Community… the journey into we

For much of my life, I have longed for community.

I have experienced flickers of what this might mean- but only in shadow, and sometimes only in hindsight.

The motivation for community comes through my understanding of the way Jesus called us to live- a collaboration of imperfect people who make a decision to love and to lay down self in order to serve others. And in doing this, others might see the Father God reflected in their gathering and their living.

If I look honestly at myself, this longing for community also arises from my own need to find a place of acceptance and security. A home from which to adventure, and a place to return to for healing and encouragement. (Perhaps in this longing, community starts again to be about ME?)

And mixed in with this is a sort of unexpressed idealistic theory that tells me that if we are able to move towards a pure community- then all things will be possible. Broken people will find healing, creative people will find expression. Needs will be met through sharing and burdens will be carried together. And because this community will shine like a beacon into its context, then it will become infectious- missional.

Kind of reminds you of the stories in the book of Acts? These stories have always been my inspiration. The homes opened up, the holding of things in common, the motivation towards the poor. Above all, the resting and the working of the Holy Spirit…

So, what gets in the way?

I know from my own experience that community is not always benign. Sometimes, the closer we get to one another, the more damage we do- the old hedgehogs analogy. The more we open up our lives, the more our facades of niceness are eroded, and the inner grasping kids emerge into the gathering.

Some people bring a toxicity with them that most communities will struggle to contain. There were people like that in the early church- Paul mentions them, and advises his friends to have nothing more to do with them. I bear the scars of broken and hurtful relationships- like we all do. I still torture myself in the making of decisions to walk away.

Then there is the issue of leadership and power. It will always become an issue at some point. Some take power deliberately, and use it indiscriminately for their own ends. Others are surprised to find that something of themselves has become oppressive to others almost unwittingly.

But perhaps above all, in Christan communities, we have lost the meaning of WE, and allowed our spirituality to be centred on the ME. WE have allowed our connections to one another, our way of living, and our spirituality, to be indistinct from the world about us.

I have spoken elsewhere about Kanyini, and how the original Australian people understood community. Once lost, this community is in danger of loosing themselves. We Christians began as people defined by community. It was out identity, and the beauty of it changed the world for ever.

But now, we see an overwhelming emphasis on personal morality, private experience, and even the accumulation of personal wealth, health and happiness. The danger is that people come to gather together in churches that are removed from the dirty messy stuff of life, to celebrate an abstract form of collectivism that is almost like a fossil version of the real thing. We forget our calling, our identity as people defined by our communality, our communion together, with God.

I have no answers of course- this would imply that I have sorted this out, and I certainly have not. But neither am i prepared to let go of my idealism.

I will lay down again for friends, knowing that I will be trampled on at times.

I will open wide the doors of my house, even though I resent the intrusion.

I will believe that this network of people God placed me within has a transformative power- not just for the community itself- but for all who are blessed by contact with it. And where the contrary is true- I will ask forgiveness for my own imperfection.

And I will chose to believe that where we gather, there is God in the midst of us…

4 thoughts on “Community… the journey into we

  1. Maybe we can only engage in community if we hold onto idealism and are willing to be hurt? (as you’ve said)

    That seems to be the big divide between those who create communities and those who take from them for a while then walk away (though sometimes, walking away is right — part of a process and journey).

    As one who holds onto more traditional models of church, I do so in large part because I’ve come to believe that the pain of it is necessary. I don’t believe the hurt and the pettiness and the selfishness are necessary; but they might be inevitable in a world where there has been a long history of ‘going to church’ in ways that often had little to do with being conformed to Christ. The pain, though, is part of the growing — as we are confronted time and again with how hard it is to love, to forgive, to believe that this person (whom we don’t much like, and who is making our life difficult again) really is a beloved child of God.

    And then, I do it because to worship well, we need all the diversity we can get; all the different ways of praising God.

    I’m enjoying the blog, by the way, and most impressed with the consistency of it, which I have struggled with of late.

    I’m thinking of doing something artsy/meditative for Michaelmas — in church, or somewhere in town… Would you be interested in working together?

  2. Hey there Kimberly…

    Thanks for the thoughts. I think you are right about being willing to be hurt. I find that I sometimes need to lick my wounds for a while though.

    The walking away bit- this is the difficult stuff, that can seem to tear you apart. It never feels right, but as you say- sometimes it is necessary.

    May your community sustain you as you sustain it…

    As for Michaelmas- absolutely. When is it?? Our ‘tent’ has been postponed to the Spring- we have all been too busy to put this into action.

    We had talked about a prayer space somewhere???

    Speak soon


  3. Michaelmas is the 29th of September — but I was thinking Friday the 27th. Nothing too structured — images of angels on walls, different ways of picking up angel names (remembering the ‘-el’ bit, music, art & prayer, that sort of thing. I’ll get in touch by a more sensible format next week.

  4. Pingback: Castles and boundaries… « this fragile tent

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