Monday, May 19, 2008

A Place For Us - Am I Really Ready?

Erin over at Decompressing Faith has a beautiful post on finding a place for those who are not fitting in anywhere formal yet long for community. The post and the following comments, questions and heart cries from many of us have been rolling around in my mind since last Tuesday.

I began dreaming. What would it look like if we that blog together could actually, magically be in the same location for a long while and physically meet together. Could we – who in so many ways have experienced some of the same things and have come to some if not most of the same conclusions – be able to meet together and love each other in a successful and meaningful way? It should be easy right? We like each other now as we read and write.

From what I have seen and read, we are a pretty open minded group of people. We have decided that the box that is American Christianity is not for us right now. We are more given to being open and honest – sometimes brutally at times. We are, as a whole, not afraid of admitting that we are broken. So would we be able to make this work?

Gary Means asked this question in a comment on Erin’s post – it is really my question: Are we humans too flawed to design and develop a community of organized chaos where love of God and others is the guiding factor?

And here is where I had to get really honest. I think we would have a tough time of it. The blogsphere is simply our lives written in antiseptic form. Our posts are what we want to share.

To read my blog does not demand that you labor at all with me. I make no demands of you. I don’t call you at 10:30pm to have you check on my elderly parents when I am on vacation. You don’t have to put up with me always having something to say about whatever is going on. You don’t have to put up with Husband’s endless puns. My kids are not leaving fingerprints on your wallpaper when we visit or crumbs in your couch. You don’t have to put up with the fact that my youngest son is spoiled because by the time we got to #7 we were just worn out. You don’t have to worry that my kids might be a bad influence on yours. (did you know I let my kids play World of Warcraft?) We don’t have to deal with each other’s parenting or lack thereof.

I think you get my point. There is a lot that we agree on but there is also a lot that we don’t have to deal with. And it is this real life “dealing with each other” that relationships break down and friction occurs. It is here that it becomes "not fun" and work.

I know this is not what Erin was really asking…and reading her for this past year assures me that she is not in denial about what it would really involve to meet together with a group of people…but I had to face this as I mulled it over this week. I am ready to have a group of people – a community around me. But am I ready to pay the price to do it? Do I have real expectations of what it will really be like? Am I prepared to love those around me that I find hard to love? We are all dysfunctional to some extent. Am I ready to meet together regularly with those who will bring that dysfunction into my own living room?

Do I long for the perfect group or am I willing to belong to and love regular people like me?


Anonymous said...

Wow, great stuff.

Funny, I just took a 4 hour drive with a pagan who was trying to quit smoking and instead, incessantly chewed nicotine gum. It made my whole car smell like a ashtray. Rather than just loving the guy, and I really, really tried hard to do that, behind the scenes, in my brain, all I could do was wrestle with how I could barely breath because of the stench and, this is no fun!

I guess that that was your point: "this is no fun." Great post and ?.

When will you give the answer?

Adam Gonnerman said...


I would be a big disappointment to at least a few people in a personal meeting, I think. Then again, who knows.

Jeannette Altes said...

Hmm... yeah, I one of the 'profound' things that I found this past year & a half - out of the church box - is that real relationships are hard. They require work. I'm not sure how many of them I could hand;e working on at one time. Although, even in a small community, we are not required to have the same close deep relationship equally with everyone in the group. So I guess the level of work would vary, woo.

But... the amount of work required for those close relationships, though hard sometimes, is very much worth it. Am I ready for a larger community? Hmm... I'm not sure...

Heidi W said...

I had a friend who used to say, "if I found the perfect church, I'd ruin it."

We all want to be loved for who we are... can we do the same for others?

This is some really great stuff to think through. Thanks

Recovery Re-Run said...

I am in a church community. I have served on leadership and had to back down. It is just way to messy and painful to remain in the environment. I can stay in the church but only if I am periferal. I have to stay on the crust. It is just safer there. I am broken. But it is not the church that can fix me. They alway use the wrong tools and have a hard time seeing over the plank in thier own eyes. Great post. When and if I choose to leave the church building behind remains to be seen. But for right now...right here. I am safe. And it is safety that I seek. I find it here.

Sara said...

I too have been following the discussion over at Erin's.

My pastor-husband likes to say that real community can't be made up of people we just get along with . . . that one of the reasons that Jesus calls us together is precisely because we don't get along.

This is something I've been thinking about a fair bit lately. I have a dream for our church . . . that we'll be able to build it into a home for all the misfits, out-casts, theologically questionable, and down-right broken in our city. The question is, how do we communicate to such that we want to get to know you in such a way that we'll actually have a chance of being believed? And would a whole group put up with each other?

