I’ve lived in intentional community here at Jesus People USA for the past thirty six years and counting. And I’m going to say it. Sometimes I just hate community. Yes, I mean it.
Community is the place where people you’ve lived with for decades still have a peculiar knack for getting on your last nerve.
Community is where some cheerful voice quotes that “isn’t life in community neat” proof-text, Psalm 133:
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.”
Oh please (you say this only to yourself because we’re not rude in community)… SHUT UP! Or, and this maybe aloud, I’m not feeling any precious oil right now, brother!
Community is where the honeymoon phase wears off in a few weeks, maybe months, and the heart covenant you’ve made with God and yourself is often about the only thing keeping you holding on.
Community – where the question “Is this really worth it?” tends to occur on a semi-regular basis.
Community is the place where inefficiency — fueled by a thousand different ideas on how to do every task — drives ya nuts.
Community is the place outsiders think is a cult of mind-controlled zombies, while insiders wish there was such a thing as mind control — community members are some of the least-easily influenced folks on the planet, or they’d never live this counter-cultural way in the first place. Take sheer stubbornness, mix with a healthy dose of rebellious individualism, and multiply by 400-plus people. What do you get? Intentional community, that’s what.
Have fun storming the castle.
Community is why well-meaning (and some not-so-well-meaning) friends and relatives ask you, “When are you going to stop living such a sheltered, safe existence and get a real job and a real life?” Oh, baby, it don’t get more real than this!!
Community is the place where you find your niche… just in time for that ministry to be phased out.
Community is the place where you stumble on one of the pastors sitting in a room crying… because that day, they hate community, too!
Community is the place where you’re struggling with your faith, tell a friend, and they quote a few Bible verses at you without hearing what you’re actually trying to tell them. That’s okay, you grit-teeth-tell yourself… you’ve done it to others, too.
Community is the place where you learn nothing is to be relied upon. Nothing except the Love of God. And sometimes you’re not too sure about that!
Community is the place where you get hurt by people who are supposed to heal you, and you hurt people you’re supposed to be helping heal.
In other words, community is sometimes a collective FAIL. Yes. Community is where you learn that human beings, individually and collectively, suck at love.
And then, in your lowest moment, without any change in feeling… you remember the gift of silence. And you quiet yourself, look around at your broken brothers and sisters, and realize that this is the Mystical Body of Christ. These faces. This anger, that self-righteousness, her know-it-allness, his self-aggrandizement.
But you remember other things as well.
The look of wonder on students’ faces as you, leading a Bible study on the Gospel of John, read aloud the heart-breaking passages from the Last Supper. Their questions so vulnerable, so hungry, to know more about Jesus’ Love. You shocked, awed, that you were being allowed by God to communicate this tenderly relational heart of the Christian Gospel to such as you once were… young, hungry, eager. (Are you still hungry? Are you?)
The laughter and joy of all your friends as they help you celebrate your dear wife’s birthday; she is surprised, shocked, tearfully overwhelmed by the graciousness of your communal friends. Their joy in her joy mirrors, you think to yourself, the heart of God.
You remember times you could not (sometimes even would not) call out for help in your distress. And they, these holy broken others, came to comfort and restore.
You see some faces now lined and middle-aged. Like yours. You have walked with such people through this life, and “unity” though imperfect is real. On days like today, you endure. You don’t have joy. But you do have endurance. And that has to be something!
And then you see your own monumental lack of trust. Isn’t the one unforgivable sin the sin of unbelief? Whoa, man! That’s laying it on a little too thick, eh?
So okay… Yes, you are right. Community does — today — suck. But what has changed since that long-ago day you walked in the doors, sure that Jesus had led you to this motley crew of marginalized people, this island of broken toys?
Nothing has changed. You are broken, too. Remember?
It does all come back to the beginning. “Has God said?” the Serpent asked Eve in the Garden. My heart answers, Yes. God has said that for me, my specific life calling is with these people in this place at this time.
The pain of community and the joy of community commingle. And I, this frail and ridiculous man, cannot turn away. Community is not my salvation; Christ is. Yet without community, without His Body the Church, am I much more than a phantom?
In the end, it is Christ’s voice in my own heart that keeps me here.
But that doesn’t mean I will always like it.
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