This is the first of (hopefully) a series of posts from a few of us who like blogging, and would like to do it more. The idea came out of a very innocent status on my Facebook profile – 66 comments of hijacking, a new group conscripted to and numerous amounts of tagging later, The Blog Roll initiative was begun. (Yes, fine, I give, people. I’ll even start us off.) The idea is to all blog on the same topic around the same time, thus increasing both motivation and discussion. Things done in community are always more effective, after all. (Do you believe that?)
Do join us! Anything I’m part of is always open to you, Friend or Potential Friend.
Or is it?
What are the boundaries of community? What are MY boundaries of community, more relevantly?
I voted for community as a blogging topic, in part as an objection to Sexuality & the Church. (Perhaps I’ll be prevailed upon to allow this later – but as a first topic, no. In some ways over-discussed and yet still very much under-discussed, this one will be a good and interesting blogging. But I didn’t want to start and frame our beginning discussions there. I think Community will make a better frame.)
Some could say that Community is also over-discussed. I agree. Oh I agree. I have gotten so sick of hearing people talk about the idea; at times even holding their model of the thing above another’s model. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating the pervasive evil that is relative truth, here. (Another blogging idea for later, perhaps?) Yet to state the obvious, there is such a deep, consuming desire for Community in every one of us, that not to address it or to ignore it in objection to the crowd is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
As believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’re automatically part of a community. No question, and no option. I have obligations and a special connection to Bob from Argentina, whom I have never met, because we are part of the same world-changing movement, God-ruling kingdom, all-consuming passion that is Jesus and His gospel. Bob may not know this. Bob may slight me when he meets me. Bob may embrace me as one of his family. Bob may hurt me, love me, be indifferent to me, slap me, kiss me, kill me – no matter. Unchangingly, he is my brother, and I love him and choose to continue to love him. (The nature of Love – another one?)
At the same time, community is a choice. I have friends who live as individuals, as though their lives are separate to mine, and yours. I don’t mean to be over-intense about this – I don’t want to pressure people to include me in their lives, or judge them when they don’t. I have other friends who are open to me, and you. Alive with the sweet fragrance of humble and smiling invitation, they gently draw others in to their lives, connecting people, connecting communities. They’ve learned the meaning of love, in that sense. I have still others who are open to some, and not to others. They extend their reach so far. They (unconsciously, I am sure) draw a line in the sand, saying “thus far, and no further will I go” and “thus far, and no further may you come”, both.
That line is not something that can be breached with a sledgehammer. I’ve seen it attempted; it doesn’t help, or work. Yes, sometimes people need to be whacked over the head a bit (figuratively!), but for the most part, modelling love ourselves is the best thing we can do.
I haven’t advocated a particular model of community here – because I’ve come to realise that its expression is very different with different people. So different, sometimes, that coming from one expression can be jarring when you encounter the other, and you may not recognise it at first, or believe it’s there and that it can work. You may not be willing to learn the steps of another dance, when you’ve spent so long learning the steps of the first, and enjoying its benefits. I have many different communities in my life. I’m close to the friends I went to high school with. I’m part of a church. Even in my biological family, there are different sections to it, where the dance is different. My brother, sister and I dance differently when we are with different parts of our family. And there’s no way around this – it’s just the way it is. (Do excuse me for using the metaphor of a dance; I hope to think of another one day). I have lived in many flats, where community has always been sought, but always found in a different way to the flat before it. And these differences open the way for irritation and hostility and judgement. Please be careful – that one really is a trap!
So what is community? Community is laying yourselves down for your friends, sometimes before they are your friends, in rainbow laughter and in tender pain. Community is when instead of the rampant blindness, you can look beyond yourself and see your neighbour is hurting, and reach over the unspoken wall they themselves have erected to take their groping hand. God forgive me for every time I overlook others in their pain, when my own laziness, comfort or apathy chokes my still very real desire to love others.
Potential for loneliness, in all this? Certainly. I’ve gone to sleep in quiet tears more times than I remember, feeling lonely or excluded from people I love. Sometimes because there has been fault in others, sometimes not. I know I’m not the only one, by a long shot. All of us carry this desire for others to see us, love us, include us. Perhaps I’m a softie; no matter. It’s no less true. But this is not a hopeless situation. We have a family, and when we’re able to realise that, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
I don’t really think community is a special model of something that is in addition to our faith. I don’t think it’s a specific model, even; yes, of course there are ways to live that are in community and ways we may choose to live that aren’t. But I think it’s a pitfall to create hard rules for this. For yourself in the place you are, perhaps, if it’s helpful. And sometimes necessary. But we don’t live under law anymore; so let’s not create another. Okay? :)
In less than a month I leave for Thailand. Just now a friend said to me: “I can’t believe you think there’s nothing to keep you here.” Sweet, it was. I don’t always know that people love me; like, really love me. And if she hadn’t said that, I’d be that much less sure.
Community is present and real and beautiful; community will require some effort; community is default, not optional. Where will you draw your line? Will you lay down your shield and let me love you; really love you? Will you lay down cynicism, hardness and hurt? We have baggage, all of us. Most – no, ALL of us have some measure of the above. But in much the same way we approach God, we can approach each other as we are, moment by moment, offering grace to each other as we’re gradually changed by the Spirit. (With boundaries, of course, please!) we can inch closer to each other, and breach these divides, if we want to. We can. The power of the gospel is enough, I promise.
I apologise if this is post ended up too cryptic – do ask me to explain what on earth I’m talking about if you wish, and I may or may not do a better job when I try. :)
There is, of course, a lot more to say; but I think most of us will agree that this post is long enough. Perhaps our discussions can draw these out more!
Much love (really!)