You sound like someone I would like to get to know, irl. Erin too. As a parent myself, I wouldn't have a problem with the fingerprints, or WoW . . . I found the free trial too addictive myself to dare risk an actual, subscription, but . . .

Here's what I think. Community and worship have to be two sides of the same coin. You can't have the kind of community God calls us to without doing worship together. Real worship. And you can't really worship with people unless you're willing to do the nitty-gritty-living-in-each-other's-lives sort of community . . .

Tracy Simmons said...

Barb, I hear you loud and clear!

I'm meeting with 7 other people right now and one of them made such a profound comment to me today. She said something along these lines: In some ways our group is like family. You cannot choose your family, but it's who you have and you have to just go through the good, the bad, and the ugly with them. You cannot walk away when it gets hard. I feel like our group is like that. None of us would ever had "chosen" family like this from the standpoint that we are all so different! Radically different. Even in "practical ways" like young and married with a baby to not very young at all :), from planning careers to wondering about retirement, from quiet and laid back to others that like to push forward, etc. As we meet weekly and sometimes throughout the week, we are learning to how to love one another. This, I think is the key: We really do need to learn it, to practice it.

I'm just a babe on this journey, but I know it's a really good thing to grow in love and trust with one another.

Wayward Son said...

Great thoughts. I could write a whole post about my thoughts, but I am known for making your brain hurt, so I'll refrain. For now. :)

But as I was reading, I was honestly thinking..."That's us. We're the ones who get the fingerprints, the crumbs in the couch. We're the ones who have to deal with each others' crap." Eight years. In our living room.

This 8-year out-of-the-box community has not been a thrill ride. We've been hurt, and we have hurt. We've had our "best friends" betray us and try to destroy what we were doing. We've had people take and take and take and never say thank you, and then leave offended because we didn't do enough.

On the other hand...we've been there for the birth of four children, and been godparents to two of them. We've laughed until we cried, on a regular basis. We've watched people transformed before our eyes as they encounter unconditional love for the first time. We've developed lasting relationships, and we've learned what true healthy imperfect relationship looks like. And we've come to understand a bit more why the early church really saw each other as extended family.

Family can totally get on your nerves sometimes, But you will deal with it and take the bad with the good, because they are family. That's a lot of what our community looks like.

Eight years. I wouldn't have missed them for the world. It's no attempt to boast, because I don't deserve the community we have; it's that I'm grateful for it. I don't discount the pain and skepticism of wounded people, of which I am one. But I guess I am saying that when you are ready, good, healthy community IS possible, without the churchy crap. You're right that it's not always pretty, but for my two cents' worth, it's still worth the risk.

BTW--I am a pun-meister. I am totally confused because you referred to your husband's endless puns as if they are a BAD thing. :)

Alan Knox said...


Your final sentence is excellent: "Do I long for the perfect group or am I willing to belong to and love regular people like me?"

There is no perfect group. Period. The key to Christian community is not finding people who are like us, but finding unity and fellowship in Christ despite our differences. The problem is that we are taught that we have to be around people like us - and so we pretend to be like other and pretend that our lives are not a mess and pretend that our sins are acceptable and pretend that we care. When we can drop the pretension and love each other anyway because of who each one of us are in Christ Jesus... then we're learning what it means to be a community.


Barb said...

Anon, Yeah I was with a group the other night and felt like I had NO way to realate. We make it sound wonderful, but it is almost always awkward.

Adam, I'm sure that is what we all think.

Katherine, You are so right, all the relationships that I had before in the church box were easy to maintain because all but a few took no work. Just a "Hi, how are you" on a Sunday morning and we were good.

I'm almost afraid that I will be like the parents who wait till their 40's and then kids are such a big change because they have years and years of not having to factor in the work of kids. The longer I go the harder the work seems.

Heidi, I have always said this to people.

Tara, I understand the wanting a safer environment. I still long for "safe" even now.

Sara, I've always had a hard time with the "misfits, out-casts, theologically questionable, and down-right broken." that is what scares me. I like "put together people" who don't causes messes. But really the "put together people" are really just messes on the inside where they don't let you see.

Tracy, How did you find this group or how did they find you? I think just the gathering process is a mystery to me.

Jeff, Please write your post too. My brain has healed a bit from the last time ;0

I love your stories about your group. And you are so right. In looking back to our friends, the heartaches have been so worth the friendships. It is good to be reminded of this. It really is worth it and I need you all to tell me that often. Thanks

Alan, I just got yours as I was answering the others. I think that that was the biggest problem with me. I never hung out with those who were vastly different with me and it is uncomfortable to have to work through this now. Thanks!

