I’m taking Theology II at college, and we are coming up on the end of the semester. The reading assigned for this week is an excerpt from “Black Theology” by James Cone. This phrase made me think of the Community.
“Man is challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. He must plunge himself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transfigure it…To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism,…but to be a man. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.”
The Community does not engage with the world. They sit behind their borders, build beautiful surroundings and make themselves think they are living to the “glory of God”. Meanwhile they cover over the suffering of their own members with a veneer of religion. They are deep into practicing asceticism, denying every aspect of individualism, but they do not engage with the needy of the world. They have been known to say that their ministry is to the rich, who are just as needy as anyone else. Sure, they are needy, but Christ came for the poor and the oppressed, and unless the Community also reaches out to them, they are hiding from reality. They refuse to acknowledge the pain and need of their own memebers. If they were to reach out and minister to the poor and needy of this world, perhaps their own members would identify and seek help for themselves.
The leaders denied us starting a soup kitchen in town. One person kept asking and after several years they finally said OK, and let me be the cook for it. I loved it, but CJ never supported it. Would not donate food or money towards it. They had to finish their beautiful church so they could attract the rich and artistic to their doors, probably hoping for large donations. There is no profit in serving the poor. It was a sad day when the leader told me to choose between a promotion to Senior Sister (leader in the Convent) and the food ministry. Another sister took my place at the food kitchen, and eventually we have both left.
I like to think that working outside of CJ and having contact with other, real, normal, and needy people helped to break the hold that CJ had on us.
The asceticism that is practiced at CJ is unhealthy. It is extreme. It is not balanced, and constantly serves to create guilt and self-loathing. This was true for me and for several others. One example: we all went on a 40 day fast of just grape products. Grapes, grape juice or raisins. Toward the end 2 couples were found to be cheating. They were publicly “corrected”, humiliated, and told to start the 40 days over again. They had to eat grapes during a wedding feast, and were watched closely by others to make sure they did not cheat again. I faired very poorly on that grape fast. Maybe it works for some, but for me it was starvation.