i guess i think of it this way: keeping up with your own family is hard enough, right? it takes work; investment to remember Birthday's, plan holidays, have expectations and just maintaining the peace can be exhausting. so why do we assume it won't be the same with this glorious notion of a "community"? because they're not exactly family? maybe....but i think that community often fails because we don't have the family mentality. community still allows every individual a freedom or independence to not live sacrificially. i believe that we are to live sacrificially within our own families, where there is an obligation to give, to serve, to love and to forgive - because they will ALWAYS be our family. but in a community there are no real guidelines to force anyone to do or be anything to the rest of the group. but what if there were?
maybe i'm getting ahead of myself. what i just wrote makes sense to me, but maybe it isn't clear enough. sorry.
The word "community" is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, "with/together" + munus, "gift"). i really like this breakdown of the word because it makes the point i am trying to convey. the word "community" literally means to be a gift to one another and with one another.
i want to be apart of a thriving, successful community just as much as the next guy, but i can't help believing that there need to be some challenges put on us to maintain such a community and be real in it and actually grow together. most of what i'm processing here is very basic Christianity, but how well are we really living that on a day to day basis? how many of us keep our own families at arm's length, as well as the friends that we keep? how many people do we actually let "in" to the deepest parts of ourselves without fear of rejection or criticism?
i have a few challenges for those of us seeking community. if it's going to be real and if it's going to work these are some of my suggestions.
1) don't be exclusive
it's really easy to be drawn to people who are like you and have similar things going on in their lives and have similar likes and dislikes. -duh- and that's all fine and dandy, we do have our "very best friends". but real sacrifice comes in when we reach beyond our boxes, our likes and dislikes, our comfort zones and not only befriend someone who is very different from us, but we go further to maintain a good friendship with them for an extended period of time. throughout our entire lives we all share memories of the "popular" kids at school and the "cliques". these golden circles that open their arms to people who are like them and generally not anyone else. we can recall being rejected by that group at some point in life. for most of us it was middle school or high school. i have memories of that group at my church, in college, and even today as a 29 year old.
if we are going to thrive as a community we must NOT be exclusive. open arms, open doors, no more boxes or golden circles. invite the guy who annoys the crap out of you and find out who he is. get a cup of coffee with the girl who has a very broken heart and can't seem to connect with anyone. call the friend who is 20 years older than you but has always taken an interest in your life. hang out with the friend who obviously is always looking for approval and make them feel important. when your tight circle of friends goes out for beers, call someone who's never come before and invite him into your life. basically try something new. be a gift to someone that's not exactly like you.
yea, i know this isn't easy or comfortable, but it's love. it's stretching ourselves and our boundaries and making a difference. be a gift. it doesn't mean you have to be best friends with these people, but you might be surprised how much you can learn from someone who is unlike you.
i recently watched that movie 'The Blindside' with Sandra Bullock, and if you've seen it you can relate. Because that white, wealthy family invited a poor, shell-shocked African-American boy into their lives it changed them all forever. not just the boy who got to change his life because of generosity. but it changed every person in that family and even the surrounding town. isn't that the kind of gift we should be?
i also want to mention here a blog i wrote a few years ago where the Lord spoke to me about a wounded kitten that so badly wanted to get into my lap. you can read it here and make the connection.
2) ask not what these people can do for you, but what you can do for these people
i once had a talk with a performer who seriously struggled with playing a show for a small crowd. he felt like he was throwing his pearls to swine to sit on stage and play his heart and soul out to a room of 3 unattentive bodies. he says, they don't pay attention, they don't clap and they don't buy cd's after the show, what's the point? why should i waste my time? [usually i would have agreed and been apologetic and said better luck next time] but this particular night the Lord struck me with a word. it was something He had told me recently about my own life, and i saw that it applied to this situation as well.
ask not what these people can do for you (or give to you), but what you can do for them (or give to them). the Lord showed me that when i enter a room full of people, i always have a choice to be a giver or a taker. i explained this to my musician friend and he was challenged; as was i when the Lord first told me.
if we have the mindset of what we can give, not what we can get, then our expectations are totally shifted. i told my friend that if he entered that room thinking of what he could give to them then he wouldn't suffer the same disappointment because his expectations weren't to receive, but to give. so that if he did get a compliment or an applause or some cash at the end of the set, it would be a surprise, a blessing, a treat. because he wasn't expecting it.
the Lord showed me this when i would have anxiety about hanging out with a group of people i didn't know well or that i felt insecure around. He told me to enter the room as if i had a bag of gifts to give to anyone who spoke to me. the gifts are compliments, questions, interest, encouragement, buying a cup of coffee, setting up a lunch date, or just a general conversation centered around that person. in practicing this for a couple years now i have found that i am less insecure, more confident and more engaged than ever before. i try and go beyond the "Hi, how are you doing?" "Fine. How are you?". if given the chance.
apparently it was Ghandi who said it, but i read it on a magnet:
"be the change you wish to see in the world."
