June 21, 2011
Experiments in CommunityAs Dave has explained, we at Strangely Dim are blogging our way through Mark Scandrette's Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Truth be told, I'm a little behind in my reading. But, as it turns out, I might be a little ahead in my experimenting. About a year-and-a-half ahead, actually. Here's how.
Mark's approach to discipleship is as much about life together as it is about practicing the way. One of his first experiments (called Have2Give1, in which he and a group of others committed to sell or give away half their possessions and give the money to global poverty relief) was born out of a desire for "a context that would encourage honesty, invite us into community and move us from information into shared actions and practices." And one of the (many) powerful results was the connection that formed as the group practiced and learned together. "We were surprised at the depth of connection we felt with a diverse group of people we barely knew when the experiment started," he writes. "Working on an intensive project seemed to produce an accelerated sense of intimacy. Rather than merely trafficking in ideas or rituals, we now had a common story to tell."
My experiment in community over the past year or so has been just like Mark's (without that bit about giving away half my possessions). Which is to say, I've moved toward community much more intentionally in the past year than I have in a long time, in some normal and some unusual ways, and I've seen God's work in growing intimacy and connection among his people as a result.
For an introvert like me, almost any move toward community is risky. And anxiety-producing. However much I might want it, it takes a pretty good pep talk from myself to get up the gumption to meet new people. And sometimes, as you can imagine, my pep talks are less than convincing.
This past fall, though, out of a desire for more community, I started to think and pray about leading a small group at my church. It's a relatively small and normal step in relationship-building, but I was nervous about it on a few levels:
In May, I took another risk in community. After living with my sister for several years (read: very low risk) and then a good friend for a year and a half (read: still very low on the risk spectrum), I found myself needing to find a new living situation. The introvert/control freak in me was shouting (well, at least speaking loudly; introverts don't tend to shout too much), "Be on your own! Find your own space! Retreat, retreat, retreat!" (The more practical side of me was shouting, "You can't afford it!" but that's a different story for another time and place. Like when gas here hits five dollars a gallon.)
I explored some options; I prayed; I listened. And I sensed God leading me to move in with a family . . . whom I'd only met once . . . with four kids under the age of ten. In case you're not an introvert, let me just say that moving in with six people you don't know and sharing all the living spaces except for your bedroom and bathroom is right up there on the terror scale with swimming with sharks or having to dance on national television as a guest on So You Think You Can Dance. I was afraid I might get a little overwhelmed.
Not to mention the fact that, because the family had agreed to rent the bedroom/bathroom suite to someone else for the summer, living with them would require three (count 'em, 3) moves over the summer: moving out of my apartment and into their house, moving out of their house and into someone else's place for the summer, and then moving out of that pIace and back into their house.
But I moved in anyway, because I wanted to intentionally move toward community, instead of away from it (which living on my own would have done). And that step toward deeper "life together" with others, of all different ages, has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. The chance to live with a family--to observe marriage and parenting up close, to develop relationships and hang out with great kids, to build new friendships with their parents, to observe hospitality, to learn healthy boundaries, to share living spaces--has been invaluable.
Just last week, I made my second move into my "summer home"--the house of a coworker-friend (and IVP author!) and her husband, who also belong to my church. This is a new kind of community for all of us, but one that I've already been grateful for in many ways.
So what's my point? Here at Strangely Dim, we'll each--and together--be choosing experiments in faith to try. We hope you'll join us in that and tell us about it; we'd love the chance to do "life together" with you, even in that long-distance kind of way. I hope, though, in the practice part, that we intentionally pursue community as we go. Choosing to fast from all media for a week is one thing, but asking someone else to do it with you might be a little scarier. I'm guessing, though, it will be that much more meaningful, and grow you in ways a solo-media fast can't.
As for me, having completed my second of three moves, I'm thinking of giving away half my possessions. Anyone want to join me?