Conflict

6 Myths of Community

IMG_9601As we move into a new year, our little community of Jesus followers is taking some intentional time to individually and collectively reflect, evaluate and consider the implications of committing to each other and God to our shared life in Golden Hill for another year. One of the practices we have committed to in this time is to confront the unhealthy or unrealistic expectations we have of each other. We have found that dreams, visions and hopes for our community are good, beautiful and necessary. While that remains true, they can be the very things that destroy community before it starts. 

When I was going through seminary, I talked with countless leaders who had had big visions for the type of community they would lead, yet most didn’t last past 8, 9 or 10 months.  

What keeps many communities from sustaining for the long haul?

We all carry ideals and expectations with us into community and when they aren’t realized, we often assume our community isn’t “real” or that it is a failure. If we can identify the myths we carry into community, we can confront our unrealistic expectations and choose to willingly submit some of our personal one’s for the larger mission God has for our community. 

Here are 6 myths we have identified over our years as an intentional community committed to follow Jesus together:

Myth #1: Perfect Harmony

This myth says that we’ll all get along really easily and naturally with little to no conflict. After all, we all showed up here, so we must all be on the same page, right? This myth means that we assume that we will all be naturally interested in each other’s lives and we’ll discover things about each other with which we strongly connect. We also assume that we’re in similar places in our maturity, experience, and readiness, and since we’re all equally committed to the same things, we’ll all be willing to make similar sacrifices.

However, the reality is we’re not all at the same place, and we may never be. That’s okay, though. There will always be some dissonance in a community. Dissonance doesn’t mean you don’t have community; in fact, it might actually mean you do! Or, as we saw in the stages of community, you’re at least on your way there. 

Myth #2: Absolute Agreement

This myth does not refer to harmony in relationships, but to harmony in decisions and direction. It is the myth that we’ll always agree or arrive at a consensus because that’s what happens in community. This myth is the naive belief that no one will ever have to yield their opinion to the group because we’ll always end up on the same page if we just talk long enough. It is the belief that if we’re yielding enough to each other and to the Spirit we will never have to agree to disagree. There’s another assumption in this myth that’s a little more subtle but pretty significant: it’s the assumption that we won’t need distinct roles or responsibilities because we’re a community and everybody will decide on everything together, and we won’t move until we do. When we do that, we flirt with a denial of the gifts and roles with which God has gifted his church. The reality is, there will always be disagreements and differences in perspectives. There will be differences in gifts and responsibilities. In our communities, we’ve found that the answer isn’t agreeing on everything; it’s finding a way to go forward even when we don’t agree. 

Myth #3: Raw Pleasure

This is the myth that being honest, raw, or authentic means we have the right to say whatever we’re feeling whenever we want and thinking that people will actually appreciate that. This myth leads to thinking that unbounded authenticity is always good and welcomed. In fact, it is thinking that unbounded authenticity is community. Further, the myth of raw pleasure is the belief that now that we are in community, the door is wide open for us to say whatever we’re feeling whenever we’re feeling it—because healthy community requires complete honesty 100 percent of the time. It’s concluding that messiness and confusion are the reality of community life and that people actually prefer messiness over harmony, peace, and light-hearted adventure.

The reality is that community is not—and never has been—a green light to be mean or insensitive. Chaos is not synonymous with community. In healthy communities, love and kindness will always trump raw, self-serving disclosure.  

Myth #4: Truth At All Costs

While raw pleasure is more about personal disclosure, this myth is more about the idea of speaking “truth” to others. This is the myth that in community, we have a duty to point out people’s faults as soon as we see them. It is the assumption that we need to deliver the truth that we know as soon as we know it. It’s the belief that people want and need to hear truth more than they want and need to feel loved. This myth assumes that we can freely share our convictions and opinions at just about any time because being in community gives us a green light to address people’s “ignorance” or their personal issues at any time.

But, the reality is there is still a right time and a right way to share convictions and people will always have different convictions . . . and you may even be wrong!

Myth #5: It’s All Fixable

This myth is the common assumption that communities are miracle workers—that if a need is shared in community, the community must have the ability to fix it. Those who hold this belief often assume that if we need help beyond our community, we’re not a “true” community. Believing this myth also leads us to jump to the conclusion that people share things openly because they want us to fix their problems. Maybe they do, but maybe they just need us to listen and empathize with them.

