Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Beautiful Community

1143 Avenida de los Arboles, apt. 228. I wrote that address on the left hand corner of envelopes for 11 of my childhood years. While my mother loathed many aspects of apartment living, it was those very aspects that created the conditions for my imaginative childhood. I dreamt of mansions, Victorian ones, to be specific. I poured over my dad’s Architectural Digest magazines, clipping photos that would eventually become part of my designer home. I pleaded with my grandmother to describe for me, again, the New England estates in which she grew up. My fantasies consisted of spiral staircases, butler’s pantries and wrap-around sun porches. Two of my pre-adolescent birthdays were celebrated in renovated Victorian homes. The idea of a beautiful home had me captivated.

Years later, not much has changed. The aspirations have- I no longer dream to one day live in a Victorian mansion. The heart of the matter has not. I long for home. That yearning for comfort, to be settled somewhere familiar and safe- it is deep within me.

And I don’t think I’m alone. This idea of home is a defining factor in many people’s lives. It’s the reason my friend Katie quit after her freshman year at a great university that was 8 hours away from her mother. It’s why my former student’s mother, Shandann, couldn’t leave her destitute and dangerous ghetto to start over somewhere else. It’s why my cousin Tom will be stuck in the family business instead of truly excelling in his own passions. Comfort. Familiarity. Safety. It’s the default response to life.

The followers of The Way knew this yearning as well. Exciting things were happening in their day. Their Rabbi, who was crucified, had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven. Since then, his followers had a new boldness. Through their teaching and the subsequent community that sprung up, thousands were joining their ranks. They met in each others’ homes, they ate together, they worshipped together-- they did life together. No one had need- all were met through this new spiritual family.

My guess is that no one could have imagined that they were off by a degree or two. That sense of community felt too good, too right to be missing the mark. And yet, they were. Their Rabbi, Jesus, told them right before he left to expand this community. He didn’t want it to exist only in hometown Jerusalem. His dreams were bigger- “to the ends of earth”—he said. They hadn’t moved, though! Their holy huddle served them just fine right where they were. So, God broke up the party. Problems, big problems (think death, imprisonment) began to plague the Way. They finally dispersed and were scattered to neighboring countries and, eventually, to the ends of the earth. Their beautiful community was then extended to include people that were previously off the radar and beyond their scope of influence.

Rabbi Jesus has commanded all believers to extend this beautiful community. For some, that means a literal move to another country. For others, and I would wager, for most, that means living right where you are. But it’s a different kind of living. It’s bucking the default drive to create perpetual comfort and to preserve all things familiar. It’s celebrating community with other believers while being intentional to invite others into it at the same time. It’s risk-taking, it’s sacrifice-offering, it’s self-denying.

This beautiful community is as close to heaven as we get here on earth. The irony is that, while we must drink deeply of its comfort and draw from its safety, these gifts serve to strengthen us as we seek to extend the community beyond ourselves. Once we settle, once we mistake this place as home we’ve missed the meaning of it all. It’s as deluded as an 8 year old girl clipping magazine photos, convinced that those papers are the real thing.

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