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Community

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.
-Acts 2:42

A whole bunch of people got saved on Pentecost Day.  It is interesting that they were all baptized immediately in water and then in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-9).  These people became part of the believers community.  The author of Acts, doctor Luke, uses the Greek word Koinonia for community, which means, "what is shared in common for the basis of fellowship".  A synonym would be "partnership".

The word community is from the same word that we get communion, as in, "taking communion":
Isn’t the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Isn’t the loaf of bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
-1 Corinthians 10:16
The word sharing (sharing in the blood & sharing in the body) is Koinonia, the same word used for community.  The Biblical meaning of community is sharing in God and the New Testament meaning is sharing in Christ.  In a commune or in communism, they also say it's about sharing.  But in the church, community is about sharing in Christ.  So we call it communion when we memorialize the death of Jesus, by sharing wine or juice and a loaf of bread.

The sharing is the meaningful part.  Community and communion are meant to be done together.  Jesus modeled communion at a table, in a circle, where eyes met.  Notice that is says, "the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ".  What is being described is a spoken word, like a toast, upon drinking from the cup.  Remember that communion = community = sharing.  Christ shares with all and we all share in Christ together.  Do you get it?  That is the church.
"In and through community lies the salvation of the world... most of us have never had an experience of true community." -M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum 
We tend to view Bible verses through a consumerist hermeneutic, or lens.  We also tend to take our present traditions and impose them on the text.  We think in terms of individuals and as consumers.  Sharing is the common denominator of Church.  "For God so loved the world, he gave...", and, "as the Father has sent me, I now send you."  It is about sharing.  We share together and we share with the world, because God's mission is to save the world, after all.  

Maybe it is not natural for you to not only share your stuff, but to share your self.  If we are not in community as a life-style, we are living more selfishly and defensively; like cars on the freeway, watching out for each other and jostling for position.

In the Western world, we split salvation into physical and spiritual.  Physical means saved from death.  Spiritual salvation means healing; the process of becoming whole or holy.  M. Scott Peck described spiritual salvation as the process of becoming conscious.  Think about Nicodemus.  Jesus was calling him to true consciousness:  Jesus told him, "you must be born again."  Or we could say, "you must start over, from Father, through Jesus."

If God is after our wholeness and holiness, inviting us into the born-again life of God consciousness; then the opposite is a refusal of new-birth and the desire to not be conscious.  This reminds me of The Matrix:
"You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
-Morpheus
There is a process that you can chart, measure, or gauge; of if a group of people are becoming community.  In The Different Drum, M. Scott Peck outlined the four stages of community.

As Christians, we might hope and desire that community would be natural.  But, if you have ever tried it, you know it is not natural.  We act up in all sorts of ways.  We porcupine each other.  We wear masks, because we are afraid.  We play all sorts of inauthentic games.

It is a paradox that we come together because we share Christ and want to be like Christ, but then we resist authentic sharing:  being honest, being vulnerable, truly listening and accepting the other as we find them.

I find looking at Peck's four stages helpful.  Stage one is like "meet and greet".  It is enjoyable and necessesary (don't skip it, enjoy it), but you don't live there.

Stage two is the, "now we're getting real", stage.  It's the pain before the gain.  It's the cross, before the resurrection.  It's the plunge, before the swimming.  It's the giving birth, before the taking care of the baby.  Working through chaos is good and necessary.  The demon can not be cast out until it is manifested. When the masks come off, we can with what is there, underneath; what really motivates us, and what is broken that needs to be made whole.

Stage three is like the death.  Not dying, nor resurrection; but still, quiet, death.  There is an empty space for grace, love, and mercy.  It is the time when I have been so humbled that I am all about others.  I am wide open to hearing you and getting who you are and where you've come form, if that's part of it.  It is born-again time, when we start over, after realizing we don't get it.

