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…