The reality is that we’re human and we won’t be able to meet everyone’s needs. There are many great resources outside of our community (pastors, counselors, spiritual directors, coaches, and so on) that we would be foolish and arrogant not to access.  

Myth #6: True Community Is Always Communal 

When people visit our community, they are often surprised that we don’t all live in one house. The assumption seems to be that true community requires a common roof. Many communities have chosen that form, and it has worked well for them. It certainly brings people together, and we agree that proximity is vital to organic community. There are also obvious environmental and economic benefits to shared living that should not be discounted. However, there are downsides to communal life as well: the biggest negative is probably the time and energy that are required to maintain peace and order in communal space. Sharing space is not the same thing as sharing life.

We have opted for a slightly different approach while still valuing proximity and a sense of shared space. We made the decision to live close to one another (all within a ten-minute walk) and to inhabit the same neighborhood rather than the same house. Some of us do share houses with each other, some of us live in separate apartments in the same building, and some of us live in our own homes. We share our lives, we share our neighborhood, and we share a common covenant to do life in a particular way. For us, making these choices has created real community. 

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Note: The majority of this post is an excerpt from my book with Rob Yackley, Thin Places: Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community

 

 

3 Barriers Hijacking Christian’s Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

EmpathyIn recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches; death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders. 

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch. 

War. 

Racism. 

Suicide.

Deadly viruses.

Plane crashes.

Whether in remote villages or urban centers, few have been untouched (in some way) by the realities unfolding. 

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human. 

Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?”  

And by human, I mean, divine image bearers who have stories, families, pain, hopes, traditions and a unique interpretation of reality. 

Here are three barriers that are hijacking our ability to love our “enemies” and acknowledge our shared humanity: 

1. Fear

Those of us in the West (and I’m sure many others around the globe) live in a culture of fear. It is a reality of “What If?” What if the robber breaks into my house? What if all of our jobs are taken by immigrants who don’t deserve to be here? What if the terrorists strike my city? What if that person walking on the street (who looks different than me) tries to jump me? What if the stock market crashes and I lose all my investments? What if (insert name) gets elected and everything goes to hell?  

The Problem? We spend so much time trying to prepare for the “what if” that we completely miss out on the joy, beauty and opportunity right in front of us. Further, we project our fear on others and undeservedly make them the potential culprit. Because everyone is out to get us, we can no longer trust anyone and our worldview is largely pessimistic. 

The Cure? “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -- Jesus (Luke 12) 

In the end, if we truly believe Jesus is reigning, what do we have to fear?

2. Nationalism

Yes, we live in a country with unprecedented wealth, opportunity (for many) and infrastructure that has done remarkable things domestically and abroad. As I travel around the world, I don’t have to look far to run into people who dream to live in our country. There are so many reasons to be grateful to live here. With that said, it is deeply disturbing to me how inverse our allegiances have become within the Christian subculture. Many, out of reverence to our country, have placed their primary allegiance to the USA rather than to the Kingdom of God. 

The Problem? Nationalism is a form of idolatry that we must repent from. Healthy love of country isn’t what I’m referring to. Nationalism is the belief that our country is somehow set apart over and above all other countries which leads to unquestionable support of our nation’s policies and practices even if they come at the expense of innocent human beings on the other side of the globe. Further, we often place our hope in our elected officials rather than in Jesus (who reigns as king of the Kingdom that has come and is coming). It means we -- whether subconsciously or consciously -- see people who live outside of our borders as “less than.” We may not admit it, but it is certainly the case. If our war machines take the lives of those half way across the world it is somehow easier to justify than if it were the life of one of our own. 

The Cure? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. -- Jesus (John 18:36)

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   

3. Power 

The growing distance between those with economic and political power creates a social distance that doesn’t allow us to share tables with those who have differing degrees of power. Often, those in power don’t KNOW the people who their power impacts which leads to decisions that negatively impact those on the underside of power. The flip side is that those without power are willing to dehumanize others as a way to ascend to power. If getting power means values and ethics are compromised (which inevitably has direct implications on human beings), then so be it. 

The Problem? Power is viewed as a commodity that can be acquired for our own advancement rather than gift to be given away for the flourishing of others. A utopian view would say everyone is born into an equal playing field of opportunity, but that simply isn’t the case. Those in power don’t plan to relinquish it and those without power will often choose unethical means to gain it.  

The Cure? “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” -- Jesus (Matt 18) 

What if we took seriously Jesus’ words that the first shall be last and the last will be first?

A Prayer for the People of God and our Human Family 

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

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