Editor's Note: This is the last in a four-part series on wilderness spirituality called Going Cimarron.
The original Greek word for church—ekklesia—meant "the called out ones." How have you been living called out?
The church: a covenanted band of cimarrons? Could it be that Jesus envisioned a social movement that was not a pillar of dominant society, but rather a drastic alternative to dominant society—a group of transformed people called away from a state culture of financial security, structural inequality, and military might?
Most people who name themselves Christians today believe they've been called out from the world around them. But in what ways? When I was a teenager, our earnest youth pastor once asked our high school group, "If being Christian was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
Back then, as a Southern California teen growing up in Reagan country, my answer came quickly. Enough evidence? Sure. I felt pretty confident in my walk with Jesus. In the culture I was raised in, the evidence of a good Christian was all about personal piety and purity. Wasn't I honest and kind? Didn't I do my best to avoid sexual temptation? Didn't I skip parties where I knew there'd be smoking and drinking? Besides that, I prayed for others every week at youth group, and had my own daily devotional time reading the Bible. I even shared the Gospel with friends at school, encouraging them to ask Jesus into their hearts so he could forgive their sins.
Sin in Greek is a term from archery, meaning "to miss the mark." Back then, I felt I was a good Christian because my goal was to stay pure in a polluted world. Thirty years later, realizing how shackled I am to Empire-based thinking, I struggle all the time to be a follower of the Way. I find myself missing the mark every day. All too often I seek first my personal kingdom, rather than the kingdom of love and justice Jesus envisioned. I say I want to love my enemy, but I go blithely about my daily business as my nation bombs other nations. I yearn to follow what my Rabbi taught in the sermon on the mount, but I still find myself worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow, and lots of other things: financial security, health care, college for my son, what people think of me.
Yes, I'm a cimarron child of God, tested in wilderness, someone who has been called out and who lives very differently than dominant society. And I'm also an addict to Empire, compulsively drawn to personal greed, ego gratification, and a haunting callousness to the suffering of other people and the planet. Too often I'm pursuing shiny gadgets instead of sharing food.
I need serious help to be the God-filled person I want to be. I can't do it alone. I need to be part of a transformative ekklesia—a body of called-out ones, a covenanted band of cimarrons who support one another to embody a parallel society of the Jesus Way even in the shadow of Empire's might.
I have a feeling that many of us need help, addicted as we are to the comforts and customs of our juggernaut civilization. To that end, I want to highlight three energizing communities in my neck of the woods—New Mexico—that are helping me to defy Empire's pull through creative, abundant living:
Albuquerque Mennonite Church: This urban congregation of 150 is not only deeply worshipful, but also is a campus of life-change. Small groups not only get together for support and song, but also for more radical reasons such as exploring consumer habits and creating community-based solutions to relieve chronic credit-card debt. Last week, AMC sponsored the "More With Less" Fest, a day-long event in a neighborhood park celebrating lifestyle choices members have made such as collective housing, salvage living, solar retrofitting, urban gardening, and chicken farming.
Lama Mountain: This tiny rural mountain community on dirt roads near Taos, NM is a hotbed of cimarron activity. People who grew up in the belly of Empire, trained to be good consumers like the rest of us, have defected from that narrative and are now striving to be generative producers in all aspects of their lives. Some of the findings we've learned from our "experiments in living" are daunting: I didn't know until last year how much time it takes to cultivate and process a few pounds of beans that I could buy in the store for a few dollars. But easy, unconscious consumption on the cheap is not our chief aim: rather, it is to re-learn right relationship and cultivate our own food sources, our own music, our own culture, our own definition of what makes abundant life. Current initiatives include community agriculture, farm and wilderness summer camps, and an Outward-Bound style public school; building and dwelling in yurts and earthen structures; goat milking, sheep shearing, and yak herding; wool processing and yarn making; flood irrigation of storage foods such as quinoa, heirloom beans, winter squash, and mountain corn. It's not easy, but it feels very real.