Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Paradox of Yearnings: the search for community

I am starting a writing group that meets for the first time this Friday. The first assignment is to write a brief introduction of yourself. However, this simple assignment is causing complex unrest within me. You see, I also want to create genuine community in this group. According to M. Scott Peck, in his book, The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace, "if we are going to use the word [community] meaningfully we must restrict it to a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to 'rejoice together, mourn together,' and to 'delight in each other, make others' condition our own'" (39). Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks of community, in his book, Life Together, thus:

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only a fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God's sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (27)

I read the words of these two men, and I feel at a loss. I am ever aware of my conflicting desires to reveal myself and to hide myself. And then I think of all the other group members; they must be going through the same struggle. Community is so foreign to us. My goal with this group is to use writing to encourage openness and community. But I know that I can also hide behind my words and use them to distance myself from others (one such tactic is to call them "my audience;" instead of thinking of them as people who might actually dialogue with me over what I am saying). My writings may appear real, but I can use them as a mask to hide the even-more-real.


  1. I agree with the quoted authors only in the context of relationship that exists. But not in the context of the first meeting (where relationship or community does not yet exist). When I first meet someone, I need some time to get to know them before I want to hear all of their dirty laundry. Even though I understand that "All have sinned." [Romans 3:23] That doesn't mean we should lead with that when attempting to establish rapport with another human. Even with another Christian, if I start by honestly telling them every sin I've ever committed withing the first five minutes of meeting, they will run away believing I am the devil incarnate. I think the authors you've quoted are stating the goal of a developing community, - where you want to get to over time... But I see the best way to scare away new members would be by asking them to share TOTAL honesty with the first assignment.

    1. Thank you for your comment. And, yes, the authors are not stating that community is instantaneous. They are describing the process of community formation and what a genuine community (once it is formed) looks like. I believe the goal of both authors is to distinguish genuine community from a community that thinks it is real when it really isn't.
      By no means do I expect members to share everything--I am certainly not sharing everything. But I am hoping that we will all bring an attitude of openness with us. That we come together with at least a willingness to peak out from behind our masks. Because if we are determined to keep our masks the entire time, then we completely destroy any chance we might have of forming genuine community.
      By no means is genuine community easy. I am not even convinced that genuine community is a man-made thing. I think genuine community is a gift from God--but if we are not even open to the idea, then God will simply hold back the gift. We must be willing to receive.
      This blog is dealing with my feelings toward genuine community. I want to eventually get there; but, because genuine community is not man-made, I am aware of my limitations in leading this group toward that. Furthermore, the other members must be open as well. I cannot force community upon them. Therefore, my responsibilities for now are to maintain my own, individual, openness and to pray God's blessing over the other people in this group--that He would pour out the blessing of community over us.