Stage four is when we can be together and there is peace.  We can really share, participate, and work together; and it is not a continuously tripping into and over each other.  There is co-ordination in what we do together.
  1. Pseudocommunity

    • Where participants are "nice with each other", playing-safe, and presenting what they feel is the most favourable sides of their personalities.  
    • It is a stage of pretense. People pretend to already be a community. They use the best of manners to be socially correct as they speak. They avoid any differences or being very personal or anything controversial. They pretend life is great and they “have it all together” with not a care in the world. They fake it. They are not vulnerable. It’s often, boring, sterile and not much deep communication takes place. All of this is a learned response imposed by society.
    • Pseudocommunity is important to the overall process because it builds safety, trust and respect.
  2. Chaos

    • When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their "shadow" selves.
    • In chaos, people let go of their manners and blurt out their prejudices, opinions and judgments.
    • In chaos people often try to fix, heal, and convert each other and this only adds to the chaos. “Now if you will only do what I did, your life will be much better.” “If you believe what I believe, your life will change.” People do not like advice and mostly reject it.  We try to reform people into our own image (fixing).  "Let's fix Joe".
    • In chaos, people exhibit chaotic behavior. The talking pace picks up. The shy can’t get a word in edgewise. There is no space . 
    • People often feel an urge to speak when there is nothing to say. They do not listen much and often speak to hear themselves talk. This is chaotic behavior and the opposite of “moved to speak”. 
    • In chaos, people explore group norms. They will test what subject can be discussed. They may resort to doing one or more "projects" and this is a mix of pseudocommunity and chaos. The purpose of projects may be to avoid task or to learn what may be acceptable to this group. Some project can be: if the windows should be open or closed; if the lights should be on or off; if the room is hot or cold and what should be done about it; if window shades should be open or closed, etc.
    • Chaos is full of avoidance. This can take many forms. One is to scapegoat another person. This causes the focus to be on the one scapegoated and away from those doing the scapegoating.  
    • Another ploy is to attack the leader for not leading more.
    • Sometimes a participant will try to take over the leadership and attempt some from of organizing the group or to get a vote to do something different.
    • In chaos, people start finding their personal, internal chaos that keeps them from being in community with themselves. This is often what they need to empty. A person finds it difficult to be in community with the group if they have much internal chaos. It blocks compassion for themselves and others.
    • At this point of transition, individuals know what needs to be done but will start asking everyone else to do it by returning to WE and YOU statements. “We need to really become personal in what we say to one another.” “You need to …..”
    • The group may cycle back into chaos after being in community, but it becomes different. It rarely concerns ego issues and the pace is much slower and people do listen. At this point, they have learned. A true community does conflict well and knows how to fight fair. A group in community becomes a most effective body for conflict resolution.
  3. Emptiness

    • This stage moves beyond attempts to fix, heal and convert found in the chaos stage. Here, people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to all human beings. Out of this emptiness comes the possibility for true community.
    • This is the stage of letting go of what is not needed to make room for something new. 
    • Emptiness can be a time when people tell personal stories that are current in their lives. This sometimes is with a great deal of sadness and perhaps tears. When this happens, the people become very quiet and hear what is spoken. There is space and often periods of respectful silence to honor what is said. Body language “speaks”, saying what words can not say.
    • As people empty, the group atmosphere starts to feel very different. The pace slows, people speak softer words, they listen intently with their whole bodies, and compassion fills the room. There may be periods of silence that some people describe as peaceful or even holy. Peoples faces become softer. They may say this is the first time they have ever really been heard. They are often full of gratitude for the acceptance they feel. And when enough people empty, the group feels in community. There is a collective consciousness that gives the gift of community.
  4. True community

    • At this stage the process of deep respect for others and true listening to the stories of others takes place. Peck describes this true community as "glory." He believes that it reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one's fellows.
    • Community is a state of being that is hard to describe. People feel peaceful, at ease with one another, accepting of differences, and perhaps celebrate with joy. It is a feeling of wholeness, of oneness, of knowing acceptance for just who you are, faults and all. Differences are appreciated, even honored. People seem to know it is just enough to be human and to experience a true feeling of what love may mean.


    ______________________
    Footnotes:
    Photo credit: http://co3355.tistory.com/category
    In breaking down what happens in Peck's 4 stages of community, I used some of the words and phrases of these two men:
    Tattoos, tribes, and true community by Gary Combs
    The Community Building Process by Jerry L. Hampton
    Also, Jerry Hampton has a fantastic resource on prostate cancer, called My Prostate Cancer Story, about how to fight cancer through prayer, diet, lifestyle, and exercise. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. This year, he has found out that he is cancer free and in full remission.


     

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