lyef & thymes

Monday, April 25, 2005

4 stages of community.

I've been working on this for a little while. The resulting "essay" makes for a fairly long post, but I really mean what I am saying, so if you want to know what I think about community please read on!

20th Century theorists like Bonhoeffer, Peck and Vanier have written a great deal on community. I would like at this time to appropriate a few of their thoughts in relation to the time I have spent at SSU, and also in relation to a time when I lived in a somewhat looser-knit community on Bridesburg drive.

There are four distinctive levels of personal interaction with Community. They are successive, and each one is necessary. You cannot typically skip any of these steps. Also it is fair to say that at different times in a community there will be people at different stages of growth in relation to this way of seeing things. So here goes.

Peck said there are four stages:
-Chaotic Community
-Real Community

One who exists in "Pseudo community" is typified by a smiley, conflict avoidant attitude. At SSU this is standard for first year students who have never lived in community before. They are surrounded by friendly, outgoing people en masse for the first time, and the idea of being genuine or vulnerable is terrifying. Instead of being open to others strengths and weaknesses they close off while desperately trying to seem confident and open. Often times people in this stage of community will swing really far to one side and become "over-sharers" who tell you their deepest darkest secrets in your first meeting. This is actually a defense mechanism, and people will rarely be completely honest about how they FEEL about what they are telling you. I think of the School of the Heart when I think of this one. When I first started there in 1999 I was an over-sharer. I wanted everyone to know that I knew I had made mistakes, and was worse off than them, and that even so I could stand in God's grace. The truth was that I was a scared shitless punk who didn't think he could measure up to the people around him. So I faked it.
This level of community is a necessary stage for people because it forces them to be uncomfortable with their own state of mind and way of seeing things. Frankly, we see a lot of things wrong, and need to realize that.

Chaotic Community.
Oh this is probably the most painful one to watch. Chaotic community is so named because it is that state of living together where some of the people have realized that they have issues, and realize that they need to fix some of their viewpoints. But more so they have realized that everyone ELSE has issues and needs to fix some of THEIR viewpoints. So basically what you get is a group of desperately wounded individuals trying to heal each other by bringing everyone else into line with their own ideals. This is so tough because the heart is in the right place. We see someone suffer from a problem and so greatly want to see them overcome. We get to Chaotic community by realizing that growth is needed, but we likely haven't lived in community long enough to know how to be patient with others, and how to accept them. I came to SSU immediately after SoM. I had pretty much gone through pseudo-community, and chaotic community at SoM, and moved on to the next level, but I definitely reverted back to Chaotic Community when I came out here. Typically Second year students exist in this way at SSU. Many of them have been in community long enough at this time to feel at home here, but not long enough to know how to welcome the new first years here. I walked in to school fully believing that I was going to fix every issue anyone had. It was UHH-GLEEE!

Next comes emptiness. While Chaotic community is the hardest to watch, emptiness is the hardest one to personally endure. I find myself here more than any other stage these days, but I know it is unto something, so I endure it.
Emptiness is the stage of community where some of the folks have been living together long enough to recognize that change has to happen in themselves, and long enough to want to force that change on others. Now they recognize that after sometime of living in community with other people, and subconsciously going through all of this, they still have issues and haven't brought about any discernable change in themselves or others. The truth is that by the time people get to this point they are probably becoming more and more respected by their peers, and admired by those who aren't yet at this stage. People suffering through emptiness are often seen as "deep, contemplative, stable, kind, quiet" people. They don't talk much, and while the second year students are trying to heal the first year students, these who suffer emptiness seem compassionate and loving. Inwardly these people feel like they have nothing to offer. Think of the TACF volunteer who has been through the SoM and now has returned, hoping to find that sense of connectedness that they had felt in their time at SoM. Now they feel a bit like an outsider, sit together at meals trying to look like they are perfectly comfortable with all the boisterous students shouting and being silly, but secretly questioning what they really are doing there. At SSU the third year students are most typically in this place, but you get some quick learners and some slower ones too. The travel study at SSU primarily occurs during third year, so while students are wrestling with their own self worth, and whether they really belong in a community, they go on the road with their class and go through these issues whilst seeing the world. There is enough newness and life that they tend to get by pretty well.

The forth stage is simply called Community, or Real Community. I'm told it takes time to get to this place, and that once achieved it makes a person pretty much ruined for any other kind of life. Real Community is the place that is the opposite of every problem with the other three stages. A person who exists in genuine community with his or her peers is not just living with them, or near them, but is actually interacting with them on a soul level. A person at this level does not avoid conflict when conflict is necessary. A person at this level does not feel a great pressure to defend themselves against possible impact from others. A person at this level is compassionate enough to want to help others, but unlike chaotic community, here they want to help them become more completely who they are meant to be, not just to stick them in a box of one's own ideals. When people live together in Real Community they recognize that they have something unique and beautiful to offer.
One day I was sitting behind a drum set while Gregg played guitar. Sarah danced, Mel sang. I drummed, and another Sarah played piano. It wasn't planned, it just happened. In the distance was another friend who wept quietly. She came over later to explain that she saw each of us with something to offer, and realized that she had nothing. Clearly this wasn't true. She had nothing else at the moment so she offered her tears. Sounds corny, but seriously, her heart was so moved to give something, and feeling like she couldn't contribute anything to the moment she wept. Trust me, that counts for something. The thing about Community is that you have to WANT to give something of yourself. The reason I am even writing this is that I realized that I WANT to contribute to people living in community, even those that I don't live with anymore, and this was something that I could do.

