28 November 2011

What Community is Not

Community is a buzz word. It stirs up good vibes when you think about it. Maybe memories of the late 90’s show “Friends” come to mind. From my experience in establishing intentional communities over the years I'm convinced that friendship is not strong enough to glue community together.

I find hints of the idealism that “community is where everybody is friends” most the time I poke around peoples views of community. It does seem natural to import our best feelings about what friendship offers onto our expectations of Christian community. Its natural but it’s not appropriate.

Friendship is built on affinity.
    I don’t know about you but I like to hang out with people that I have enough things in common with. I enjoy friendship with people who are in similar stages of life that I’m in; its natural. I like to relax with people that read the stuff I read and are entertained by the stuff I'm entertained by. Here is an awkward personal example of how friendship is built on affinity. I hate Ultimate Fighting or Mixed Martial Arts , I loathe it. I have various reasons for my visceral disgust for the sport (maybe that’s a blog for another time). I’ll be honest I have a hard time enjoying someone’s company that that wants to watch and talk about that stuff.  I do think functionally that is how friendship works and that’s O.K.

Community is not about affinity. In the first century a male Jewish worshiper would enter the synagogue and recite these words “I’m glad I’m not a Gentile dog and I’m glad I’m not a woman.” So imagine you are in the early church and Paul says emphatically that under Lordship of Jesus there is no “Jew, Gentile, Male, Female, Slave or Free.” (Galatians 3) This was a shocking cultural rearrangement for everyone. The New Testament community did not have personal preferences and "likes" as their rallying point. The new Kingdom community was a mash up of people who culturally would never hang out with each other. They had very little in common. Their community was not forged and glued together by friendship. Friendship is picky and selective. Friendship is about investing time into people who you have a certain amount of chemistry with.

Community's built on Friendship won't make it.  I see this community vs friendship clash sabotaging people’s ability to commit and be loyal to community all the time. I think the voices in our head say “I need to be with people in my stage of life”, “there’s nobody like me.” So we download these emotional wants into our ideals and expectations when interacting with a living, breathing Christian community. Please don't hear an overstatement, I do think that doing the long hard work of loving in community eventually leads to the formation of friendships. Still, looking at community through the lens of friendship will create serious disillusionment.  It’s these very confused ideals about what community should offer that inevitably creates unnecessary disappointment and departure.  Friendship is not strong enough to hold community together under the weight of diversity and normal relational conflict.

Ultimately, taking our cues from friendship about what community should look like pushes us inward.          
I’ve observed that it makes us a bit narcissistic, becoming hyper sensitive to how our personal needs aren't being met. It then becomes really hard to shake the obsessiveness of feeling“these people don’t understand me.” I watched this gradual ego-oriented construct begins to dominate interactions.  It creates a distancing from people we perceive are not like us and don't understand us. Eventually every nugget of grace given to us from someone in our community seems to fall into an emotional black-hole. This domino effect all begins with importing our ideals and expectations from friendship into the landscape of community.

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