[This is a guest post from my teammate, Joshua, back from our first Come and See weekend in February]
I have been given the topic of ‘Community’ to speak about. If that sounds incredibly broad, it’s because it is. ‘Community’ essentially encompasses every experience I share with any or all of the 7 other people I live with; every conversation, every joke, every wish goodnight. And because even at work I am constantly accompanied by the members of my community, the reach of experiences shared with the people I live with stretches to practically every waking, and non-waking, moment of my life from September to this moment. Distilling the transformatism of such a wide array of experiences into a three-minute segment is even harder than it sounds, and I believe that, in the end, the best that I can do is try to communicate what my community means to me. I’ll try not to get too sappy. I’ll probably fail.
I lived, from the time I was 11 to the time I was 17, with a central individualistic philosophy: people were unreliable. People lied, people broke promises, people only really cared about themselves. And so, if no one was reliable, I would rely on no one. In October 2014, around the time of my 19th birthday, I discovered that although my philosophies had since changed, the scars left by living in this way for so long remained; there was not a single person in my life who actually knew who I was. I felt lonely for the first time in my life, and I could not even express how I felt to anyone effectively because they did not know me, and I did not trust them.
I realized with some irony a few weeks ago that it was at this time in which I felt so completely alone that I also felt unsure of my decision to jump headfirst into college, and was encouraged to consider taking some time off to pursue missions. It was at this time that I remembered the blind commitment I had made in the summer of the previous year to serve with some organization called Mission Year.
Prior to this year I had never heard of an intentional community. When I say I made a blind commitment to serve with Mission Year, I mean blind. Actually, prior to National Orientation in Chicago, I didn’t really know what the handbook was talking about when they said ‘intentional christian community’. It sounds so vague and overgeneral when you think about it; ‘intentional community’, literally, ‘living together on purpose’. And yet, amusingly, ‘living together on purpose’ is basically what it is. It’s very simple in theory, and almost revolutionary in practice.
When you live together on purpose, your personal barriers start to disintegrate. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Intentional Christian community blocks all other routes except forward, and everyone moves forward together. When you walk in a group, and someone falls, or stops, or starts walking in a different direction, everyone else notices. They pick them up, pull them along, call them back, and keep moving forward. This is how intentional community works.
Under these conditions, one almost can not be alone. Under these conditions, one is shown time and time again that trust is both a necessity and an expectation. Even if you do not rely on others, they will call upon you to be reliable. Trust breeds trust; it is difficult to remain doubtful of people who are themselves putting their faith in you.
Slowly, day by day, week by week, I found myself learning to trust, learning to open up to these other people as they began to open up to me. Watching a group of people steadily grow in trust and closeness with one another has been a singular joy, matched only by the joy of discovering true community after almost a decade of solitude. Now, Rome wasn’t built in a day; these developments take time, but they are facilitated by simple, day to day interactions.
Wild laughter, walks in the neighborhood, sharing and expressing our passions, late night conversations, family meals, quiet evenings spent just being near one another. Moments like these are how a community is built, and that progress is maintained by a commitment to making these moments not the exception but the rule.
We aren’t even halfway through our year together. That means our community should be, at best, about half as good as it’s going to get, but I stand convinced that our community is going to get there. The ultimate strength of christian community is that regardless of the flaws of the individuals involved, as long as there is love and the will to move forward, a community can succeed. We aren’t perfect. Our community isn’t perfect. But our love for one another pushes us to do better and to aim higher, and as long as we hold on to that love, I think we’re going to be alright.