15 Sep Practicing Community
“What is the best thing about being part of a religious order?” a monk was once asked. “Community,” he replied. “Living with my brothers.” “And what is the hardest thing about being part of the order?” asked the questioner. “Community,” the monk replied. “Living with my brothers.” Ah…we can all relate, can’t we?
“Community” seems to be a popular buzzword these days. That’s understandable. Families are more spread out than ever, often separated by great distances due to educational or job-related pursuits. Technology has enhanced our lives in countless and profound ways, but it has also reduced our human interactions, making us more susceptible to isolation. We no longer need to see a real person to complete a bank transaction or shop for groceries or get car insurance. Even the interactions we do have are becoming increasing short and perfunctory. We can now go out to eat and use a touch screen to place our order at the table and pay for it, eliminating the need for a server for the front- and back-ends of our dining experience. One wonders how long it will be before a robot delivers the food, or we get it ourselves when it’s ready, doing away with wait-staff altogether.
So, it’s no surprise that people are exploring new ways of making and being part of community. Human beings are wired to need and want a place to belong, a group of people with whom to identify. We can’t be whole or healthy without others, so community is vitally important. But it’s not easy. Much of the talk I hear about community concerns me because the notion of togetherness has been romanticized to the point that it is dripping with sentimentality. This kind of starry-eyed view of community is bound to lead to disappointment as the reality cannot possibly measure up to the loftiness of the expectations.
The truth is that community is some of the hardest work we’ll ever do. We human beings are messy, and the closer we get to one another, the more mess we create. We hurt someone’s feelings, we forget something that is important to someone, or we discover differences that rub us the wrong way. We are impatient when patience is called for, our tempers flare when kindness and understanding would serve us better, we fail to pay attention to other’s needs because of the troubles in our own lives. Sometimes we expect too much of others and too little of ourselves, or conversely, we give too much away without maintaining good and healthy boundaries. There are nearly limitless ways we “blow it.” On our good days, we give people the benefit of the doubt, extend forgiveness and don’t hold on to grudges. But, there are too many days when our insecurities and anxieties get the best of us and we succumb to complaints and resentments. All of which makes community hard slogging.
But, it is a slog that is so, so worthwhile. The very things that we struggle with in community—that other people see things differently and do things differently, with different values and perspectives and goals—are precisely what we most need. We need to see the world through their lens, hear about their experiences, learn from their different approach to the world. We need the close quarters of community to see ourselves more honestly which gives us the opportunity to smooth our “rough edges.” Only as we are in relationship with others do we confront our tendencies to self-centeredness, arrogance and bias. It’s not for the faint of heart. Community requires commitment, courage and tenacity. It requires the willingness to ask for, give, and receive forgiveness. It requires openness, vulnerability, and a readiness to listen. Easy? Absolutely not. Valuable? In spades.
If you are looking for a place of belonging, ours is not perfect, but it is, I believe, a beautiful place to practice the art and work of community. I invite you to join us and grow with us as we learn together to be community—the kind of community that proclaims the love of God by how we love one another.
Yours for the Kingdom,