Saturday, October 4, 2014

Building Barns

*It's Day 4 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community

I kind of want to be Amish. Not all the time, but every now and then. If I ever manage to drive to the Big City for a trip to IKEA or a rare opportunity to hear live music, I usually come away thinking that I don't want to ever live in a big city. Instead, I want to buy a farm and churn butter. Well, sort of. I really just want a pretty farmhouse and an herb garden.

If that dream does ever come true, I'm going to also want to have a barn-raising, vintage Amish-style. You know, where you need a barn to house your livestock and your grains before the harsh winter sets in and so all your farmer friends come over and help you build one in half an hour. And while the men are building an awesome barn, their wives are setting up a 30 foot picnic table covered up with biscuits and chicken and pies and sweet tea. It's pretty much the best thing ever. Or, so I've read.

Here's where I make the connection between how to be intentional about community and Amish barn-raisings. We all have stuff that needs to get done around our houses. Leaf-raking, yard-work, painting rooms, repairing a fence, building a playset, sorting through children's clothes that need to be tagged for the consignment sale you entered but kind of wish you hadn't because it's become a stress bomb in your life. These are all major opportunities for some serious community. You need help. I need help. Why are we doing all this stuff alone? Invite some friends over to help you refinish your Grandma's antique dresser. Call some friends to see if they'll help you bake pies for the school bake sale. Instant Pie Party. And then, make sure they all know that when they need help doing something, you are totally there.

Maybe you're thinking you don't want to impose. I mean, your friends are busy. They've got other stuff going on. But, maybe, instead of looking at it as using your friends to knock out your to-do list (which it is not), look at it as an unconventional opportunity to spend some impromptu, unstructured, quality time with people. That kind of time is the foundation of real-life community building.

In case you're not convinced, here's a little C.S. Lewis quote that runs along these lines:

"Friends are not primarily absorbed in each other. It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up - painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction. Lovers look at each other: that is, in opposite directions." -Present Concerns: Essays by C.S. Lewis

I think it's interesting the distinction between friendship love and romantic love here. Friends aren't content to sit and stare at each other across a table. They do things! Together!

Community will happen when we are simply living life with people. The trick is to actually live life with them, not just sit and talk about the lives we're living separately from them.

Do life with people. Build barns with them. Bake pies with friends. Invite people into the crazy, chaos of your unorganized life and let them help you. And, then do the same for them.

Anybody want to build a barn next weekend? I'll bake a pie.

The barn where my brother and his bride had their wedding reception last October. I heart it.

Friday, October 3, 2014

How to Not Create Community

*It's Day 3 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading previous posts and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community *

I realize that you're probably a little more interested in how to actually create community and a post about how to do the opposite is not really what you were looking for. But, before you head off to do that laundry you just remembered you forgot to do, let me explain.

I'm wondering if, when we think about how our desire for community always seems to be greater than our actual experience of it, maybe we should be asking why that is. And, so I'm going to propose a few possibilities to mull over while you're switching the whites out for the darks in the laundry room a few minutes from now.

I'm not drawing from any scientific or sociological research, mind you. I'm just going to offer you a little run-down of all the things that keep community from happening over here in my little world. Maybe you'll be able to relate.

The Distraction of Media - My husband just won a disturbingly large television at a work raffle. While I'm excited to be able to watch Mr. Darcy fall for Elizabeth Bennett like they are actually in my living room, I'm also biting my nails over whether this means the television is about to take over our home. Additionally, there have been moments when I've looked up from my iPhone and realized that my children are watching Curious George while I've been checking Facebook and my husband has his eyes glued to the sports news on his tablet. Those moments scare the Lucky Charms out of me. Media is a weird drug and a cheap substitute for actual face-time with actual people.

Fear - What if it's too hard to create the kind of community Acts 2 talks about? What if I try to make it happen and it just doesn't? What if nobody else wants to do this with me? What name it, I'm going to think of a reason to let fear convince me the effort isn't worth it. But, it is. It's so worth it.

Vulnerability/Insecurity - Real relationships put us in close proximity to each others' hearts which is also having a front row seat to each others' sin. Do I really want to be that vulnerable with people? Being aware of each others' sin can be awkward and uncomfortable, but it can also be freeing. It's good to be reminded that none of us has it together. And if we're close enough to see each others' sin, then we're also close enough to offer real, honest-to-goodness grace to one another in a way that doesn't feel artificial or vague.

