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Monday, January 30, 2012

Community: It is what you make it

My year was covered with community love
[Editor's note: This was written Nov 2011]

As I write this, I see my housemates from Costa Rica, Brittany and Jelly, sleeping and sharing a pullout couch.  Jordan and Tom, my other CR housemates, are in the other room still snoozing.  All of us together are here in Baltimore, reunited once again after leaving each other this past July when our volunteer program ended.  Oh, and our director from last year, Bro. Jim, had dinner with us last night. 

When I told some friends that my old housemates and I were reuniting to catch the Notre Dame-Maryland game today, some people were like, “Wow, you guys must be real tight.”

The truth is, yes, we were/are a tight community/group of friends.  And after having many conversations in my travels about how other communities are doing across the nation and hearing even more stories of communities of the past, I’m starting to understand that what my house in San Jose, Costa Rica may have been atypical, even exceptional.

I have to admit that we did get blessed with the luck of the draw.  If one of us had not applied to our program, the dynamics of our community would have been completely different and maybe not as good.  Plus, I credit our past director, Bro. Jim, for choosing us.

With that said, I’d like to also give us more credit, and challenge current and future communities across the nation, and say I believe our community turned out great this year because each of us personally owned up to the call of intentional community.

We shared the journey
I remember at orientation, my then-director Bro. Jim set the tone on how intentional community living should be. He read scripture about a disciple asking Jesus how we should love and serve one another.  He then dropped his bible, got on his knees, whipped out a water basin, and began to wash our feet.  This was the same feet that had been dirtied from hiking around all day.  He washed them.  It was a powerful moment, the only sound in the room coming from the water pouring and hands rubbing feet.  I teared up.  Bro. Jim’s message was clear from that day forward.

And here’s where I’ll say it.  Community only works if each member is invested in each other and more importantly, if we all humbly serve one another.  I began to fall in love with my community when I noticed that all of us would chip in to clean up every night we had dinner together.  Someone was dutied for dishes but everyone else without being asked would help out in the kitchen, one wiping the table, another sweeping, others drying and putting away dishes, and we always did it to Lady Gaga or Usher or whoever was playing in the background.  Each night we had our dinners, we always shut the lights out on a clean kitchen.

I probably fell more in love with my community when little things would get done for each other.  We didn’t have a dryer down there so we had to hang up all of our clothes (which was often difficult as it rained so much in Costa Rica).  Sometimes I would come home and I’d see my clothes folded for me, neatly piled on my bed.  How humbling!  In the middle of thanking one of them they’d joke, “Well, to be honest I needed room to hang my clothes.” 

I won’t say we had this give and take all year.  It’s inevitable that some would do more than others, there are days I would not be as invested, we disagreed and fought about things (don’t get us started on toilet paper usage) but that was another important lesson: talking things out make things run smoothly.  Consistently throughout the year, if it was after community prayer or dinner, we’d do “check-in," just to get a feel for how people are doing/feeling.  These frequent check-ins helped stop larger issues from brewing. 

Who you get is up in the air.
I personally saw all this as preparation for my eventual future community: my wife and family.  You learn in sports that teams play games the way they practice and one of the biggest gifts I got from my time last year is the experience and knowledge that it is possible to have a dinner every night together with others, to do dishes and have a clean kitchen every night, and that we could pray every night, too.  Knowing that this is possible, I now want and expect it to happen in the future game I’ll play called married life. 

All communities are different.  And as blessed as I feel to walk away with a great experience, I have to say that all of the conversations about other people’s community, even the most dysfunctional ones, each person talk about it with a loving lens and they are glad to have experienced it for themselves.  I actually can’t imagine doing service any other way.

And I’m a big believer that it all starts with head-down humility, the no-thanks-expecting nothing-in-return act of washing one’s feet.


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