Thin Places

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

 

 

Women, Child Birth and What it Means to be Fully Human Again

Prayer for Baby ChaseMy wife, Jan, was 8 days past her due date when the first signs of labor finally kicked in about 5am. Being past your due date is no fun (keep in mind, I’m a dude talking here, so I really have no idea how hard it really is) as you start to wonder, 1. if this little creature will actually EVER arrive and 2. if your labor will be have to be initiated by powers outside of your control, namely lots of drugs and stuff. After our first babe (Ruby) decided to make her triumphal entry on the very LAST day before we would had to make some hard choices about the road forward, we were praying baby #2 would come along a bit sooner. 

As the contractions strengthened, we celebrated that this was the real deal and Janny locked into this sacred, super-human state of focus and determination like I’ve never encountered.  

Strong. 

Steady. 

Quiet.

At peace. 

It was surreal. Of course, I was a ball of anxiety, fear and anticipation wrapped in the cloak of a “secure support partner.” About 80% of her laboring happened at home when we finally got in the car to head to the birthing center. Trying not to hit the breaks, speed without getting a ticket and keep my mouth shut, we pulled in and got all settled in for the grand arrival. 

Again, surreal. 

Confidently instructing a handful of us on how to support her, Janny was stoic. Not long after we got to the birthing center, our little Rosie arrived in my arms (quite literally!) and we snuggled as a family of four for the first time. 

As I began to process what had just unfolded in front of my eyes, I was struck by the sacredness of the whole birthing event. A women is able to grow a baby inside of her body (with a TINY bit of help from a man), have a full grown baby come out of her body and then offer it all the resources it needs…with her body. 

There is something sacred to this and I don’t think it gets celebrated or near the attention it should. 

When God created humanity, we were made in God’s image. The very nature of God was inscribed on us as God had serious plans for the role humans would play in the Creation Story. There was no sin. No fallenness. No vision for us to become subservient to the constructs that would be assembled around us. In fact, to be fully human was to be quite divine. 

Of course, we know there was a break in the Story. Selfishness, infidelity and violence started to corrupt what was originally created to be in perfect union with God. 

While our faith tradition affirms the reality of sin, it also affirms the reality of God’s image and design being central to who we are as humans. After the Reformation (think John Calvin, Martin Luther and a lot of angry church folk), this portion of our tradition didn’t get as much press, but it is just as true as ever. 

That brings me back to what I saw and experienced in that birthing center. I got a glimpse into a rightly ordered creation. I saw -- quite tangibly -- the way God created us to function…and it was remarkable. It was worship. It was a reminder that the God who created us hasn’t given up on us. No, in fact, he is still very much with us, we just need to have the eyes to see it.

One of our dear friends and neighbors is a couple weeks out from her due date. After losing her first baby a few months into her pregnancy, these moments leading up to arrival seem a little extra sacred. Having lost our first baby at 5 months along, Janny understands the mental, emotional and spiritual weight of carrying a baby to term after such a tragedy. 

As such, Janny transformed our upstairs bedroom into a little haven of blessing, encouragement and renewal. With candles lit and soft music streaming quietly through the space, she invited this woman over for a facial. Having gotten her friend settled into this space, Janny started to reveal a series of surprises that turned an ordinary facial into an experience with the divine. 

One of our other friends came in the room with her harp and began to play next to the bed. Then, one-by-one, women from our faith community came into the room and offered blessings over mom and baby. Instead of leaving after their blessing, most stayed and began massaging her feet and arms and belly. 

Tears were shed, burdens were carried together and the hope of new life became palpable. 

I often talk about the idea of a thin place; a physical space where heaven and earth seem to collide. A place where God’s kingdom is made real.

In this instance, it was a place where we got a glimpse into what it means to be fully human again. A place where God’s intended design actually came about. 

In a world where heroism, success and order are most often defined by men projecting their insecurities on society, I thank God for women. And for far more than childbirth (that just happens to be what deeply moved me recently).

For their leadership.

For their compassion.

For the way they show us what sacrificial love actually looks like.

For the way they guide us to the stuff that actually matters most.

For they remind us that rightly ordered humanity isn’t about who holds the most power, but who is most willing to give it away for the sake of another.

Because, for me, women show us how to be fully human again. 

Book Giveaway Trifecta

Ok, so we’ve heard it over and over and over…”tis” the season for giving.  Welp, with that in mind, I’m giving away one of each of my books: Thin Places (I’ll be giving the book & 6 session DVD edition!), Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling and Good News in the Neighborhood.  Click on the BOOKS links above to watch video trailers, read descriptions and endorsements for each.  

Wikipedia defines a trifecta as “a parimutuel bet in which the bettor must predict which horses will finish first, second, and third in exact order.”

Er, umm, that really has nothing to do with this give away, so I’m redefining!

A trifecta “is the opportunity to win one of three LIFE CHANGING (ok, maybe an exaggeration) books with THREE different ways to win.”

Choose one of these three ways to throw your hat in the ring:

1. Follow the link to any of these three book pages and click “like”(right next to the reviews under the title). Thin Places OR Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling OR  Good News in the Neighborhood. Then paste a link to your facebook page in the comments (so I know who to give the book to if you win!).  