Unrealistic Expectations - The "perfect" community I imagine in my daydreams does not exist. People, including moi, are messy and confusing and broken and needy. This means that real community won't look like that Instagram photo of people sitting at a farm table in a foggy field somewhere eating locally sourced, rustic food while wearing Ralph Lauren's latest line of hipster/farmer attire, musing over the latest book of poetry they just read or maybe wrote. Wait, that's not what comes to mind when you hear perfect community? Well, regardless of what ideal image comes to mind for you, that's probably not it. I need to be reminded that real community is going to include some tough stuff at times. Doing life with people won't always be comfortable. But, it's still worth doing. It's worth being in the kind of community that loves you authentically, even at your worst. I need that. You do, too.

Laziness - Sometimes I'm just unmotivated and don't want to do the work it's going to take to make community happen. I forget that nothing worth having comes easy. Real relationships take work. It's easier to get on my phone and send pithy little messages to friends who live far away and call that community. But, when I'm lazy about working toward real, live relationships then I miss out on something my heart desperately wants and needs.

Unbelief - Do I really believe that God cares about me enough that He wants to place me in community with people who love me and love Him? It's easy to feel that He's got bigger fish to fry right now and my need for friendship isn't high on His list of stuff to get done. But, that's a lie from you know where. Your heart matters. My heart matters. It matters to Him that we are in real relationships with one another, speaking truth into each others' lives and loving the heck out of each other. He cares about that. He gets it. He made us for that kind of community.

 What about you? What keeps you from creating community? What lies do you believe about yourself, about others, about God that keeps community at arms' length for you?

There are a lot of things that keep us apart from one another. The Enemy loves to help us build walls around ourselves so that we can keep each other out.

Today's a good day to choose something different.

Our friends, the Rose-Levans, who represent some seriously great community to us. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Call Your Realtor

*It's Day 2 of the 31 Day Writing Challenge, which is why I'm still talking about intentional community. (-; If you're interested in reading yesterday's post and maybe even following along for the rest of the series, check that out here: 31 Days of Intentional Community *

So, despite the fact that there's a new television show in the fall line-up called Stalker, I thought I'd talk about how it'd be fun to be your neighbor. I promise I'm not a crazy person and I won't be sifting through your trash at night or watching your television "with you" through the window in your kitchen. I just want to come sit on your porch with you sometimes and for you to run over for a cup of coffee in between dropping kids off at school and going to the grocery store. Basically, I want a friend who lives across the street.

Can we make this happen?

I know, I know. You love the neighborhood you're in and the kids are at a great school and your husband's close to work and you just finished re-doing the kitchen. BUT, think how great it would be to be NEXT DOOR to a friend.

I keep thinking about the challenge of creating for-real community that lives and breathes with consistent grace and familiarity and easiness and simplicity. I keep wondering how I can make that Acts 2 fellowship jump out of my Bible and into my life. And, honestly, even though I know it's a little far-fetched, my heart just wants people close by, like across the street. Is that so much to ask?

These days, our cars can carry us wherever the heck we want to go and so running over to Trader Joe's for that addictive jar of cookie butter and a couple bottles of their cheap-o wine is no big deal even thought it's 45 minutes away. Our church is 25 minutes from our house. I went to high school 50 minutes from the house I grew up in. And, I just got back from Target where I bought a $10 dollar rug and a pumpkin spice latte and it took me 30 minutes with traffic. Our automobiles make distance no big deal. But, it also means we buy houses far away from each other. Like across town. And, I'm wondering if maybe that's actually a negative by-product of the freedom our cars enable.

Maybe, instead, we should live next door to each other. Get all up in each others' lives. Raise our kids together and then see them have lifelong friendships and maybe even marry each other if we're really lucky. I'm starting to wonder if being able to travel so far so quickly only makes us more likely to keep our distance from each other.

So, here's what I'm thinking. I'm going to pray that God moves you or me into the other one's neighborhood. Are you re-thinking your assessment of my sanity right now? Does this prayer make you a teensy bit nervous? Did you just peek out your window to make sure I'm not standing outside?

But, seriously. I just had the thought today that God could do that. He could make it possible for friends to live in neighborhoods together. And He could also make it possible that the neighbors we have right now could become our friends. I'll be honest, though, and tell you that the middle-aged, single man across the street and I are not destined to be baking cookies together any time soon. But, still, there's a lot of possibility in the neighborhoods we're living in right now for real community.

