For the past ten weeks I have been auditing the course Practices of Community at Fuller Theological Seminary. When I first approached the professor to ask if I could join as an auditor, I was met with a warm smile, but also a sense of concern. He said something to the effect of “Well, I’d love to have you join but you should know this isn’t necessarily an auditor-compatible class...” He proceeded to tell me that there wouldn’t be much in the way of traditional lectures, and that there would be a substantial load of necessary work throughout the week to be able to benefit from class meetings. If I had the time and willingness to take on the robust weekly content in addition to the class meetings, then auditing would be fruitful for me. I was enthusiastic about the topics the course would be covering (story-telling, truth-telling, gratitude, forgiveness, prayer, hospitality, care for the vulnerable, and promise-keeping), as well as the reading list*, so I decided to take the opportunity and larger-than-expected workload.
The term proceeded through a weekly rhythm of daily lectio divina or devotional reading, and several assigned readings and videos related to a single topic. Most notably, there was always a directed activity related to that same topic. Some of the activities were; writing a letter asking for forgiveness, and then writing one granting forgiveness; making a personal inventory of implicit and explicit promises you’re currently engaged in; simply being mindful of opportunities for gratitude as you go about your week. The final weekly task was to write reflections on how the week’s content impacted us individually. Then, the class meeting served as a process group wherein we shared our most formative learning experiences with one another. Sometimes we’d share amongst the larger class group, but often we’d do so in smaller sub-groups. Having that forum to share our stories, learn from one another, and collectively awe in what God was showing us about his heart and his people past and present (as well as future hopes), was quite a powerful way to ‘do’ education. In fact, in the last class meeting, one of my group members shared with us how he experienced an interesting contrast in that quarter. He was taking two courses—one that was lecture/reading/writing based, and then this one, where there was a greal deal of praxis and communal sharing. He remarked that he got so much more--that he felt he encountered God more—in this class due to its orientation toward community interaction and sharing of experience.
Here was yet another confirmation that we are meant for sharing with others and living in community. (And that we actually have to try the theories and principles we learn about in the Bible and from theologians to begin to really understand and benefit from them.) Despite the fact that by the end of the quarter many of us (due to work and family commitments) were barely able to keep up with the full rhythm of Learn-Try-Share-Listen, it made a profound impact on us. It reminded me that even in times of struggle or of feeling stretched too thin, we can and should make space for continued learning and deep community fellowship. However, all too often I find myself feeling anxious or ‘too busy’ to engage in community at deepening levels. Work is demanding, perfection is expected, I feel the exhaustion of being a finite mortal. (Of course, this is me trying to achieve my own idea of greatness with my own measly power.) But as I was reminded in my course texts Slow Church and An Other Kingdom, we can slowly but surely pull out of the rut of busy-ness, numbness, competitiveness, fear of failure and judgement, and travel at God’s slower, seemingly inefficient pace. It is the pace of walking in your neighborhood and meeting people face-to-face. The pace that gives us the time and experience to see the otherwise unacknowledged, long-reaching consequences of our actions, for better or for worse. It is the stop-and-smell-the-roses pace. And it’s not as cheesy as that old idiom may sound—if we slow down and re-focus our attention, we can smell the aroma of God as we follow her path. And she will always lead us into community.
So, how about you? Is there anything that keeps you from diving deeper into community? Do you have someone to process it all with? Are you in a community group of some kind that makes a place for your voice, story, and gifts? As we walk the slow pace of the Lenten season, I pray that we each find ways to deepen our investment in our neighborhoods and in our church. May we see the superior value of neighborliness over comfort and productivity. May we continue to learn why and how to do life together, and try it, again and again (even if it is awkward and imperfect at first). May we be bold and generous to share of ourselves and listen to one another in our discipleship journey.
*Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Economy by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann, and John McKnight
A New Monastic Handbook by Ian Mobsby and Mark Berry.
Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine Pohl
Slow Church by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison.
Community and Growth by Jean Vanier
And of course, The Holy Bible