Sunday, November 19, 2006

At What Price Community?

Over the last year I've been thinking and talking a lot about community. While I was in England I had the chance to see two radical and intentional communities in action. In the US I've been talking to people who are trying out community here and I've been a part of a couple communities at various stages.

All this is great and I think exploring what God's plan for His Kingdom here on earth definitely includes some ideas of community that don't fall within our current society's values.

Recently I've been in conflict with someone in several of my communities. Plus, I've been going through a really hard time personally. This has given me a new perspective on communities.

It's swell to talk about radical community, sacrifice and being counter-cultural when everything is good and you're all friends. What happens when someone in the community really hurts someone else? What happens when there's a conflict? What happens when someone disappears, either literally or figurately (there in physical presence, but withdrawing in every other way)? What happens when community hurts?

It seems to me that we're not very good at dealing with conflict. It's easier to let people go than to deal with the issue. It's better not to interfere and just sweep things under the rug. People will come back "when they're ready". It's also easy (and I'm definitely including myself here) to simply run away and start again with new people. Conflict resolution means taking a good hard look at the two sides that created the conflict and what's underlying. Often this is a painful and ugly process.

If God created us to live in community, did He really think we'd smile all the time? Did He really think we'd always be good to each other? Not likely. But, that's how we seem to live. We get involved in communities like it's some kind of a self-help group or a team of people to support us. We don't actually make any commitment. When the going gets tough, we head off to the next group/church/therapy group.

It seems to me that there's not a lot of point to community if it's only for the good times. It also seems to me that it's doomed to failure if we're not prepared for conflict and willing to hold each other's hands through the pain of resolution.

I'm not sure what the price of community is. Sometimes I think it's too high. I know the price of vulnerability to a community is extremely high. I know how much I have wanted to run away from communities. I've also seen how empty some of my communities are and how low the threshold of giving up is.

So, here's my thing - if your idea of community is hanging out on Sunday afternoons at Panera, please don't include me. Seriously! I'm not a perfect person and clearly I'll mess up your perfect little world. I don't see the point in this. If we're really going to be a community we have to figure out how to stick it out when things get hard and how to hold on when someone tries to bolt for the door. We have to learn how to love each other is a radical way that goes beyond just a group of friends. In my present spot I can't see settling for anything less - it's too hypocritical to bear.

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