Erin said...

Wow. Just wow. I have learned so much from the conversations that have arisen from these questions and mine.

Ok, I agree, that what we know of each other here is limited in space and time. I have no lofty ideals about that.

I also agree that church people are family..I have found that, I have known that, in a small group. It was beautiful. I agree that we can't do church with only people we get along with.

Here's where I get stuck. In my group, it was wonderful. We helped each other, we helped the community. We lived, loved, laughed together. Our kids did life together.

Then, when something really bad, really questionable, really wrong came up, everyone scattered to the wind as fast as they could.

So while there is certainly truth in all that "church is family" stuff, we do have to be in community with people who are like-minded enough that when someone does drugs, or has an affair, or steals from their job, we can still be family, instead of choosing the highway or showing the offender the door.

Or, do there always have to be boundaries, limits to love? I mean certainly even in family there are. But who draws those boundaries? What are they? Because I think when we are broken enough and transparent enough to share THESE things with our "family" and know we won't be given the boot for it, then we have a good thing. Or are there just no other groups out there where this sort of thing happens?

Is there a balance to this? What does everyone think?

Adam Gonnerman said...

In the past several months I've come to the difficult decision that no matter what happens, I have to try to stay with the church I'm with. The consumerist approach of many Americans to church has long irritated me, but I've come to realize I need to repent of the attitude myself. If the group can only count on me up to the point where I decide I'm fed up, how good can the fellowship ever really be?

Mark Main said...

Love you thought processes on this one. I agree that we will never find the perfect church or community. After years and years of "church" it has been only relatively recently that I have found community. While there are times it is painful I wouldn't trade it for the forced fellowship of church.

Anonymous said...


As usual, you have some great thoughts. The sentence that caught my thoughts is: "Are we humans too flawed to design and develop a community of organized chaos where love of God and others is the guiding factor?" In my experience we humans cannot create community. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. And, I agree wholeheartedly with all the comments that indicate how hard it is to build authentic relationships. One of the great failures of the institutional expression of church is that it does not foster these authentic relationships but creates faux relationships. But I have also found that unless we are very intentional we will follow the same path of least resistance.

Yet, if I am worth the Father sending the Son, then everyone is worth the investment of time and effort to be introduced to the Father and begin the healing and redemption that only He can bring. This is done one life at a time in messy and ugly ways.

Tracy Simmons said...

Barb, I actually invited the folks to just come join us on a journey. They are people that I've known for years, use to hang out with a lot, but then we all got disillusioned with "how to meet," and kind of drifted apart. It's been years since we've all met together, though we've stayed in touch here and there.

I literally know about 30 people I could invite who would love to do this, but decided to start very small with just 8 of us. I want community, not a "church," you know? And too many people, for me, at least, leads to not really getting to know anyone deeply.

The 8 of us all happen to be folks who don't "attend a local church." But I know lots of folks who do and they really want to be doing this as well. I think we underestimate the hunger of people for the REAL, even in many folks who attend the more "traditional" type "churches." Many of them (not all, of course!) are just longing for someone to show them a better way....

Sara said...

I echo Erin . . . wow.

A couple of thoughts. Limits to love? I dunno. I do know that the church hasn't done a very good job in this country preaching or demonstrating forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. Those things take a long time. Years even. My dad is finally back on real speaking terms with his sister--her first divorce shattered their relationship over twenty years ago.

Who makes the calls about what's too broken? I'm tempted to say--there is no too broken to attend and worship. But the church (through its leadership, I suppose)might need to make some judgment calls about what kind of authority and leadership certain individuals with certain weaknesses can hold . . .

I admire Adam Gonnerman's willingness to consider that God is calling him to stay put. That's pretty counter-cultural these days.

Traveller: of course the institution doesn't foster these things. The institution is dead. Tree bark. But it can serve to protect living wood underneath. Of course sometimes the whole tree is actually dead . . . but I don't think we can any more expect the church to produce relationships than we can expect a house to produce a loving family . . . under the best scenario, it's just a place of refuge for these things to grow . . .

Circling back round to Erin's question . . I think what a lot of churches lack is the expectation that people are hurt and broken . . . many churches seem to believe that it's possible to get to some sort of perfect, finished, static state in this life--and so don't know what to do with messy growth . . . but if we start with the understanding that static in this life impossible but undesirable, then we start from a point where when we run into the fact that people have faults and problems, we're neither surprised nor unprepared.

