Saturday, February 9, 2008

thoughts on community

(*see note at bottom of post about art pictured here)

when i was in high school, i did not fit in. i desperately wanted to be one of the cool people (you know who you are...). my husband apparently was one of these people. he exudes self-confidence at every turn. i, on the other hand--well, i was in marching band. if that doesn't explain it all, i also got my hair permed (and i have LOTS of hair), which i thought looked great--after all, it WAS the '80s! but now i look back at pictures and it seems that i had two huge puffballs, one on either side of my head. ridiculous.

i never dated really--one or two boys liked me, but that scared the crap out of me so i made sure to sabotage things so i didn't have to go on more than a handful of dates. in other words, i was socially awkward. goofy. silly. ok, here's another example: for homecoming, we had spirit week, where every day we dressed up as different things ('50s day, etc.), so my best friend talked me into dressing up one of the days as a NUN. yes, a nun. i wasn't even catholic! that probably would have been worse anyway. i was protestant, so i could dish out the disrespect. anyway, it was awful. that day i thought it was funny. but no WONDER the cool kids never wanted anything to do with me!

i share this because we had dinner last night with friends, and we talked a lot about being in community with one another and what that really looks like (for those of you who don't already know me personally, i am talking about christian community in particular). as i mentioned in my previous posting, my husband and i have been involved in starting two different churches. before we embarked on that endeavor (which, some days, i think may have been a bad idea because it instantly made us broke!), we were part of a very traditional, southern baptist church. the people there were great, but it was too institutionalized. i didn't even know i didn't fit in there really until we left. i had no idea church could be different. i thought it was about the building, the rituals, seeing each other once or twice a week. the in between times were a struggle in some ways to keep it all together, you know, be a good "christian."

then we were part of ecclesia, in houston. for the first time, i was accepted. by this time, i had worked on becoming more cool i guess. at the traditional church we had worked with students, so it was important that i try to have a more hip haircut, buy my clothes at the gap, that sort of thing. but of course i was the same person on the inside that i had always been. well, the people at ecclesia were all looking for a new way of doing church: one where you tear down the walls and just spend time together, live life together in a very real way. we were only there for 18 months, but that time was probably for me the most formative in my spiritual life. i do have to say, though, that all these people were just like me for the most part. we all had lots of things in common, we were all the same "color," same socioeconomic status, same backgrounds (generally speaking). so community came easy for us.

then we moved to boston to start our own church, right out of our house. we mostly just had people over for dinner, which started at 5:30, and the last people weren't out the door sometimes till midnight. we sang sometimes, we talked about jesus in formal and informal ways, we prayed...we mostly ate and talked a lot though. i started out pregnant with our first child, in a new city (i had never lived farther north than virginia), with a new group of people, most of whom were single. in fact, at first everyone may have been single. it's hard to remember now. so right away i was different from everyone else. starting a family, while everyone else went out for these cool dinners in the city, hung out with friends, things i felt like i couldn't participate in, especially once our daughter was born. then 6 months after our daughter came, we were pregnant again (whoops!), which made me feel even more alienated.

in the midst of all this, though, when i felt left out (all in my head--i already told you in the previous post how crazy my thoughts can be!), or felt completely uncool (i mean, how cool can a pregnant woman be, really, when she has elastic in all her pants and is about 8 sizes bigger than every other young, single girl in the room?), i was embraced. and i don't think it's just because we were the hosts and everyone was trying to be gracious to me. i think it was truly because people had chosen to be in community with me, regardless of what our seeming differences might have been.

community is about choosing to love people who are different from me. it's easy to love people who are like me, but sometimes it is very tough to make a choice to embrace someone who may not fit my ideal friend checklist. but i was rejected, all the time, when i was in school, and it was horrible. at times it was paralyzing. at the very best, it was incredibly lonely. at the worst, it made me want to harm myself.

we can't live without one another; we are meant to be in community. it's where i think God's love shows up the most: when a roomful of people, who are mostly not alike, sit down and share a meal and talk about their days and honestly care about each other. that's when i really feel my faith being renewed.
*the art pictured at the top of the post was done by our dear friend jamie wells, who was part of our community in houston. she is the most talented artist we know; she painted this during one hour at church one night. amazing!


Pixie said...

I know I've said it before, but that picture reminds me of Aedan. It's like she painted him before he was born.

amy said...

great post. this is a lesson it took me a while to learn. i always tended to stay away from community-afraid of letting people in, i guess. but now i realize just how vital it is.

love the new header :)

Amelia Plum said...

this is a lovely post, you write very thoughtfully about community, faith and your feelings of alienation - to which I totally relate. And I was in the cool group in high school (probably the honorary cool dork) but I think that feeling of alienation knows no boundaries. Just look at all the famous starlets that crash and burn, a community of sycophants, who obviously don't care about you, can be lonelier than being alone.