31 August 2006

What community is not.


My friend Stephanie kindly asked me to be guest blogger on her site, Oh Me of Little Faith.

Below is the article I posted. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

What Community Is Not.

For the majority of my teen, college and post-college years, I walked through my “Christian hedonism” life believing I had true community. Those years were some of the most enjoyable, memorable moments that I will always treasure dearly. My only regret is not having gone to the depths with those who were close in my life, while I had the chance.

Nothing bad really happened to me back then. I had a loyal group of friends, and the house where my roomie and I lived was the headquarters for all kinds of parties, from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, to movie nights galore. My greatest concern was whether I’d have the job of my dreams or get to live in a beach house one day with a back porch, an art room, and wind chimes. And while those things are not wrong in and of themselves, I let them dictate what I understood about God and the life He had given me…and that has only robbed me - and others - of some of the blessings of this journey.

I had girlfriends (and unfortunately, a few guys) in my life who knew some of the emotions that had curled up in a sleeping bag and camped out in the basement of Christine. I could sit on the bed for hours with my best friend, sharing hopes and hurts and fears. Yes, I was experiencing community in its barest, most stripped-down form. But I had not even begun to experience it in its most lasting authenticity, mainly because I was afraid to look ugly. I was afraid to be real.

I told my friends only what I wanted them to know, and I was OK with that. I thought it was just fine for only God to know who Christine truly was. I wanted to be His vessel, but only if it meant I could still be comfy.

I could do Beth Moore Bible studies with the best of ‘em. But when it was my turn to share prayer requests, I’d always say something surfacy like, “well…work has been really tough” or “my cousins are traveling this weekend, so keep them in your prayers” or (if I was really desperate) “my dog is sick.” Not that those things weren’t important to my friends or to God…but it was a problem when, secretly, I knew I was in a unhealthy relationship that was eating me alive, and I repeatedly said nothing. Why was I holding back? Did I even know there was more to community than this?

When someone gave me unsolicited advice, I threw my hands up in defense. Wai, wai, wait. No one tells me what to do. People need me. I’m the perfect one, remember? Whenever someone needs help, I’m your girl.

But truthfully, I didn’t always want to help. Sometimes I did it because it was easier to put the focus on someone else’s needs and remain the saint. It was so much easier exposing someone else than exposing myself.

As often occurs, it took my entire world being rocked for me to realize that I was not going to experience true community as long as I was always “OK”…always “fine.”

I’ll never forget a conversation I had one night with the man who would eventually become my husband. For the first time in my life, someone said to me, “Christine, I don’t even want you to be perfect. You couldn’t be perfect if you tried. And that is the Christine I want.” I still didn’t believe him at first, but then he shared the way his life had been shattered and how he had found the authentic Christian life in the midst of it. I smiled and nodded, yet I had no idea what he was talking about at the time. I’m sure he knew that, but he still didn’t run away from me.

He began to journey with me, and discovering community for me became like that classic scene from Lady and The Tramp. I had the very tip of the spaghetti in my mouth, and as I slowly began chewing, the noodle kept going…and going…and going. Today, I’m probably one noodle into the entire bowl. I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I was.

So how would I define community? I’m still only on the first noodle, remember? I have a long way to go. But having tasted both sides, I do have some pretty strong convictions from my own journey on what community is not.

Community is not a group of faceless strangers in the same building on a Sunday morning.
Community is not playing it safe.
Community is not living for “the next big thing.”
Community is not afraid of silence, or tears, or anger, or pain.
Community is not exposing oneself without first establishing trust.
Community is not a one-way street.
Community is not a place where someone does not feel loved.
Community is not a place where complacency or earthly perfection are celebrated.
Community is not impatient while God works.
Community is not a place where the work is ever “done.”
Community is not afraid to say “no” when a “no” is needed.
Community is not ungrateful.
Community is not absent of struggle.
Community is not in the business of letting its members continue struggling without fighting for their freedom.

Community is not an option…it is the model Christ set for us.

Real community is a threat to those who seek to hinder Christ. The Apostle Paul knew it – he spent a lot of his life trying to tear it down.

“In light of all this, here's what I want you to do. While I'm locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don't want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don't want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn't mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift…He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ's followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”

I’m excited to share that several of my treasured friendships from the past have been brought to a place of raw, authentic community today. What a gift. It is definitely more difficult sharing my ugliness with people who have known me in the past than with people I’ve met in this new stage of life, because I had to confess that I had been hiding for a long time. I’ve also found that I’m a whole lot more selfish, rude, moody, and flighty than I ever knew possible. While my community (and my gracious husband) loves me despite my failings, they do not let me remain that way…

“No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”

All Scripture from Ephesians 4, The Message


5 comments:

Suz said...

WOW Stine. This needs to be published so tons of people can read it. Wise wise words. I cherish living in community with you dear friend.
love ya!

Anonymous said...

Stine,
What I love most about you is that as God works on you, stripping you down to "dance naked in the flames", you don't hesitate to expose yourself so that we can all be challenged and encouraged. Thank you for that. I can think of no greater gift!

Amy Alexander

Lauren said...

stine, what raw, beautiful, challenging, scary, true and amazsing truth you've shared. thanks for putting it out there...and thanks for journeying to new places with ME, both in and in spite of both of our messiness. i am blessed beyond measure to have an imperfect christine in my life and heart. lauren

Jenni said...

I'm pretty sure I know the real you, and you're not perfect, nor am I, but you model Christ for me always. Lovely writing, too.

jason said...

i came across your blog from the link at my cousin kierstin's blog and love what you wrote in this entry. i am going through a small series on community with the kids i work with at church and reading this was so encouraging. thanks for sharing what you've learned.