I’m always at a loss to describe what life is like lived communally. I always make it harder by saying, “Well, I’ve never not lived in community!” I wonder whether life in community can better be described with interrogatives. Watch me try, and see it fall short of course.
Well, community for me comes from Christ and actively involves me and those He’s placed me with here in this particular old hotel on Wilson avenue in Chicago, IL. Community involves living with Jesus Christ placed between me and all other persons, every moment of every day.
The what is harder to describe. Community looks different depending on the particular who, when, where, how and why involved. The what that is the same is the Spirit of God active in signalling the Kingdom of God.
This involves when this people chose this lifestyle, but also the fluid changes that effect day to day life. When is this community? Whenever we choose to obey Christ and serve one another.
Community has traditionally been defined as a single dwelling or adjoining dwellings. Moreover, members pool their income, time, and work for the community’s vision. Over the years, this idea has been expanded on and reinvisioned with many other possibilities. I for one am glad for that. It is not the house, or the pooled income, or the shared car, or the meetings that makes community. These, to me, are only the furniture. Community is communion between people. Depending on a person’s place in the community as dishwasher, babysitter, launderer, cook, electrician, writer or driver, community will not look the same all the time to everyone. Community is more than what we can provide as workers. It reaches above our personalities, beyond our fears, past our wishes, to a place of finally being loved for who we are, rather than admired for the few things we think we’re good for.
How is community possible? Well, if this is a question of function, my experience says to me that some cities and townships will refuse to allow an intentional community of significant size to function for decades at a time. Community is too strange for many American places. The local alderman, or banks forinstance, may work to force the community out of the neighborhood. In this case the how makes things look different. See what am I getting at? There are annals of resources on making intentional community work, and there are gifted individuals who study and appropriate these things. I for one tend to believe that if we love community more than Christ we will kill it. Other people understand it differently and I’m okay with that.
“Why community?” is one of those questions a committed member should have before them regularly. When things go wrong he or she will ask whether this is really their calling. Some communities have vows of stability, ours uses term limits to keep our commitments in regular view. Some think in terms of life, others like me think that as an extension of my faith, I can only look to this day, and (with the Rule of St. Benedict) I keep my death before my eyes at all times.
Before you enter community you wonder whether any people could possibly accept and use you for any indefinite amount of time. The community says, “We’ll see.” What you don’t know until years later is that everyone enters the community with those same fears, and that usually you’re the one who struggles the most with accepting yourself.
I have friends who’ve told me that they feared for the first ten years being kicked out of the community. I wouldn’t know that by looking at them now. They’ve been here so long I’m tempted to regard them as furniture. No one is furniture. We all start out each day the same way, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and placing him between us and all others.