Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Being People-People

I've been thinking a lot about community. You know me, I dislike any word that has become a buzz-word. "Being in community," "Doing community," "Having community," "Creating a sense of community"..... and other such buzz-wordish phraseology.

This is always what happens. Always: Someone "gets it" and goes out and lives it and it is genuine and brilliant and beautiful and then the herd of sheep absently munching grass in the field get all excited about what the one sheep is doing and try to turn it into a formulaic concept. We have all done this. You have, I have - even the two-steps-ahead sheep has done this before. We are liars if we say we are exempt from buying in to great ideas at times.

Being part of a community is tough. We live in the most individualistic society in the world. (It is so true that I can write it and you will nod your head in agreement even though neither of us has done any research to see if there are any other countries that compete with our level of individualism.) And we have continued on in our pursuit of individualism. Futurist Faith Popcorn predicted in the 1990's that we would see a trend she called "Cocooning" in America. Cocooning being that our homes would be our sanctuaries - we would shop from home, eat-in at home, go to movies at home. Now we have the internet and movie theatre seating and elaborate sound systems and food delivery services galore. We need to stop this terrible trend toward self-seclusion because it is really just self-absorption to the extreme. We have actually bought into Burger King's motto, "Have it your way" as a lifestyle.

In direct contrast, those who are mature operate from a place where they ask these two questions:
Is it the right thing to do?
Does it express ultimate love and truth?
The mentality "having it your way" doesn't even come close to asking these questions.

All of my buzz-word prejudices aside, I'm beginning to understand what living within community is about. John Donne understood it long ago when he penned the words, "
No man is an island." Being in kinship with others provides strength and hope and love and protection. However, it also requires something of us. It requires that we engage in the lives of others and that we offer strength and hope and love and protection. Being part of community requires that we develop a cooperative spirit.

Now, more than ever, I believe that functioning well within community is something that we learn to do, it is not something that is inherent to our natures. Learning to engage in people's lives is a process that calls for our participation. Initiating contact with others is a maturity issue not a personality issue. Being extroverted or introverted merely means that we have different limits as to our level of interaction with others and our ability to process what went on during our times of interaction. We say, "I'm not a people person," or "he is a people person" to excuse ourselves for the fact that we do not begin conversations with others, waiting instead for them to come talk to us. If community is the sum of who we are as individuals then it is going to be pretty pathetic if we all sit by on our park benches waiting for others to approach us. Ironically, it is usually those who are spectators of community who do the most whining about how they don't feel connected or how they feel lonely and misunderstood.

I was given some insight regarding feelings recently while talking to my four-year-old. She tries so hard to express herself but unfortunately the sum of her expression is, "I'm MAD!" I've been trying to figure out how to give her more words to express her feelings. Then it came to me: talking about how we feel is only the beginning. The next step as we mature is to express what we need or want. The feeling itself is not the end; it is the beginning of the process. For instance, all children go around whining that they are hungry or thirsty. My response to that is, "Thanks for the information - are you making a statement or asking a question?"
Feeling hungry for what?
Food? Companionship? Entertainment? Intellectual stimulation? Good music? A trek into the wilderness? A way to express yourself artistically?

When we are in relationship we have to identify what we need or want from others - which is often based upon our feelings - and then express it:

"I'm mad; I didn't get what I wanted and I need to know that I can still hope for good things in the future."
"I am feeling hurt. I could really use a hug and some encouraging words."
"I am so excited about this. I would love for you to share in my excitement."
"I am feeling lonely. Would it be possible for us to hang out and just talk?"
"That really made me feel rejected. I need to know that I am valued by you."
"I feel unloved. I want to hear that I am lovable. I need to know what you see in me. I need to know that you care... I want to hear about my potential and about God's potential for me."

If all we do is sit by and expect others to know what we are wanting or needing then community will never seem to work because we will have never engaged ourselves in the process.
We cannot mistakenly believe that we are entitled to have community our way or that we are somehow exempt of law of "reaping and sowing". St. Francis of Assisi illuminated these simple concepts of creating effective community:

...Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand; to be loved
as to love; for it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned...

Our growth within community is about the ultimate good for others, not just for ourselves. Beyond that, it is about the ultimate good for for everyone, not just for the individual. That is the sum of what Jesus lived and died and rose again for. He sure wasn't living down here in our messy world so that His own wants - or even needs - could be met. Talk about being misunderstood. Nobody got what He was about while He lived on earth. Even now we struggle to get what He was about - it's a learning process; spectators will never be satisfied and nor should they expect to be:

It's not about "having it your way". It's not "all about me".

It's about US. We have to become "People-People".