For the past three years, almost everybody I know has been living, breathing, building, destroying, and building again this concept of community. It has been the single messiest, loveliest journey I have ever witnessed and participated in. I am blessed to be surrounded by people willing to brave the scary parts of relationship. We’ve gone places, walked through grief, pulled apart, stitched ourselves together again, experienced loss, tested the limits of grace and forgiveness, and found rivers in ourselves that run with things we didn’t know were there. Rivers carving stones, and stones damming up rivers. Eb and flow, break and bend. Sometimes there can be a good deal of destruction in the creating of life!
The stories to tell and the lessons learnt from this continuing journey are vast. But none seem to be as much of a contradiction as this: community is an individual choice and approach to life. When I think community, I tend to think a happy group of friends who know each other’s spouses, live in the same town, keep up on each other’s happenings, walk the same journey, and do life together. I cherish this picture, live many aspects of it, and dream about the day when I will live the aspects I have yet to see. But I have also learned that I can’t allow this picture to become my overarching definition of community. I used to think community was a group, and that group would look like this. “This” has meant different things, morphed with time, or been something completely abstract and undefinable. But community was always a group and this was what would create the sense of belonging and together. This group was to be the greenhouse of all things life giving.
I have learned through many greenhouse experiments that as long as I see community as a group, it will always be a thing you can miss out on. Groups create a sense of togetherness that also has boundaries. Perhaps it’s those who give of themselves, those who share a common cause, or those who simply continue to show up. Whatever we are, our identity defines that group and makes it something measurable. Even the most accepting groups end up with walls that must be climbed, lists that must be checked, a dance you have to do. Groups have rings of belonging–some indispensable rings harboured safe in the center, and some hanging uncertain on the edges. If there’s a mark to meet, then performance can be measured. And if performance can be measured, so too can belonging. Let us compare so I can know where in the circles you fall, where in the circles I fall. Because nobody is unmovable.
I have found that when I embrace community this way, I become critical of you and insecure about me. In this game there are enemies, winners, and losers. I have to get in, stay in; it’s a terrifying thing to feel like you might not belong as much as the person next to you. Because what does this group mean anyway? And how best can I dance so that I mean the same thing?
But what if community isn’t a group? What if it’s me and what I live? When I begin to see community as an approach I have towards life and others, the boundaries come off of it. All of a sudden, there is no group I have to belong to or definition I have to meet. There is nothing to measure in me or you. Community is not something out there I am trying to be a part of. It is something I bring. I need never question whether I belong, who I can approach, and where you stand in all of this. There is no person I cannot experience community with, even if it’s just for a day. All the world is open to me because I’m not trying to get in, I’m living out.
There will always be circles and groups. I will always have friends who walk close and friends at a further distance. There will always be places I belong and places I don’t. But community isn’t one of those places. Community is something I live as an individual. It’s not something I am summing up. It doesn’t threaten me, exclude me, or tell me who I am. Community is a way I see the world and live towards it and it will always be available to me because I’m not trying to get in, I’m living it out.
Photo Credit: simplycasual.tumblr.com