One of the key things that has happened to me over the past few years has been a desire to move away from a very personalised approach to faith to one which seeks to be lived out and experienced communally. Long time blog followers will know that this is something that I’ve thought and written about extensively. To follow this journey you may find it helpful to read posts I’ve tagged as ‘community‘.
The first value I want to look at in this re-exploration is the following:
Living together – we are all about sharing life, sharing deeply. It pushes away the lie that individualism is the way, and says that life can only truly be fulfilling when we share it with those around us. We believe that by sharing life together, learning to trust each other, we will become healthier people.
I want to be totally honest from the start here. This is probably the value that I find the hardest. I love my personal space. I love family time. I love a closed door behind which I can hide. I love sitting in a chair in my favourite coffee shop, anonymous and unbothered. Throughout the various jobs I’ve done I’ve often found myself in front of crowds, or at least thrust into the midst of them, expected to be the gregarious extrovert, when in reality I’m almost dying inside, wishing I was anywhere but there.
I want to share life with people, but I want to do it on my terms, on my timetable.
This value pushes me deep into a danger zone. It says that we should always be willing to be available, that life alone isn’t the way we’re designed (although ‘alone’ can be a rich and necessary experience from time to time). It also means not being able to choose who we do with this, but having an openness to all. It’s not just for times we’re willing to open our homes, but when people need us. That’s costly. Obviously that’s a two way thing, as it means we can also turn to others – something that is also difficult concept for me, someone very used to wanting to face adversity on my own terms.
So, when thinking about life together, we need to be willing to open up, both personally and communally. We must also be inclusive and welcoming to all, whether with those just like us or those who couldn’t be more different and all between. We learn to know our neighbours and their needs, we learn to invest in and find deep value in our communities and see transformation both in our live and around us.
And that’s the important point, isn’t it. Faith is transformative. It transforms us, it transforms our world.
If it doesn’t, what’s the point.
I don’t mean that faith is some kind of magic pill which means all the problems in our lives and our communities are put right instantly (if ever at all), but perhaps more a sense of deep resilience that equips us to celebrate and to commiserate as appropriate.
The more I learn about faith, the more I believe that it must be communal, it can’t be simply personal. Yes, personal belief in Jesus and the rest is important, but actually the work of God (the missio dei) is about the redemption and restoration of the whole of creation – everyone, together. So Jesus dying on the cross as the ultimate sign of this is for everyone always. Salvation has happened and is happening. Salvation, therefore, is something that happens and is experienced together, not alone.
The Trinity models community (the ‘Perichoresis‘ as some have called it), the Bible is full of examples of community which model what this is all about. Jesus calls a community to follow him. We can’t ignore this.
We can’t experience the fullness of this salvation unless we’re experiencing it together with everyone else out there. We can’t keep it locked away behind closed doors. We must be together.
Going back to my earlier personal reflection on how painful I can find this – well, the positive story is that I do love being around people…really. And I’m married to someone who pushes me out of where I’d happily stay. I want to grow in this area, and be someone who doesn’t see it as a burden, but as a real joy (which I do…honestly!). Because if I believe what I’ve written both here and elsewhere, I need to move from talking and writing to doing. Building community on purpose, opening up to that openness and vulnerability, not hiding behind my convenient ‘introvert’ label.
That’s why I wanted to start here. I can do generous, inclusive, hope and imagination. This, well, this is more challenging. But thankfully, I won’t be alone.