For the last four weeks – or so – I have sat in church services focusing on community; the need for community, the role of community, what community is supposed to look like, what the leadership wants it to look like.
Every service, every week.
We all leave the services nodding our heads affirmatively, hoping in our hearts that this would be true – but knowing deeper down in our hearts that it is not.
For the last five years, I have been a regular “member” of what I consider to be a bit like the “community” the leadership keeps espousing, coming together with a group of somewhat likeminded people and talking about various aspects of life.
It’s all good when we can agree. It’s great when we can write prayer requests on the board and someone prays for the request in class. We all leave feeling somewhat lifted, maybe even heard.
But what happens when someone shares real life stories that include pain and despair? How do members of the “community” respond once the doors of the church are closed until the following week when even more desperate needs for support creep in?
My experience hasn’t been all that stellar, I gotta say – and I think I am going to scream if one more person talks about the importance of community – while ignoring the deep personal needs of the one sitting next to them
for five years.
Not that I am whining. I am just being honest. I keep thinking of this repeated empty push for “true community” that of course sounds good, but in practice … well, I am not sure we YET truly understand what it means
– or maybe I don’t.
Our discomfort with mess is never more telling than when someone shares a truth we would rather not hear, for all kinds of reasons. We are drawn to easy, comfortable, convenient shoes, clothes, food – and relationships. We love finding things in common with other people, laughing together, shared values, mutual admiration.
But our lives don’t go the way of comfort for too long. Eventually, we begin to notice differences – and more differences, interspersed with the things we initially had in common. Suddenly it seems like work just being together. We’d rather believe the romanticized version of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Lots of times, as we all know, relationships end over the differences rather than grow on the strengths of the in-common. We dump those people whose challenges are too great, too time consuming, too painful to be shouldered through the dark valleys. My truth, after all, is scary. Your truth is scary. When we start to meet another human being in truth, it can be freakin scary as it triggers something deeper in each one of us. I read recently, “Truth has bad breath at times. Truth is boring. Truth burns the food. Truth is all this stuff. Truth has anger. Truth has all of it."
The quote went on to say, "And you stay in it. You keep working with it, you keep opening to it, and keep deepening it."
But we aren't taught that. Instead, we trade up spouses, friends, churches, neighborhoods, political parties - even countries! We dump people who become more challenging - sometimes in their darkest hours.
And we keep asking, When am I going to find the place, the person, the experience where this doesn’t occur? When will I find a person, a community, that will not dump me when it goes from fun to scary, from challenge-free to challeng-ing? From a loose group of individuals who all desire the same thing at our core and truly fulfills the true essence of community?
What kind of environments are we creating, am I creating? Am I accepting of the challenges that are guaranteed to rise in friends, family, the person who sits in front of me every single week at church, school or at my job? Do I feel accepted with mine? Do I even care what they are going through? Do they even care about me? Is that acceptance and caring what it is meant by community? Instead of leaving people when the going gets tough, do we simply need to learn how to better support them, especially in their darkness, during their suffering that makes us feel uncomfortable?
After four weeks of hearing about community, the question remains: What IS our obligation to being a member of a particular community - to our fellow humans whose physical presence already indicates a shared journey? Are we obliged to help take care of one another? What happens when we end up feeling burned or burned out by the impurities of the community in which we reside?
I am less interested than ever in communities that look more like country clubs, friendships that embrace only my strengths. With that comes a deeper understanding that I, too, will be called upon at inconvenient times to enter into people's personal pain as readily as I enter into those times when they make me feel good about life. If I am uncertain how to respond, or afraid to respond, or don't have the time or the skills to respond, I want to respond regardless. I must reach out to others if I want them to reach out to me ... especially when I see they may be suffering. Anything less in a community of so much need is unconsciously - or maybe even consciously dismissively ignoring the existence of a fellow human being.
... You stay in it. You keep working with it, you keep opening to it, and keep deepening it.