I am convinced that Jesus hopes that we will live in community. Even if we live in different towns, or neighborhoods, we converge in some way, and each of us has something of ourselves to give, if we are willing.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Winds of Change blow over my head...

"It is useless to think of what has not been as in opposition to what has been"-Hermann Hesse.
"Every road you did not choose to walk is as much apart of you as those that you did." -Jake

Today is the last day that residence is open at St. Stephen's University. This time last year I was packed up, heading for Ontario, and preparing for the unknown as a graduate of SSU. This year I watch as many of my friends drive away, and I feel happily unsettled. I am so proud of all of the snot-nosed punks who didn't know crap about crap, that leave here as strong, educated, spirit-led individuals capable of making it through this life doing remarkable things along the way. My path since graduation has been bizarre and amazing, and I am sure each of them will have similar adjectives to attach to their futures.
On a personal level I find it very difficult to face the idea of staying behind when everyone else goes. I recognize that even in remaining here I am moving forward in my life. I have never been known as a guy who faithfully completed everything he began. I have the blessing of many Apostolic gifts, but the converse is that I am persistently looking to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and am not great at doing THIS thing. By staying here I will get a great opportunity to keep doing what God has given me to do for this time. While visitting a friend in a neighboring town he outlined it thusly: Well, you gotta drive back to St. Stephen when you leave here, so you gotta take main street out to the highway, then turn left to get on the highway and head home that way. What if you were driving down Main street, got sick of waiting for the highway, and turned left onto some dirt road? You'd be heading the right direction, but chances are you would take way longer to get there in the long run. If you have your destination in mind, if you know where you're trying to go, take your time and go the right route. Be faithful to the end of Main street and you'l find your self at the highway. Try to rush through the Main street portion of your journey and Home will end up being further away than you thought.
This made a lot of sense to me. When I prayed for a dream, God gave me one. When I asked him for direction, this job is what he showed me. I don't want to be in a big huge hurry to throw that back in God's face. "Hey, thanks for the hope and the future, and thanks that you let me in on the plan of how to get there, but this part is getting a bit tiresome, so I'm just gonna declare myself ready for the next bit, and go ahead on my own. I'm sure it'll work out fine. Bye God, see you when you catch up to me." It's silly really. I can see that I have to finish here in God's time, not my own, but I still feel such a pressure to get moving. Someone gave me that wonderful advice "God only steers a moving ship". Wow, that sure reveals alot about what people think "moving" and "not moving" is. I wonder what God considers to be a "moving ship". In the big picture I think it is moving through life lessons, moving faithfully through the work you have been given. Everyone around me is moving to another town, and I am staying put. I don't think that necessarily implies that I am standing still. I would question that advice in a similar way if it was offered to someone else. I think that when we don't know what the heck to do, it can be true that the best first step is just to start something, anything really. And at least then there would be some momentum to go along with God's direction. So maybe the idea isn't totally cracked. For now I am going to stay the course.
It is probably the first time i have been successful in doing this, and it is made more difficult by watching everyone else turn left onto the highway, and knowing that my left turn isn't for a few more miles.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Mud-fights and Snow balls

The Sun is shining, What can be ill?
Yesterday afternoon a large number of SSU students were seen lurking with intent to spray a certain Jacob with a water hose. They had been hanging out on the lawn, and set up a "slip'N'slide" and a kiddy-pool. The hose in question was in the hands of one Leslie Beck, who crept up behind the warm, dry hero of our story. She sprayed him good, and all had a good laugh. The laughter ended momentarily when our hero realized that all of the stomping around and spraying water that these fine students had been doing had made a few mud puddles in the lawn. Jacob scooped up a huge fistfull of mud and slopped it all over Jeremiah who had laughed the loudest when Leslie sprayed Jacob. A giant mud fight ensued (photos to follow) and by the end of the afternoon there were twentyfive mudcovered punks who looked like cavemen/women.
After the mud had lost its appeal a few people noticed that there was still a huge pile of snow melting in the parking lot from weeks of plowing. The next thing we knew there was a snowball fight going on. It was the most insane thing I have seen in a long time. We were covered in mud, the weather was hot and sunny, 22 degrees Celsius, and we were hucking snowballs at each other.
Clearly the end of the semester is drawing nigh, and people have their fair share of frustrations, successes, joys and pains. We will be saying goodbye to each other for the summer, and even then, not everyone will make it back in the fall. For one afternoon none of that mattered, and we were all kids again, playing in the sun. Nothing deep today folks, no lengthy meditation on the value of suffering, or the human condition. No treatise on time, or infinity. Today I just wanted to let you know that the sun is shining, and all is well.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Way to A Man's Heart

