Turns out this isn't a new topic for my little blog. If you've read any of my posts for longer than .... oh ... a month ...you'd know this about me. However, there was one blog post that I recently dug up from a little over a year ago where I had written in detail of my thoughts on community. I don't know that I have much different rantings on the subject now, other than a few observations from our sabbatical.
Facebook, twitter, blogging, buzz, four-square, linked-whatever .... the world is trying, and as stereotypes go, the world thinks it is succeeding. We've managed to connect to anyone, anywhere, anytime of day and in many different ways (that are all technologically connected to each other, so not only do we connect once, but anyone in our "network" gets our connection in about 5 different places). I don't know about you, but it's taken it's toll on me. I perhaps feel more alone in this world than I have in a very long time. Strange thing. Because see, I have 456 Facebook friends. Surely I'm not alone. But maybe that's part of the problem. People have actually said to me, "You have so many friends!". What we as a facebook era seem to be missing is that "network" is very different than community. Put all my one line status updates together, and you still will be very distant from actually knowing ME.
Let me back up a little bit to a truth that God convicted me of hard core this summer. I sat in a service at some new church. I don't even remember what was being preached. But I remember what God was speaking to me. He gave me the grace to see something that has been a BIG roadblock in my pursuit of community. That being, I have idolized it. Big time. Community became one of those things that I knew was right and good and had the approval stamp by God to pursue. After all, it's important to Him. He's got the ultimate community w/ the Son and the Holy Spirit. My problem is that it became too right and too good. I have had this idea of what community should look like, and I've put it up there on a pedestal where no one can touch it (let alone measure up to it) .... not even God. I've thought that if I could just find THAT, I would feel complete. I would find joy. I would be the woman I'm supposed to be when I found how I FIT into my little golden calf. God broke my calf as only He can do. He revealed to me my sin in my expectations. He revealed to me that I am to be found in Him and Him alone. He revealed to me that any community, as nourishing as it is, will still be made up of broken, sinful people such as myself. He revealed to me that I will struggle and wrestle as I come face to face with other peoples brokeness. Struggling and wrestling are never easy. Community, in it's purest earthly form, will still be messy and needy and broken. And then He revealed to me that now that I've got that clear, it's still good. So I pursue.
It's interesting (perhaps saddening is a better word) how many people I have talked with lately who feel desperate for deep, meaningful, restoring community. What? Facebook isn't working for you either? Huh. I've heard from so many that they feel alone. They have a lot of friends, but no one (or two) friends. Does that make sense ? I have a theory. (Watch out!)
As often as I'd like to think that I'm the only person who fears rejection, or craves approval ... I know that isn't true. In fact, I think it is a root issue for most people. (AKA: pride) And there in lies a huge stumbling block to living in community. Think about it. If I fear rejection, I won't be honest with you, because I'm pretty sure you'll chew me up and spit me out. I'm fairly certain that you will air my dirty laundry to people who I didn't choose (most likely for a reason) to air it to myself. If I crave approval, it is doubtful that I will reveal to you the deepest parts of me that aren't worthy of any approval, but in fact are in need of harsh disapproval. So where does that leave us in way of community ? Who is SAFE ? No one. Or at least that is what we let ourselves eventually believe. If I can't trust you, if I don't know that you actually want to be in community with me (or think you are just extending niceties), if I'm afraid or intimidated by you, if I'm not sure that you desire from community what I desire from community, I will most likely throw my guard up. And so will you. This isn't going to get us very far.
That's where the DTR comes in. We've all heard of that in dating relationships. (Will you "go out with me"?) And I'm a pretty firm believer in it in that sense. So why would community be different ? Maybe if there were some level of defining a relationship amongst friends, community could perhaps form a little easier. If I know you are committed to loving me, in all the good the bad and the ugly .... then all of a sudden my pride no longer has much water to swim in. If you know that I think you are worth being in a covenant style of community with (in other words, I have voiced my willingness to do so), your fears of rejection or need for approval no longer hold much weight. This is because fear and pride have no place in covenant. Covenant relationship, on the other hand, holds a very safe landing for community to thrive.
No, I'm not asking for a promise ring, or a BFF split heart necklace where we both wear one side. I'm just saying that it might be less intimidating for those of us longing to be part of a community to know others who feel the same ... and who feel the same about us personally.
I'm not the first person to have this thought either. There was this guy who lived a really long time ago. His name was John Wesley. Maybe you've heard of him. Some great friends/mentors from long ago sent us "John Wesley's Rules for Band-Societies". (Band as in community, not 519.) It's pretty intense. They said they actually voiced and committed to these rules with their community. I'm not saying it has to be this intense list of rules and vows and wedding cakes and such; but maybe in reading it, you'll get the idea of what I mean. Can you imagine covenanting with a small group of friends to do and be all of these things ..... WOW ! I'm not sure community would be lacking if we did. (It's a loooooong list ... beware.)
Wesley's Rules for Band-SocietiesDrawn up December 25, 1738.
The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed..
To this end, we intend.
1. To meet once a week, at the least.
2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.
Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may he to this effect.
1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins.
2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Have you the witness of God's Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God.
4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart.
5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you.
6. Do you desire to be told of your faults.
7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home.
8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you.
9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you.
10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom.
11. Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve.
Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion others; the four following at every meeting.
1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting.
2. What temptations have you met with.
3. How were you delivered.
4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not.
You know what ? I sin. A lot. Over the past year, God has given me the grace to pursue a friend, or a couple of friends with my junk. When it would have been so easy to hide in my sin, I knew that community is what was needed to assist in killing my sin. They didn't ask to hear it. But I knew I needed to give it. Nothing like airing your dirty laundry to someone who didn't ask for it. But I had to. And that's part of community. It's not going to come looking for us most of the time. WE, I, have to be committed to seeking it.
So what does this have to do with our sabbatical? (Bunny trail if I ever saw one!)
EVERY.SINGLE.CHURCH. that we sat under (as well as the sermon series by Matt Chandler that I recommended to you earlier in the summer) voiced the need for community. From community groups, to redemption groups, to life groups (call them what you will) ... it was clear that these churches found community crucial to sanctification.
Enter in "over-programing", stage left.
Every church has it. They have their "programs" for community. But what if the programs aren't working ? Why aren't they ? Why do so many in the church feel alone? Here's my only conclusion..... because we are 1) idolizing community, 2) expecting community to find us (usually through said program), and 3) don't feel safe in a desired community because of our pride. All are wrong. Community starts when, by no program, I lay my life down and serve others. Community begins when I confess my sin without waiting for someone to point it out to me. Community begins when I open my home, despite the fact that very few may invite me into theirs. Community begins when I intentionally choose a day and a time to set aside for others. No sports events, no birthday parties, no mountain home, no skiing, no boating, no napping .... just others.
I sure made community sound glamorous, huh ? Maybe it's not supposed to be glamorous.