3) open up; closed is never attractive
another aspect of this "giving" is being open. i try and live by the creed that if we are children of the light then we should be exposed by the light. meaning that if there is someone who takes an interest in your life: the good, the bad and the ugly, then open up and share with them. there is a little bit of Jesus in us all and when we expose our mess to a friend, that little bit of Jesus in them comes out and touches us. but if we were to keep it to ourself all the time, we'd miss out.
i'm realizing as i write this that i live by a lot of one-liners; another is: if you can't talk about it, it owns you. this conviction has led to many spontaneous confessions. and after each confession the freedom i have felt is insurmountable. let's create a community of people who aren't afraid to expose our sh*t to each other in order to get prayer, to get advice and to get well.
i mean who wants to approach someone and start to dig deep with them only to find a "CLOSED" sign hanging from their blank face? not me. life is short and i want to live it. you don't have to expose everything in one breath, but be willing to let someone "in" if they're interested. who knows what they may offer you. what they've been through themselves. you never know.
the more i practice this in my life, the more love, support and prayer i receive. it's amazing the response mark and i have gotten just from sharing with people about our baby's heart. i bet i couldn't count the number of people who are praying for her and for us right now. most i have never even met. and i'll tell you what, i need those prayers now more than ever before in my life. thank you for responding to our openness. thank you for giving.
every other thursday night a group of young women get together at my house. collectively we call our gathering the wives club. (i know it's a little cheesy, but it's who we are). we recognize that marriage is hard and without the love and support of other women who are on this same roller coaster, we might not make it. our first meeting was nearly a year ago and at that meeting we had an incredible breakthrough that has bonded us in a way that nothing else ever could have. but it took us all being vulnerable, being open. it does every meeting. that first night one woman was bold and shared her struggles with intimacy in her marriage and suddenly it was exposed that out of the 12 women in the room, 6 had been raped or molested at some point in their life. it was shocking and sad, but it united everyone's hearts in a way that has kept us together and moving forward in our marriages and in our lives. we don't have all the answers by any means. we're all on this same long road, learning, growing and asking lots of questions, but at least now we have each other. for support and council.
if you'd like to join the wives club, it's not exclusive, cliquish or intimidating. all are welcome. whether you've been married 2 months or 15 years, we have both and everything in between. send me an email and i will send you our meeting schedule. babies are welcome.
4) be available, think creatively, and act on it
so often we hear of people's misfortunes in life. i feel like those misfortunes just multiply the older i get. so-and-so is in the hospital again. the whoever's can't get pregnant. he cheated on his wife. they can't pay their bills. their marriage is seriously falling apart. he lost his job. everyone's having a baby and a baby shower and everyone needs money. the reality of life hits us all. for the most part we all feel so overwhelmed with our own issues that when someone else's issues arise we aren't even available to give or serve because we're already exhausted from our own lives.
be available. when someone shares their hardships with you, listen and give. if you hear of it through the grapevine and feel a heavy heart for them, ask the Lord to give you a creative idea on how you can bless them. i believe that when we give to those in need it opens the door for us to receive our own blessings. telling them you're "praying" is great. but seriously how often do we actually remember to pray for their situation? be honest.
do something active and involved. drop groceries off at the house who can't pay their bills. collect money for the family adopting a baby. take the girl from a broken marriage out for a pedicure. offer to babysit for free to the couple who desperately needs a date. give good shower gifts to expecting moms and blushing brides. host prayer meetings for the sick and struggling. set up a fundraiser for someone who seriously needs money. invite the family who got evicted to come and live in your home. the person who's car broke down, let them borrow yours, or carpool with them, or give them your car! be creative and act on it. don't wait till someone else has the idea or hosts the prayer meeting. YOU do it. who cares if you don't know them all that well. giving is giving. right? yea it's sacrificial, that's the point. if we're going to work together as a community stay engaged on this deeper level.
basic christianity - do unto others as you would have them do unto you. put yourself in their shoes. passion and compassion, people.
5) beware of false community
i love facebook as much as the next guy. it's an easy way to keep up with a slew of people from all over the world without having to actually talk to them. but how genuine can it really be? we can choose to engage with whomever we want, and chose to ignore whomever we want with absolutely no consequences. this new age of technology and social networking is great, it really is....but i think we've lost a very real part of relationship amongst the lol's and brb's in cyber space. we get a false sense of community just by checking people's twitter statuses and summer photo albums. that's not real relationship. that's not community. after you look at all those pictures and comment on their status, you're still at your house, alone, having not connected with that person on a deeper level. we can check out people's lives and never tell them we were even looking at their profile. again, i do like the site and i like staying connected, but i think we need to make sure it's not our only connection to those people. especially those who live in the same town as us. remember the little islands we live on?
get back to the basics. call each other on the phone. talk in person. go out for lunch. invite each other over for dinner - rowdy kids and all. plan trips together. take your kids to the park. live life in person. beware of a false sense of community. pray together. hug. laugh. cry. be human in person.
and i will just throw this out there. it drives me absolutely nuts when i'm hanging out with someone and they spend more time texting, checking their facebook, and updating their twitter than they do talking to me. have we really come to this? unplug, people! we were meant to interact with each other on a real level. when you're hanging out with people, be a person. make eye contact. be engaged. don't mess with your phone unless it's important. unplug.
so these are some of my thoughts on community and how it might work more successfully. of course they're just ideas and i've not seen many of them practiced well or often but i'd love to. to me this is love. these 5 suggestions represent what loving others well might look like. i'm sure there are a lot more we could do, but this is getting winded and my body is sore from sitting here for so long.
in my heart of heart's i want to live in this place with a group of people. i want it to be real. i want it to consist of a broad variety of people from different walks of life. i want it to be love and most of all i want it to last. i want to see us all live on the level that we believe in it too. to believe we're not alone on this journey called life. that we really are united and bound together not because of generational blood, but because of the blood of Jesus. it will be hard, yes. it will get messy, yes. we are still fallen and broken people. but it's hard for me to grasp that it can't happen when so many of us have such a longing and hunger for community to exist.
let's chose light and love above all and serve one another. let's be a gift to one another and with one another. get out of our boxes and love bigger and wider than we ever have. let's abandon the little orbiting islands we all live on and choose to make our community an obligation, like our family. we need to live sacrificially for one another, to love, to serve, to lift up, to forgive, no matter what. because this IS our family, and always will be.
who's with me?
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down his friend can help him up.