But Life is Harder
I'm taking a break in my Arkansas recap to put up this post that I wrote for the Christ Journey page on Thursday. If you read it there, don't expect much to have changed in this version.
For some time now Chris and I have been in conversations regarding the difficulty of cultivating authentic community - where people are actually invested in one another's lives and attempting to live beyond merely transactional relationships. This is a fundamental part of our vision for church planting.
And yet we've sat around the table with other church planter friends listening to their stories of community starting to form and then violently breaking up. We've talked together about just how counter-cultural and difficult this approach really is.
It is difficult for people who come from traditional church backgrounds and it is difficult for those who come from no church background. Why is that?
The German minister and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once talked about our desire for community; he noted that many people love the IDEA of community more than the experience itself. Seriously, why is that?
To speak simply about a complex matter: Actual community is messy.
When we think about community we begin to realize how great it would be to have others to walk through the trials of life with. It would be wonderful to have someone(s) to join us in those things that stoke our passion and vision. It would be great to have the synergy that comes from people sharing talents and resources. We know that it is not good for people to be alone and community seems to be part of God’s answer to the dark and oppressive prison of isolation.
And the great thing is that all of this is true.
Community doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens in the context of life with real, actual human people...all of whom carry around their wounds, flaws and smelly baggage. So, getting close to others (an unavoidable requirement to cultivate community) means that we can see their flaws and smell their baggage.
And they can see ours.
So there are lots of people who know they need community; people who realize that they can’t deal with all of life’s curve balls alone. Many of those people are seeking to fill that hole of loneliness.
For many young people the desire to join gangs is a desire to find a family that will accept them and be loyal to them. This is the pull of the drug and party culture...as long as you’re partying you’re usually accepted. And for a while this seems like community.
Until you get arrested and no one from the party shows up at your hearing.
...Or until you run out of money and no one who you smoke with helps you pay the electric bill - even though you can’t pay the electric bill because they smoked most of your weed or drank most of your beer.
...Or until you try to leave the life of violence and that same gang that welcomed you in refuses to let you get out.
But these aren’t the only folks who find it difficult to cultivate authentic community. Many of us have sought community in very healthy ways. There are lots of larger churches that hire a Community Connections Minister - people whose sole responsibility is finding ways for their congregation to connect with their community and for visitors and new members to connect to the congregation.
Christ Journey is very dedicated to the cultivation of real, deep and true community. And guess what we’ve found? It is hard. It is messy. Sometimes, it is dangerous.
People let us down. People who we love hurt us. People we love are hurt by us and we let them down.
We try to reach out and our efforts are not reciprocated. We invest in someone and love them and then they move.
We trust someone enough to let our guard down and be vulnerable and they betray our trust in one way or another.
Or we do one or all of these to others. Sometimes unwittingly and sometimes because our sin and selfishness are just a little too deeply ingrained.
Community is hard because of all of this. Its also hard because we begin taking on the hurts of those we love. Our friends go through a separation or divorce and we feel a bit of that pain. A home is foreclosed on and it feels like it was our own house. We see a young single mother struggling to keep all the plates spinning and also go back to school so that she won’t be stuck in poverty and continue this cycle for another generation...and we want to pick up all the plates, but we don’t know how.
We can’t make the marriage work, we can’t pay the mortgage, we can only help so much. And we begin to think, “It was easier when the answer to ‘how ya doing?’ was a simple, ‘fine, and you?’”
We begin to think, it was easier when I just occupied a pew and there was no expectation that I would be vulnerable around these people. We begin to say, “things were better in Egypt...” (check out the story of Israel in Exodus and also read Numbers chapter 11).
I understand this fear. Rachel and I have lived with the fear that comes from trusting church after being let down in a major way by church. But, like the prophet Hosea (whose life was meant as a metaphor for God and us) we are called to commit to our community even if we have good reason to suspect we will be betrayed again.
We have to because, as Andy Lancaster commented to me today, “Community is hard, but life is harder.” If we continue to try life without community we will find ourselves constantly retreating from both.
I know that community is hard, but life without it is not easier - unless we hide behind sports, alcohol, addictions, gossip, or any number of other escapist activities and fantasy worlds.
I am so glad to be a part of a church that is trying to cultivate real community. It doesn’t happen overnight and it will never happen (during this leg of the journey) in a complete or perfect way, but at least we don’t have to continue retreating.
Someone once said, “Its not as if we really think we can say anything, but in light of what we’ve seen we can’t say nothing.” Perhaps its the same with community. We may not have much hope for cultivating a perfect community, but in light of what we’ve seen and experienced we can’t sit by and do nothing.
I am grateful for community, even if it is a bit scary.