So, I'm proposing that we start asking God for the community that we're longing for. Praying that the folks who already live across the street become real friends to us. Praying that God moves friends into our neighborhood or us into theirs somehow. Praying ourselves into that Acts 2 community that seems so out of reach right now.

I'm not advocating communes, I'm just thinking proximity could help us create the community we want. Proximity would make it possible to have those late evening conversations on the porch and unplanned, unscheduled quality time. And that spontaneous, unexpected time is usually when friendships go deep.

James 1:17 says that "[e]very good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

God gives good gifts. Community is a good gift. Let's ask Him for it.

(While we're on the subject, there's a house on my street for sale. Pray about it.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Community 101

It's fall. I've been waiting 283 days to say that. And yes, I'm one of those cardigan-wearing, PSL-loving, fall-obsessed people. I'll just put that out there in case you feel the need to turn back now. Anyhoo, it's October, which also means it's also the beginning of the 31 Day Writing Challenge put out there by The Nester.

I'm planning on musing over the ins and outs of intentional community over the next month and I'm eager to talk it out with you. Be forewarned, I'm no expert on community. I've just been reminded lately that if I want to experience the heart-deep, life-giving relationships I'm hoping for, I'm going to have to be intentional about it. And, so here I am, trying to be intentional.

Here we go...

So, as I mentioned, I've been thinking about community. I've also been thinking about George Clooney's Italian wedding, pumpkin spice lattes and my love/hate relationship with skinny jeans. But, mostly I've been thinking about community. I've been wondering how to go about it, I've been feeling the lack of it here and there, and I've been mulling over what actual community is supposed to practically look like. And then there's the question (perhaps mixed with fear) of whether or not the kind of community I want and need is actually attainable.  

In light of all this pondering, I did what most grammar nerds do and that's look up the origin of the word community. You do that too, right? Interestingly (or maybe not so much), when you type in "community" in the Google search bar, the name of a quirky television show pops up first. I think that's a little ironic, considering the potential role of media (in my humble opinion) in the demise of real, actual, in-your-face community.

Turns out, the word community comes from the Latin word, communitatem meaning "society, fellowship" and basically a commonality of "relations or feelings." (Thank you, Online Etymology Dictionary.) You can wake up now if you fell asleep when Latin was mentioned.

To be honest, for me, the word community stirs up a lot more than what that somewhat stale definition describes. I'm betting that's the case for you, too. When I hear the word community, a film reel runs through my brain and in about 3.5 seconds, the faces of friends and well-loved places and unplanned, spontaneous hang-outs flash in my memory. Some of these include late night runs to Wal-Mart poor college student-style. (Don't judge. I went to college in a mini-town and there wasn't much else to do). That film reel also includes images of moments that I have spent being loved and loving others, living life with people in ways that made us feel like family, being a part of a small fellowship of people that made me feel safe and alive and myself. These are the sort of things that come to mind when I hear the word community.

What about you?
What does the word community do to your heart?
What images run through your mind when you read that word?
What disappointments does it remind you of?
What hopes does it stir up in you?

Even as I remember times and places where real community happened almost effortlessly, I can also find myself recalling places where community was ridiculously hard or out of reach or just simply non-existent.

For Christians, the kind of community I'm talking about is better described by the Greek word koinonia. A very simplified definition of this multi-faceted word is: " The idealized state of fellowship and unity that should exist within the Christian church, the body of Christ."

This special type of community is mentioned at least twenty times in the New Testament and its defining characteristics are pretty much all the things most of us find ourselves quietly hoping for when we hear that somewhat ubiquitous word community: partnering, sharing, fellowship, intimacy, vulnerability, giving, family, bonding, inviting, welcoming, etc.

All those things and more are encompassed by that full-bodied, incredibly hope-giving word koinonia.

The Bible describes community, or koinonia, with beautiful simplicity in this passage about the fellowship of believers in the early church:

Acts 2:41-47 (The Message)

41-42 That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.

43-45 Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
46-47 They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.

How much do you want that kind of community? I know it's what I ache for every long, diaper-filled day of my somewhat solitary stay-at-home mom life. A life together that includes shared prayer, family/friend dinners, shared experience, full hearts, joy, worship, unselfishness, and people discovering and believing in Jesus.

Life. Together.

Let's talk about how to get there together these next 30 days of October.


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