10 March 2013

Thoughts on community before I moved to Amsterdam

Looking for something else, I came across this old article I wrote for the student newspaper of Calvin Seminary. The first line immediately intrigued me, as I was curious about whether I would agree now with my previous thoughts on community. I do still agree with myself, although I do think I write better today: if I wrote this piece today, it would be shorter and more winsome and definitely less preachy :) 

But without further ado, here is what I wrote about 8-9 years ago about community:

"Much of what I’ve learned about community has come from being stuck living with too many people. Four years ago, it was living in a dorm that had fifty females and one communal bathroom: six showers, four toilets, and never enough hot water. Life was hard; school was hard. As a teacher, I could put up with working too much and too long because I knew that the students had no choice but to do the same if they ever hoped to follow their dreams of getting in to university when most others would be bribing their way in. We needed each other just to get through each day. Reaching out to help others and having others lift you up builds a strong community. 

About a year ago, I learned about community by spending much of my summer living in a room with eight other females. In the good weeks, we used the communal bathroom down the hall. On the bad weeks, we each had about one shower per week and the rest of the time we bathed in whatever body of water was available. Not exactly what we would call ideal conditions, but that was part of what brought us together - along with working hard, being challenged daily, and having more adventures and people around than most of us were comfortable with. We either were a community or we weren’t; there was no middle ground. We were together too much not to notice that we were different, and we had to either deal with that or learn to pretend that our differences did not matter.

[After all], Waking up in a new place (again), tired from being challenged too much, I wanted nothing that had anything to do with the difficulty of community. I didn’t like having to be involved in so many other people’s lives and having them push in on my life. I had gone to bed the night before knowing that I loved the people that I lived with, but I didn’t really like them. I was tired of living with them and of encouraging them, and I was tired of liking them. It was then, and several more times over the summer, when I had the choice of community. I could choose to pretend that everything was okay when it wasn’t really, and thus be pushed apart from the people I was with. Or I could spend some serious time in prayer, praying for these people I didn’t really like, knowing that God would change me (and maybe them) so that I would be able to remember daily that I loved them and was to be community with them. Prayer would also give courage to talk about the things that were bothering all of us, so that we could be honest and real with each other.

Community is a place where I get to be myself, and I have to be myself. I am given space to figure out who God intends me to be; yet I’m also being encouraged and refined by others so that I don’t become so absorbed in myself that I stop hearing God. I get to be honest, even while learning how both to be honest with myself and how to be honest with others without being hurtful. I also need honestly to hear others. It’s a lot about me, but it’s more about others, and learning how to make space (i.e. be hospitable) for others.

As much as we all think community is a great thing, it’s easier not to do community. It’s easier not to be honest about our brokenness. It’s easier to blind ourselves to how that brokenness affects others than to learn how to be hospitable, without losing ourselves. It’s easier to pretend that something does not matter than learn how to confront someone about differences while being willing to acknowledge that the fault might not belong all to somebody else. I can say I belong to a community and am participating in it, but when I have my own room, my own car, and my own schedule, it’s fairly easy to avoid community whenever it’s inconvenient. It’s community in name, but nothing more than a couple of people being in the same place at the same time.

Community is hard enough that one can’t have great community in the same way with everyone; even learning how much I can give of myself is part of the process of doing community well. It disappoints me that I can not know everyone’s stories, but I know that sometimes I need to hold back in order to be able to be part of the community where I am and to have the strength and courage to do the community I can do, well."

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