One of my dearest friends sat in the chair across from me. He’d just verbalized ideas I thought of as the perfect article for this blog. I said so… and his response took me off guard. I’ll paraphrase some of how I remember that conversation.
“We’re getting older,” he began, with a half-smile at the obvious comment. “I don’t think my opinions matter as much as they might have once.”
I objected, stating bluntly that to this day when he said something I always expect it to be thoughtful and biblically rooted. “Even when I disagree with you — and you know I do on some things ” — laughter — “I listen, because I know your mind and heart are focused on honoring Jesus Christ.” I meant it.
But he only smiled again. “I know that, Jon. But I don’t think we are the ones this next generation is listening to, or maybe even should be listening to.” He saw the objections forming on my lips, and kept going. “We’re going to have to learn to slowly step back and let them have their turn. I have my thoughts, but God can get ahead with or without them.”
I still had objections, but realized this wasn’t a time to have objections. It was a time to, as Jean Vanier puts it, be another person’s dust bin. So I listened, and I prayed.
I have lived in a commune — what sounds less 1960s to call “intentional community” — for the past thirty-seven years this month. And in that time I can’t help but be an amateur sociologist, even psychologist. A dangerous business, since I’m also embedded within the story I’m trying to decode.
There are seasons in a community. This seems at first glance a simple algorithm, since a community ages and like any life it will also change and grow, perhaps one day even die. But a community is also about the people within that community, each one (from our peculiarly Christian viewpoint) having a personal cycle of seasons no less real or important than the community as a whole.
Individuals are born within our community (Jesus People USA), and individuals die within our community. (I’d offer a list of such persons but feel it shouldn’t be done without seeking out their relatives.) Ministries are born within community, and fade out when their life cycle seems complete. Cornerstone magazine. Cornerstone Festival. Creative Wood Design. Vision is birthed and changes, maybe even dies, as some who came here thinking they were called to long-term community discover they may have been called only for a short time, while others discover community — ours, at least — is not at all where they thrive. Some leave feeling we’re terrible people and our community a terrible place. Some leave thinking we’re the best thing since electric guitars.
But those of us who stay and grow here also go through the seasons. Some of us, like my friend and truthfully myself in the past few years, go through painful events in life that warn us we are mortal. We lose our parents, or another loved one’s passing teaches us forcefully that death is not just a concept but an eventual reality we too pass through. The death of “identities” in creative work that satisfied us is another way to discover mortality; what meaning does that work have in God’s eyes now? How do we recalibrate who we are as God’s children when the vocation we had no longer exists, or is altered almost beyond recognition? Others can assure us, but our own questions still haunt.
We look around us hoping for some sort of sense of security, the stability we dimly imagined this communal life offered us. But as we look (and here it is painfully obvious that “we” may mean “me!”), there is no such stability available. WE NEVER ARRIVE! The trip is ongoing, and if that’s not bad enough, the destination passes through not just death as a single event but many smaller deaths leading up to that final doorway. Community doesn’t make you strong and self-sufficient, it makes you aware — hyper-aware in my case — that I am weak, contingent upon all sorts of forces beyond myself. And isn’t that the truth for every person, not just those who live communally? Nations rise and fall on one hand, families disintegrate on the other. And human hearts are torn.
Sure, I should now rush to the cheery punchline. Jesus is my security. Yes, yes. He is. But may I say that the pain quotient in this discipleship thing has been underplayed by some of his ministers?
Today is Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. And when one hears his “I Have a Dream” speech, its text is Moses and the Promised Land. Moses never reaches the Promised Land… the earthly one, at any rate. God’s prophets for the most part died at the hands of those who said they loved God.
My own faith often dies at the hands of its own mediocrity… dies via sins of commission or (more to the point) omission, but through God is resurrected again. And dies again. Or comes close, anyway.
The Promised Land is not community here…. yet this community is a group of seedlings hinting at what will come to full flower in the Coming Age. Nor is it alone in being so. Churches, fellowships, and small house gatherings where “two or three gather together” in Jesus’ Name… these too are the meager green shoots of his Church in the now, first fruits of what it will be.
The young are growing into leadership. The older leaders are growing into the next step of Servant-Leadership, knowing when, and how much, to release what their hands were used by God to build back into God’s Hands.
But I still mildly disagree with my friend. I think it important for us to continue speaking, teaching, working with other believers to help them in their walk and be aided in our own walk by them. Everything is reciprocal, love most of all. Unless it wasn’t, and isn’t, love.
The seasons of life will continue to pass by, in each believer’s life here in Jesus People and around the world. Our life together will also change and grow, and as grandfathers and grandmothers mingle with teens and children and mothers and fathers, the richness and variance within our collective experience together will only become richer. But not safer.
One of the final acts of Christ’s ministry the night he was arrested was to wash the disciples’ feet. He touched the part of their bodies that took the most abuse in a day, that was the dirtiest, that forced Him to bend lowest before them. This man, fully God as well, the Word who spoke galaxies into being, relinquished all dignity. And by doing so, he helps me realize each day that no task is in heavenly terms menial. Every act of love is in some sense eternal.
My season in the end is the season of love. That alone never changes. And that love comes from One whose burden is light, who would bend down to wash my foot, who would strain upward for one more breath upon the cross of shame — a cross in some small part contributed to directly by my own failures and willful acts of selfish pride.
I would tell my friend these things… but I think he already knows.