Community living sounds appealing. Today I find many pursuing the idea, if not the practice. Individuals are out looking to rent or purchase property to practice community, and I trust it’s always forchristian_Community the reason of a purpose more important than Community itself. The reason is that some years back a phrase was adopted that causes me real concern. This phrase is ‘Intentional Community’. My problem lies with the fact that Community here provides the noun and so the intention is to create community, as though community is a good idea, even a God idea, in and of itself.

My preference is to speak of ‘Communities with Intention’ where that intention is carefully thought through and articulated. Hence the Sisters of Mercy established by Mother Theresa are a Community (expressed in a variety of sizes and distinct geographical locations) with the intention of caring for the dying. They know why they are together and the challenges of living in proximity can be addressed through the lens of how might we address such tensions in the light of our primary calling and agreement to care for the dying?

Living cheek by jowl with others, either in a Community House or a Laura of several separate households, raises challenges. We do not naturally get on with one another and each one of us is selfish, fractured through the Fall. It takes a strong commitment to manage self if I am to engage creatively, practically and positively with other community members. The irritations that arise within me are in fact a source of discipleship and part of God’s plan to enable me to grow into maturity in Christ. This is my prayer – even though achieving that reality causes real pain.

I have lived in Community in a variety of forms for over twenty years. My learning was that I am in fact the greatest obstruction to effective community, not my fellow communitarians. Whilst all the problems I faced I might initially lay at their door, when brave enough to be honest, I realised it was about my internal reaction and desire to be master of my own environment. This latter is perhaps a very effective description of sin. God knows how best to unhinge me so that I might not only recognise my own frailty but also discover my need both to depend upon God’s grace and learn how to access such grace. This is not a natural process but a disciplined one.

 

Today we live in a small family community with the intention of providing a secure environment for my ninety year old mum. What might possibly go wrong with that? Well we all go wrong with

Mum's First Selfie. New Year's Day 2016

Mum’s First Selfie. New Year’s Day 2016

that for as in every community the romantic notions attached to the intention are tested to the limit whilst my own selfish sinfulness is revealed. My own heart for the ageing within our wider community is tested to the full in the microcosm of living alongside one older person. The good intention and romanticism fast disappear and the harsh reality of what it means to love neighbour as self placed fair and square before me. I face the question is this truly what I want, or is it really just one more attempt to promote self and secure warm applause for sacrificial goodness that is neither sacrificial nor good?

We don’t live in a world searching for Community. We live in a world in which we are searching for purpose whilst challenged within by our own selfish sinful demands and desires. In agreeing a Community intention and exploring that in honesty together we can make a start in dealing with our individual selfishness and discover the depth of the rottenness within each one of us whilst finding the fullness and acceptance of God for us in the grace we’re invited to share together.

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