As a recent college graduate, there is a narrative arc of success that is offered to me by a capitalist-driven society. Having graduated from a competitive university after being primed to do so my entire life, I have already taken the first steps. Next, my journey towards full adulthood should lead me towards an entry-level job, a serious romantic relationship, and intentional time spent building social capital. In ten years, perhaps I should own a home and a car. I should have good credit. I will have the financial stability to take care of my nuclear family members when they are in distress. Essentially, the more independent I become, the more successful I am deemed.
This is the story capitalism offers me. But is it the narrative Christ offers me?
In the last few years, I have been plagued by the phrase, “the real world.” “Once I am in the real world” or worse, “I’m taking a year off between college and the real world” or “You’ll understand when you’re in the real world.” The belief that I am only in the “real world” once I am making a salary and contributing to the capitalist machine is a noxious lie we are primed to breathe and believe. And these standards for “realness” depart from Jesus’ message in an alarming way.
This year, I am living in a semi-monastic intentional Christian (mostly Episcopal/Anglican) community in the Bay Area. We have written a rule of life, we lead morning prayer services each day, we offer hospitality to the broader community, we share food and meals, and we attempt to create a loving space for one another in which we can discern and listen for God’s call in our lives. My time is not my own, my space is not my own. We cede a certain amount of independence in order to embrace communal life.
I am attempting to unlearn one system of priorities and ungraft my story into another. The Real One tells us that, contrary to the messages from the real world, the Christian walk is one of interdependence. And this characteristic proceeds from the very nature of God herself—a living, indwelling, incarnated, Triune God. God is a community. When we turn away from one another, we turn away from the face and reality of God.
Christ’s ministry in the world is the narrative I am attempting to follow in this world. The disciples and masses who followed Jesus throughout ancient Palestine were themselves a community—sharing and making and breaking together. Sometimes in my community, we joke about wishing the disciples had made a “how to” manual instead of just recording the Gospel story. How did they resolve conflict within their own community? How did they overcome difference? Did they have a rotational cooking schedule? Jokes aside, doing community together is difficult work. My community members and I differ vastly in our spiritual walks, our theologies, and our backgrounds. But grace happens in our midst every time we decide that being in relationship is more important than being right.
In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus admonishes the Pharisees and their stringent enforcement of Jewish laws of purity saying, “You abandon the commandment of God and cling to human tradition” (verse 8, NSRV translation). In a midrashic feat, Jesus reminds the enforcers of traditional Judean purity and, indeed, us today that our lot is not to be cast with human tradition, but rather God’s truth. What’s even more fascinating in this passage, also, is the fact that the Pharisees knew that the peasant-class followers of Jesus rarely even had access to the means by which they might cleanse their hands to eat—that is, fresh water. How could upholding such a commandment be of God if it were not available to all God’s people?
And in a sweep of allegory, I ask you to apply this situation to today’s faith community. This “American dream” which I have been told to chase is only available to those of us lucky enough to be born into a family with economic means. This narrative of independence is only possible for a select few. Some of us are born into the ability to hide behind layers of money, turning away from the rest of the world. How is this human tradition inhibiting our incarnating Christ in the world? How are we, knowingly or not, shutting out our sister and brothers in our midst?
In community, I am reminded every day that I need people and they need me in order to flourish into the realness God intends for each of us. We have been fashioned to take care of one another by a God whose reality is interdependence. We, I believe, are not resistant to change, but rather afraid of loss. Losing this tradition-given narrative is, admittedly, frightening and difficult when it means casting off privilege in some ways. But abandoning the facsimiles leaves room for the presence of the absolutely Real.
Grace Aheron is a member of the Episcopal Service Corps in the Diocese of California and serves as an intern in the Diocesan House with Discipleship Ministry, specifically focusing on youth and young adults. She lives in a semi-monastic intentional Christian community with six other young adults in Berkeley. Grace received a BA with Highest Honors in Religious Studies from the University of Virginia in May 2013 and is discerning a call to ordained ministry. For more insight on communal living, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.