Like all slightly pretentious 'emerging' type Christians, I spend a lot of my time talking about community. And of course, there is good reason for this. Community is up there with grace, redemption and justice in some of the key themes of the bible and christianity in general. One of my favourite things about the trinity is that it shows that even before humans were created there was community: God within him/herself is a community of three. When the bible says that we are 'made in the image of God', then being made to relate towards and love others is a key part of that. And of course, the concept of community is key to what we read about the early church. Without romanticising what it was like too much, we can read that the early church was a community which 'shared everything' (in Acts) and was always willing to give to another part of the body that was in need (as when there was a famine in the church in Jerusalem).
However, like most slightly self obsessed people that spend too much time on the internet I spend a lot less time actually doing community (its definatly a verb) than I do thinking about it. This has not always been the case, and I have some examples in my life of some wonderful forms of community. When I was a teenager I was part of a bible study group (our name was 'gorgeous girls going for God' - embarrasing but true), that was an amazing community to be a part of. This community changed my life, made God relevant to me, and in all likelihood I wouldn't still be trying to follow God without the amazing women involved. When I got involved in organising Reclaim the Night Edinburgh last year, I found myself being involved in one of the most genuinly caring communities I'm ever seen. Being involved in this community also changed my life. I'm most definatly a feminist (and scary and humourless etc) now, which I probably wouldn't have said before.
But there are two key features of community that I'd like to look at, both are reasons which mean that at the moment, I'm finding community hard. Often, when progressive liberal christians talk about wanting christian community, what we really mean is that we want community with christians who are exactly like us. We want to be able to surround ourselves with people who think like us and act like us so that we can feel safe. And of course, there is some truth in this dream. I definatly want to have more christians in my life that think like me! But this is a very limited view of what community means. We are deluded if we think that the community in the early church was one were everyone agreed. You don't have to get far into Paul's letters to see the many conflicts there were about food offered to idols, about what particular church leaders people followed, about whether or not women should lead and a whole lot more. Its really not unlike the conflict we have today. But to my mind, real community will mean looking beyond the real, and sometimes huge differences we have with the christians around us, and trying to work out how to be a part of each others lives, and love each other anyway.
The women who I was in a bible study with as teenagers now have very diverse lifes (some of us are even married!), politics and ways of living out their faith. But because we have established an honest community of love we are still part of each others lives to some degree, and still friends despite our differences. For me, this differences are constantly challenging me in what I think and how I live, usually changing me for the better.
But this is not the main reason that I often avoid community, especially christian community. If we want to have community then we have to really get to know each other so that we can be involved, supportive, loving and challenging. And right at the moment, I'm really struggling with this. Like many of us, I like people to think that I'm perfect. If I begin to really let you know about my fears, my failures, the selfishness that I try to hide with my right on politcs, my desperate search for approval, my feelings of rejection from the church, then you will realise that I don't have it together and that I'm not perfect. I'm not sure what I'd do if I had to get rid of my mask of always being right.
Thinking about community raises more challenges and fears for me than anything else at the moment. Yet if what I said at the start is true, that to exist in community is part of our 'God-given' nature is true, then at some point we're all going to have to take up the challenge. Life is better when we're together.
(I loev to end on a good cliche)