2. “Like” my Jon Huckins Writing Facebook page (and post link of your facebook page in Comments below) OR follow me on Twitter and Tweet, “Jump in to win one of @jonhuckins books! http://wp.me/p2vhWw-n7 #BookGiveawayTrifecta”  

3. Write a TRIFECTA Haiku (a Haiku is three phrases -- 5, 7, 5 syllable pattern) in the comments describing your love of egg nog.

I’ll be randomly picking winners on Monday!  Three, Two, One…TRIFECTA!!

I’ll Bet You Won’t Guess #1 Way to Build Immune System

 

Dear friends with Ruby before her surgery

As the flu season approaches, we are going to hear a slough of ways we can avoid getting sick.  Use hand sanitizer…ALWAYS.  Sneeze the opposite direction of the crowds…got it.  Don’t lick the inside of a hotel bedspread…tempting, but I’ll resist.  It goes on and on and on. 

But today I stumbled onto an article a friend posted from Weather.com that upended my sarcasm towards the sure-fire strategies of avoiding the flu.  I was upended because it was so true of the life I currently live.  

They argue that the #1 way to build your immune system is to be present in COMMUNITY. Here is what they say:

Research shows that the fewer human connections we have at home, at work, and in the community, the likelier we are to get sick, flood our brains with anxiety-causing chemicals, and live shorter lives than our more sociable peers. In one study, researchers who monitored 276 people between the ages of 18 and 55 found that those who had 6 or more connections were 4 times better at fighting off the viruses that cause colds than those with fewer friends.

What to do: Don’t let a jam-packed workday or hectic schedule get in the way of your friendships. Stop by a co-worker’s office for a quick Monday morning catch-up, or e-mail/text your friends at night to stay in touch when you’re too busy for phone calls.

Brilliant. 

Reflecting on our experience in Covenant Community (with NieuCommunities), I recently wrote this in our book Thin Places:

“God created men and women as communal creatures. In addition to being ontologically designed to be in union with the Creator, we were designed to be in communion with fellow humans and to the rest of the created order.” 

We are hardwired for community.  We can’t fully be human outside of it.  And when we are outside of it, we not only expose ourselves to physical illness, we expose ourselves to the illness of disconnection with God, others and creation. 

Let’s spend more time around the water cooler.  

When All of Abraham’s Children Share a Table: A Moment I’ll Never Forget

Prayer in Hebron

Hebron is known as one of the most volatile cities in the whole region of Israel/Palestine.  Located in the heart of the West Bank, both Jews and Arabs have had roots here for thousands of years.  Having endured years of conflict, racism, violence and separation, Hebron’s inhabitants have been covered in a narrative lacking an acknowledgment of a shared humanity

It’s in the middle of such realities that our Learning Community (part of our organization, The Global Immersion Project) feels called to listen, learn and be radically present.  Through the art of friendship making, shared tables and storytelling, we desire to promote the just heart of God by being a people of reconciliation in the way of Jesus. 

It was this posture that landed us in the underground home of a local Muslim Palestinian family who is close friends with the Jewish Rabbi who was hosting us in the old city of Hebron (he is both a host and dear friend!).  Having prepared a beautiful and expansive Palestinian meal, they warmly invited each one of us into their home and said, “Today, this is your home.” 

Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, namely, Abraham.  It is important to note that all three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) acknowledge Abraham as their father/patriarch.  In other words, this is the physical place where religions not only collide, but the physical place where they share a very unique familial identity. 

Shared Meal in Hebron

Having taken seats around tables filled with diverse color, rich aromas and new faces, the Jewish Rabbi asked if I would share a blessing over the meal alongside himself and the Muslim home owner.  He said to the gathering, “We will now share a blessing over this meal lead by a Muslim, Christian and Jew.” 

Standing between my friends -- a Muslim Palestinian and Jewish Rabbi -- I prayed that this meal would be a picture of reconciliation found among the children of Abraham, because as a follower of the pro-people Jesus who came to bring restoration to all the cosmos, I have to belief this to be true. 

For me, it was a thin place; a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated.  It was a microcosm of how humanity can interact when the best of all three monotheistic faiths are represented.  Further, as one who has given my life to the work of peacemaking and reconciliation, it was a moment and honor I will never forget.  In fact, it will fuel me to live more faithfully into the identity I have been given as one submitted to the life and teachings of the Prince of Peace in obedience to the great Reconciler.  

Sitting (on the floor!) around a table with people from all over the world and experiencing radical peace in a context whose reality is often the opposite, I got a glimpse into the heart of Jesus for humanity.  A humanity he so adamantly sought to highlight by being a presence of peace and reconciliation among people and in places that weren’t “supposed” to experience either.  

Friends, the construction of “The Other” is quickly dissolved when we enter each others’ homes & share a table.  We confront and acknowledge our common humanity.  This is not only true in the Middle East, but in the neighborhoods, cities and suburbs in which we inhabit everyday. 

May we be a people who instigate a revolution of shared tables that offer a foretaste of the Kingdom banquet being prepared by the Resurrected refugee from Palestine, Jesus. 

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