Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Union of Incongruous Parts

There are some things that you can't truly know until you have experienced them. Before I entered the Mission Corps, I had lived in community before. Some communities were small- a few roommates in an apartment- and others were larger- a dorm of 250 men and women choosing to live intentionally towards questions of vocation in a broad sense. Others still were experiences of living in close community with those with whom you work, travel, and, in some cases, manage.

Each community that I have been a part of, be it a club, team, family, or friends, has taught me and shed new light on what it means to be a community member- for better or for worse. The communities I have lived with, especially, have caused me to take honest looks at myself and have taught me certain truths about living in community: Sometimes, you need to wash the dishes that you didn't make; Sometimes, you should bite your tongue before you criticize someone else; Sometimes, other people need to learn to bite their tongues before they speak; And all of the time, we are in this together, which is not to say that we are all at the same place in our lives, coming at something from the same point of reference, or even invested in the community in the same way.

After over a month here in Philly, I can say that all of these truths have rung true and that I must remind myself of them constantly as I navigate the joy and challenge that can be community living. I can also say that each community experience is new and living with two new women in a new city where we are all doing new work is certainly an experience I have never had before. Despite the newness of this experience, over the past two weeks, it has been that final & quite ultimate truth that I have continually had to remind myself of- we are all in this together.

As you can see above, there are a lot of qualifiers to that statement and rightly so. When I remind myself that we are united in community, that reminder comes with those added insights. It comes with the reassurance that community can be a union of incongruous part; Like a mosaic made of differently shaped pieces of tile- each with its own texture, pattern, past life, and original intention- community is an amalgamation that can be messy and hard to put together, but when it is finished, after having been laid out and created with a larger plan in mind, reveals something of beauty.

With time, communities face moments of truth. These are moments when we can chip away at each other and we can find ourselves broken as well. When I was living, working, managing, and traveling with a community for a month at a time as part of CHWC, these moments of truth always seemed to come in the third week. It was about that time that our group, which had begun as strangers, would reach a point where comfort and exhaustion collided. This moment could end one of two ways: 1) with comfort established and relationships grounded, the group could take an honest look at itself, confront its flaws, and emerge stronger or 2) Feeling as if we knew each other well enough from having been in such close confines and worn down physically and emotionally from hard work, the group (or members of the group) would crack- criticizing each other beyond the bounds of sound judgement, drawing lines of division, and allowing exhaustion to get the better of cordial relationships.

Really those two outcomes are the same. One is for the better and the other... not so much. For the first to happen, people must realize what is at the root of their problems and be humble enough to allow change to be a possibility. For the second to happen, just throw pride, poor judgement, selfishness, short fuses, and stubbornness together and voila!

Of course these are two extremes and lots of other outcomes can come from moments of truth. Yet, having seen both of these results, I can value the lesson to be learned in each, both by themselves and in comparison.

The reason I bring all of this up is not for a "The more you know..."style PSA but, simply put, to say that our community has reached the proverbial "week three". That's right, the honeymoon's over.

(Don't worry Sisters out there reading along in blog-land ... no need to worry, this is simply observation on my part and it is part of the growing & learning process, rest assured it is nothing serious just something I took notice of and felt compelled to write about.)

That's not to say I'm not enjoying myself or that this whole year/experience/experiment is a bust- far from it (see: I love it.). In all actuality, it is probably for the best. The best for me, the best for each one of us individually in this little community, and the best for our community as a whole. Yes, it can be frustrating to deal with a person whose motives are completely different from your own; it can be trying to be faced with illegitimate questioning/ undue criticism, treated like someone who knows nothing and always need clarification of her statements; and it can be downright disheartening to not be heard by one who you hope to strive towards a common goal with. It can be and in all honesty, it is.

But while it is all of these things, it is also a thing of beauty. It is a frustration that can also be a triumph as you defend your thoughts, beliefs, and convictions; it is a trial that can be enlightening as you try to understand where someone else is coming from; and it is a letdown that can be, and has been, an insight into the true goal I seek in this experience, what God hopes to teach me, and who I strive to be daily as a person living in the example of Christ. To be reminded that, in the words of Michael Card, "the space between ourselves sometimes is more that the distance between the stars" and yet, "the call is to community, the impoverished power that sets the soul free. In humility, to take the vow, that day after day we must take up the basin and the towel."

Reflecting on all of this, I happened to come across a entry entitled "To Be Authentic" at A Seat At The Table that seemed to echo my frustration and allowed me to breach beyond my internal struggle with the topic. Here is the excerpt that I found particularly striking:
What seems more important to me is that my 'authenticity' may be quite different from yours. Thus, can we respect and value each other’s authenticity if it is far apart? My extraversion may irritate your introversion. My inability to pay attention to the right approach may drive you nuts. Your absence of team spirit may depress me profoundly. And so it goes.

So yes, I believe in vulnerability, authenticity, nakedness, altruism, identity, mysticism, benevolence, participation, inclusion, open-mindedness... All this may seem very unrealistic to you; dangerous even.

Isabel Briggs Myers entitled her book, Gifts Differing, as she understood that the world needed every personality type to function and that truly no personality type is better than the other.
And so it goes. We are a union of incongruous parts. Parts that while all NFJ, according to the Myers-Briggs Test, differ greatly. Our differences don't need to divide us though, in fact, they can be things that draw us together if we let them. It will not be an easy task, but as with any mosaic or as a marriage after the honeymoon, with work (intentionality and truth to our being as persons and community) we can surely create something of beauty.

Beautiful, aren't we?

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