It is a strange thing the way ordinary words become hot and sell-able. I suppose it would make more sense if I was talking about t-shirts and new cars, about blow-out sales and low low prices. But I’m not. I am talking about the church. The way we co-opt words and repackage old concepts into new books with smiling authors on the back. I joke often that my parents were missional before Francis Chan had a name for it. Back then they were evangelizing, before that their parents were just being good Christian’s. Now we call being good to our neighbor’s “missional living” and we talk about community in all of its forms.
We are a community, we are in a community, we do community, we have community. we need community, we look for community, we find community. We are in community groups and participate in community initiatives. We pretend that this is some sort of new focus as we plant our churches next to 80-year-old places with community in the name. We have neglected these places, written them off because they “don’t have the same values as us.”
I think a lot of people want to have community, but they don’t want to be the community. By a lot of people I mean often times, me.
My mom tells a story about me that I have probably already repeated here. We were at Girl Scout camp, discussing what it means to be a sister to every girl scout. She asked a group of first grade girls what the word sister meant. Having two older ones I was a bit of an expert on the matter. The story goes that I shot my hand in the air and announced. Sister means you are STUCK with each other so you may as well make the best of it. I don’t think it is an accident we are described as sisters and brothers in Christ.
I spent a glorious four days in the foothills of Austin with a group of women I call story sisters. There are over 100 of us now, only a small contingent showed up at our in-person retreat. I led a session where we broke bottles, yelled into the hills, burned our lies. I pray that those lies remain ashes as the brave women go on to lead their beautiful and mess-filled lives. I am We are a community, an artist community still in the early years. I don’t think it is an accident we call each other “story sister.” Every day we choose to be stuck with each other.
I spent a perfect three days in the Tennessee mountains. It was a speech team reunion. We all not only chose to be stuck with each other, but chose to depend on each other, to create with each other, to win and lose with each other. This all while we were between the ages of 18-22. Not the best for decision-making. There were days when we hated each other, but what were we going to do? We were on the same team.
I wanted to hop in a time machine, and have a little chat with my 19-year-old self. I wanted to tell her some things about these people she loved, and drove crazy, and was driven crazy by.
I know this part is hard. But these people, they really see you, especially at your worst, and they still think you are pretty great. You only have four years with them. And then you will all move away, get married (some of you to each other), have kids, and when you re-connect eight years later all the bad will have melted away, but all the good will still be there.
And suddenly you are sitting at the foot of a bed in the middle of the Smokey Mountains, as your husband’s old roommate explores a children’s book with your three girls (two belonging to your family, one to his).
“Which hat is your favorite hat?’
“Why do you think that bird is despondent?”
“What do you think scarlet means?”
His desire to explore every facet of everything that interested him made you absolutely crazy sometimes at eighteen. The conversations would never end, he would beat entire video games before anyone else could. (You never really cared that much about this, but it made the ginger-headed boy you were dating totally furious.)
But now? Now you can see how valuable this thing that you used to try to wish away is. All three daughters are completely engaged. What does that mean? What will happen next? How does that work? What a gifted dad he is, partly because he is interested in exploring every facet of a thing.
I want to tell my twenty-year-old self that we are all so much better at thirty. I hope my forty-year-old self has the same good news.