I apologize, Barb, for going on at such length . . . maybe I should have just posted on my own blog. :)

Tyler Dawn said...

Good questions, and I think I have come to the conclusion that I do, in fact, enjoy being alone. I don't want "community" the way I should, I suppose.

Can I have a congregation of just me and God and let everyone else just go to hell? ;)

Sounds cavalier but that's where I have been lately and honestly I don't much want the hassle of community. Community is scary, it is demanding, it is uncomfortable! Which means He is probably going to make me do it someday.....

Gary Means said...

Many great comments. I particularly loved what Tracy Simmons said,

"I think we underestimate the hunger of people for the REAL, even in many folks who attend the more "traditional" type "churches." Many of them (not all, of course!) are just longing for someone to show them a better way...."

I agree wholeheartedly!

Anonymous said...

Perfect is boring anyway :-D I'm much happier with imperfect people.

Sara said...

looking back i realize that I meant to write that "static is NOT JUST impossible, but undesirable . . ." whoops

in re: perfect being boring . . .
I think a lot of people think that perfect=finished=static and imperfect=dynamic

but I think the idea that perfection is trapped and locked down is very un-God . . .
static = dead = very-not-perfect-how-it's-supposed-to-be
dynamic = growing = Jesus . . .

I don't think that even after we're "perfected" we'll ever be *done*

Barb said...

Erin, I don't remember a time where there was this much discussion on a post. Great thinking too. It will be fun to see where we are in a year.

I think the reason that everyone scattered when brokenness was revealed is because we didn't want to look at our own sin and shame. If a group goes into meeting with each other and from the beginning admit that there is stuff as God wants to bring it out...then maybe just maybe we won't scatter when the time comes. I think expectations is a big thing.

Adam, were you one whose wife is not ready to leave? I know that the general consensus amoung some of the men that I have come to trust is to stay until husband and wife are on the same page. I think too that we really did not have that option as the church was harming those under its care and we were part of that.

Mark, I'm so glad for you. Be sure to write about what makes it work.

Traveller, Yeah that was a great quote, Jim actually wrote that one. I just wish I could "make it happen :) control issues again huh?

Tracy, I guess the only ones I know to this point are actually some of the very one's I helped hurt in some ways. Many - almost all are in some sort of fellowship themselves.

Sara, thanks for your responses. I need to think about the bark analogy some more. You are right it is just a hull like a house is to a family, but if the house leaves the gas on with no flame it becomes an unsafe place to be. It is the house/bark as well as what is inside of it.

And you are so right...static is never the goal.
Please don't the comments!

Tyler, I know what you mean. In some ways I like the aloneness it is so much easier for me to control...but there is a longing for friendships too. I'm so sorry it hurts so much for you right now. I only wish I could help.

Gary, The comments are again better than the posts that sparked them!

Heather, perfect is boring....will have to think about that a bit. I think I'm happier with imperfect people who admit they are imperfect. How about that?

Sara, Good thought! thanks

Anonymous said...

Excellent questions:)
Guess what... (Confession time:)
I play WOW... yes, it's true.
I have a level 24 Paladin; I kill the bad guys and heal people, even raise players from the dead!
Could this be a reflection of who I wish I were in the body?!!!
I admit I would love to see all that stuff happening IRL (except the killing part of course!)
But this activity was not something approved of by well- meaning friends and dare I say I've even caught myself lying to them about it, to avoid another round in the 'hot seat'.
“WOW?! Oh no…not me!” (Forgive me Lord, I just lied my face off!)The desire to avoid church as I knew it was in part, because people there loved to 'help' each other to live right. Straining gnats and swallowing camels is exhausting for all involved and there have been times when I've wondered if we humans are capable of letting others 'be'. I have some pretty solid opinions about things myself and I'm in the process of learning how to let them go in order to allow mercy to rule. But I'm hopeful. I really do like being in community. I suppose the first thing is to work on me and keep asking God to teach me how to become the kind of person I would trust with my 'stuff':)

Barb said...

catz, yeah we were laughing with my daughter who plays WOW with her husband, she is a level 62 paladin. She was telling us how she can heal people and raise them from the dead and I laughed and called her a virtual Todd Bentley (Lakeland reference ;0) Maybe WOW players should unite and form a christian club. At least you would know that most judgement would be suspended in that they could accept you BECAUSE you played WOW!

Anonymous said...

I'm IN IN IN !!!!
no really....
This is sooooooo funny :)
What would we call it though?