Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Theory of Community: An Update

"All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people."
--Acts, Chapter 2
Not long ago in my Religion and Violence class, we were discussing the concept of paradise, or a "perfect world." One of the students who was presenting suggested that an ideal existence would not be a world in which there was no dissent, but one in which dissent is respected and embraced. Heaven would be rather dull if everyone thought and believed the exact same things.

In theory, this "perfect community" would exist in unity and love, making decisions based upon consensus. When an individual would disagree with the community, that individual would be free to make their disagreement known to the group, not sacrificing his or her values, remaining distinct and apart, but at the same time remaining committed to the end goals of the community.

"This cycle is what is known as the discipline of obedience, or the discipline of stability," our professor, Father Bob, interjected. "It's been practiced in monastic circles for centuries. It's essentially what makes them work as successful faith communities."

I've been thinking about community a lot lately. I mean, even more than usual. About two weeks ago, our plans for Anavah House were abruptly changed. Alyssa and I realized that we would not have the money nor the community support in order to take over and purchase BBRC. Our financial situation has gotten steadily worse over the last couple months, with a majority of our troubles coming from miscommunication with SEMO's student financial services department (but that's another story). Also, with the rising cost of gas, it is been increasingly difficult to afford trips to Kansas City for my seminary classes--about $200 a weekend--every weekend, except for the time I spent in Thailand and Burma--since January. As much as our hearts have been in this, we have learned the valuable lesson that (to modify a familiar cliche) it takes a village to raise a community. Unfortunately, we didn't have much of a village; for now, and perhaps for several years to come, Anavah House is on the back burner.

Our future home in Liberty
However, within a few days of realizing that we weren't going to be able to stay at BBRC, a friend offered us the opportunity to rent his house in Liberty. We'll live within a block or two of several families who are incredibly important to us, namely, Tyler and Jess Tankersley, Mark and Marilyn Buhlig, and eventually, Jay and Amber Howard (who have been living in an intentional community in Pittsburgh called Formation House for some time now).  We'll also be within walking distance of our awesome new church home (Second Baptist Liberty), as well as the town square which holds a regular farmer's market, where I hope to be able to sell some ceramic wares...

All this has sort of forced me to redefine what it means to be in community. Before, my understanding of intentional community was restricted to a bunch of people living together under one roof. And let's face it: for those who are familiar with neomonasticism and intentional community, there is a definite stereotypical image that fits these terms.

But community for me is fast becoming defined by the intentional togetherness of its members. I've thought a lot about that word: intentional. As long as we are coming together as Christians--as humans, even--to celebrate our God and our relationships with one another, we are participating in intentional community. The inspiring thing about the stories of the early church in the book of Acts isn't that the first Christians were living together under one roof on an inner city block (which we may very well do--someday), but that they were living together in love and devotion to one another, to the world around them, and ultimately to Jesus.

Our friends have already begun to scheme and conspire (literally, "breathe together"), and we have started simple. Though we live in separate houses on separate blocks, we are planning on meeting for dinner as often as we can, to break bread together and pray and celebrate the love that allows us to devote our time and energy to one another. My good friend Scott Moon once put it this way: "Enemies don't put their feet under the same table together. When you sit down to eat at Christ's table, you know you are among friends."

Alyssa and I are among friends. And we're opening a new chapter in our lives. It is terrifying: stepping into the unknown always is. But we are able to face the future with dignity and with courage, knowing that we have a community of friends a family behind us, walking with and guiding us as we grow.


  1. Alyssa and Joshua, you all are two of the bravest and most courageous people I know. I talk about you both and your dreams for Anavah House and feelings for intentional communities among my seminary group, and you're gathering prayerful support and admiration in Boston as well.

    If you are not familiar with Howard Thurman, I suggest him highly. Maybe you have read "Jesus and the Disinherited", arguably hist most widely-known book, but I want to recommend "The Search for Common Ground" to you. I think you'd find a kinship with him and give you new ways of deepening your search for community and restoration of our "lost memory" of what it means to embody church. He has become another teacher for me, and in the words of Amy Derrick, has "ruined me" in many good ways :)

    I love you both dearly and am so very proud to be on the journey with you.

    Stay in the Light,

  2. I love this reflection, Yeshua.

    I was thinking about very similar issues this morning. It seems that our new community will be more focused on the "intentional" rather than on the one-roof community.

    I look forward to stepping forward alongside you.

  3. Excellent post, reflection and anticipation for the future for both of you. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    I will share your post with my daughter Victoria who is a sophomore at William Jewell and has some friends in Kansas City that live in an intentional community. She has often said that she admires her friends for their courage and commitment to do so. I can guarantee she is going to enjoy reading about your journey as well.

    Blessings on you.


  4. Francisco, do you know which community her friends live in? It wouldn't be Cherith Brook, would it?

    I'm always on the lookout for intentional communities to network with.

  5. Joshua, I was very interested in your posting. Tyler said your house in Liberty is on Leonard Street; my wife and I married in May before we transferred to William Jewell College as juniors, and we moved to Leonard Street just before school started. But that was a long time ago, in 1957!

    I have long been interested in Christian community, but have never been able to live in a community. I hope I can be a support for you and Alyssa (as well as the Tankersleys and Buhligs and others) as you seek to form community here--and maybe even have some involvement in your community.

    May the Lord abundantly bless you during the coming months of transition!

  6. Thank you so much, Leroy. Peace be with you.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.