A mentor of mine describes our community - of which he too is a member - as 'strenuous'. Shane Claiborne said to me recently that he sees us as 'community on steroids' (I loved that). And, in fact, the words James quoted me as having said to him, many years ago, were that Acts 2 had 'ruined my life - in a good way.'

A life of full sharing, no personal money, house and hearth shared, is a pretty tough call and cuts across a lot of natural preferences. Just for the record, I do not live in community because I like having no money or because I like having other people in my living room (all the time) or because I really enjoy other people choosing the colour scheme of my kitchen or because I always wanted to have my weekly diary substantially written by others or... well, you get the idea.

I live in community because I have to. Because I can't read the New Testament without it shouting community at me. Because God is a community and I want to be like him (even if he does bewilder me much of the time). Because I really do believe that radical, root-level, self-renouncing love is the way Jesus lived and because no disciple is above his master, I have to do so too.

I still agree wholeheartedly with what I said to James all those years ago - except perhaps the bit about 'in a good way'.

Okay, okay, it is a good way. But it can feel like madness. There have been times when I've felt like if I see another person I may kill them - with my words, if not with the kitchen knife. Times when I've walked round and round the block I live on, with my head pounding, thinking 'I can't take this anymore'. Times when some relationship tension has swelled to fill my entire emotional world and I can't escape from it, I can't 'go home' because they're in my home. Times when vision is dim and I can't remember why or what for. Times when I'm fed up with my family, neighbours and friends thinking I'm odd (or, worse still, thinking I'm 'radical') and I just yearn to be bloody ordinary like everyone else.

But in all this, just as much or more than in the times when living in community is inspiring and wonderful , I learn what it means to live Christ.

James said I gave up a lot of opportunities to live in community. Maybe. But I would not be even a tenth of the person I am today if were not for the madness that ruined my life - in a good, way.

Perhaps it would appropriate to leave the last words of this post to St Francis. This is from his Canticle of Love (if you like it, read it all here):

I have entirely renounced both the world and myself in order to buy love. If I owned all creation I would gladly trade that for love. But I find that love has deceived me. I have given everything and yet I do not know where I am being drawn to. Love has destroyed me. I am looked at as if I am mad, and because I have been sold, I am no longer worth anything...

...In this anguish of Love, Love, Love, O my adorable Jesus, I would die while embracing you, O Jesus, my sweet spouse. Love, Love, I beg for death from you; O pitying Jesus receive me and transform me into thyself. Remember that I am passing away killing myself with love. I do not know where I am, Jesus, my hope, destroy me with love.

No comments: