30 Aug Hospitality, Imperfection, Abundance….Community
I have been thinking a good bit about community lately. Because human beings are created with a need to belong, community is vital. We cannot, in fact, learn who we are or what is authentic for us without community, beginning with the first community we know—our families. But, not all communities are created equal. Some are better at defining and achieving their mission than others. Some are healthier than others. Some inspire what is best in human beings and others feed on some of our worst tendencies.
There is an idyllic notion that communities are all about support, encouragement, and caring for those who belong to it. That is part of it, to be sure. But, when a community functions at its best, whether that community is a family, church, neighborhood, or twelve-step program, whether it consists of two people or hundreds or thousands, it tells the truth. The community acts like a mirror, reflecting back to us who we are, both good and bad.
Healthy communities can be trusted to appropriate this mirroring function with respect and compassion, never to belittle or tear down anyone. Truth-telling must always be done in love. It doesn’t barrel its way in to people’s lives, and an attitude of humility is also essential. It might help to consider how we ourselves are best able to hear and receive correction and admonition. I don’t relish this aspect of community, whether I am on the truth-telling or truth-receiving end, but it is necessary if I am to grow up, mature as a follower of Christ and have healthy relationships.
At its core, community is all about intimacy—knowing and being known—and that requires vulnerability. We live in a culture that thrives on not being vulnerable. We are bombarded with messages that tell us to hide our feelings (“real men don’t cry”), rely on no one but ourselves (“pull yourself up by your bootstraps”), and project the image, whether true or not, that we have got our act together, that we are successful, and that our relationships and families are “practically perfect in every way”, to borrow a phrase from Mary Poppins. There is enormous pressure to deny and hide the fears that keep us up at night, the wounds that scar us, the insecurities that drive us. Usually without even realizing it, we have spent years and decades creating a false self, a mask, that covers up our truest selves.
So, yes, a loving community can and should be a safe space in which to “come clean,” to own our humanity and brokenness, to seek grace and accountability, to tell the truth about ourselves and one another. But this is hard work. It requires that I extend myself on behalf of others just as they extend themselves for me. It means that I recognize that others have a valid claim on my time, my energy, my skills and resources, even my money, since allowing someone in the community to remain in want while I have plenty and enough to share is not an option. Forming real community asks me to make a lot of room for grace and forgiveness, to make space for others to grow and mature, just as I need space to do the same.
Community, then, is messy. It celebrates the best of me while at the same time exposing the worst of me—the selfishness and pride and anger that I work so diligently to hide. I don’t give up these secrets easily, but without vulnerability, true community is impossible. We end up with pseudo-community which only serves to perpetuate the isolation and feelings of unworthiness that so permeate our lives. God wants so much more for us than that. Jesus said he came to give us life, abundant life, and we find that life by being in community with both God and one another.
No community is perfect, but I think I’m part of a very special one. I am grateful for a church family that day by day is learning the joys and sacrifices of community, that endeavors to practice what we say we believe, and that cultivates a willingness to be confronted by the truth when we fail to measure up. As we do these things, we discover that Jesus meets us as we share meals, sing and pray, serve and study and worship together. And where Jesus meets us, there is abundant life for all.
Yours for the Kingdom,