Monday, 24 March 2014

Inside the institution

I would suggest that one of our deepest human desires, or perhaps even needs, is to belong. We yearn to be part of something bigger than our own individual identity. Something deep inside calls us out towards one another. It is a response to this desire we are trying to live out in our current project of creating community here.

Of course, while our desire to belong can be beautiful and creative it can also be horribly destructive when we unite around what we are not, around being in because we're not one of the other who is out. Uniting around the common enemy is an ever-present danger which I am sure I could write about at length.

But today I want to reflect on other complexities and on one of the dilemmas that I think the need to belong throws up for me. I wonder whether it has resonance in the lives of others too.

I want to belong. I believe deeply that we are made for community and for relationship with one another. That is why we create groups, and organisations and institutions: I believe all of these are created out of a human need to create orders and systems through which we can be together. On the other hand, I defy any institution to correspond entirely with my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours.

What then do we do when we desperately desire to belong and to conform, but when the institutions to which we wish to belong seem to contradict our most deeply held values? How do we balance being true to the unity of our communities and maintaining the integrity of our decisions and expressed opinions? When is it right to remain silent for the sake of those we care about and when is it our duty to use our love as a platform for challenge? These are not questions to which I have easy answers. They remain live questions for me, and I share them as such.

The church, in its broadest sense, is a classic example: I believe deeply that as Christians we are called into relationship with one another: it is impossible to be a follower of Christ in isolation. I cannot be the Christian I want to be without the church; and yet how often do I despair at things said or done in the name of my faith which I disagree with to the depths of my very being?

As you may have guessed there are particular recent examples (well, they were recent when I started writing this anyway ...) which have inspired these reflections. Some are on a large scale, some much more intimate.... but my relationships with the institutions and communities concerned makes me question whether I should name them here, in what is, at least in theory, a very public forum. Yet if I don't, does this just sound like theoretical nonsense with no basis in a practical reality? On balance though, I think I'll risk sounding like I'm talking nonsense.

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