I have lived in St. Stephen for just under five years. Last Saturday, for the first time, I went to a local "Stever's" house for a meal. My friend Tina and I have been getting to know each other a bit over the last few weeks, since she started coming to my movie watching small group. Well, I walked in to her place on Saturday to find her preparing what she found to be a suitable meal for having male company; Nachos and beer. Three different types of beer, to be exact. You see, this is clearly a woman who understands the way to a man's heart. I was stunned. I stopped for a second and then had to ask "So, what are you doing later? Like, for the rest of your life?"
I couldn't believe it. Only one week earlier it had been dinner at my place, and I made a meal consisting of rice, guava and asparagus, and chicken breast stuffed with salmon, thinking that surely this will be an impressive meal. Then she trumps my meal by serving Nachos and Beer. There is a point to my sharing all of this, but it must be veiled in another quick story.
A few weeks back there was a conference for youth in Atlantic Canada. People danced, waved flags, recieved prayer, were healed emotionally and physically, and it was a great time in my eyes. On the drive home a girl in my car said that she was shocked by the whole thing. I inquired further, and she said that the flag waving, and jumping around was a bit too wild to be proper Christian worship. This got me to thinking. Our most impressive music, and most powerful preaching, and all the smoke and lasers and dimmed lights, and dancing very well, basically all of our most vibrant energetic stuff is no more impressive to God than a few old ladies singing hymns in a tiny stone church in the North of England somewhere. I made a huge deal of making a great looking, sophisticated feast for my friend, believing that it would impress her, and she liked it very much. But she came back with Nachos and Beer and I was floored by how awesome it was. Simple, even rugged you might say, but I loved it. I think that with God our most sophisticated attempts at life and worship, and what have you, are just as childish as a bunch of crazed teens waving flags and stomping around. Metaphorically, a gourmet meal in our eyes is just as awesome and lovely to God as Nachos and a few cold ones. He is the God of the lowly, who humbled himself to redeem us. Funny how I sometimes think i have to look good, or have my life sorted out before I can really draw close to God. Thankfully I am getting a clearer picture of just how universally accepted and loved we all are, that I am.

Friday, April 08, 2005

More Fire? Yeesh!

Some of you may know that I am thinking about studying in England next fall. To give a little context to the proceeding blog, I think you should know that I love SSU, and I love St. Stephen in general. I barf out some negative stuff here, and I don’t apologize for it. But when you read what I have here, you should know that it comes from the place of being a small human being with a huge universe spread out in front of him, wondering where to go and what to do. It is a humbling feeling, and it is probably the fourth or fifth time I have come to this type of place in the last three years. I love my life, and I love God for giving it to me. Sometimes the feelings just well up and you have to express them somehow. I welcome each of you into my struggle, and if you would like to see some of what is going on for me during this season, please read on.
I am becoming increasingly aware that all of this, the longing for change, the desire to move on, is a familiar sensation, and that I was initially excited about having finally subdued it when I moved here, thinking that this was going to stick.
So I am thinking alot about my future, and my heart, and my goals, and my past, and my longings, and my reason. To be honest I feel like a cloud. Allow me to quote Hesse.
"O lovely, restless floating clouds! I was an ignorant child but I loved and contemplated them, little knowing that I too should go through life like a cloud, wandering, everywhere a stranger, floating between time and eternity."
I feel this way sometimes, as though there is no rest for me, no home for me. I crave it, but honestly do not feel as though I have found it yet. I love so many aspects life in the SSU community. I love the relationships, the work of the University in the lives of the students, and the broader support that I have found in this town. I see SSU as a place that prepares students to be passed the proverbial baton. In Hebrews we are told that since we have such a great cloud of witnesses that we should run the race with perseverance. In my view, SSU is not the place where people are passed the baton, and told to run with it. This is the place where the runners are trained, and when they leave after however long they stay people are ready to be given the responsibility of running the race. Folks who have not studied here, but encounter SSU students have commented that they are wise beyond their years (I think specifically of John from Guelph, who knows Dan Wilt, and Dan Livingston). I don't want to leave SSU until I have received all I had to receive, and have given all I had to give. But I come to work and often wonder how I once believed that this would be a position that used my strengths. I have had times here when I was able to flex my muscles, and do what I was good at. There have been times when I have done it well, and times when that has not been the case. It has been more of a struggle of late than it has ever been for me here. I don't do any of the things I love to do very regularly. I love to meet new people. I love to explain things to people, especially things that I am passionate about. I love to play music. I love to read and to learn. At work I type. and email. and coordinate. and plan. and strategize. and crunch numbers. I feel more like a salesman, and less like an Ambassador.
There is a Golden, perfect, flawless, spotless, complete expression of Jake in the eyes of my Father. He sees me, not as a bumbling sinful jerk, but as I one day shall be, when all things have been made new. When the corruptible is clothed in the incorruptible all pain and striving and hardship will cease. The difficulties I endure now will seem like nothing through eternal eyes. Really, it’s true. One day I will die. I will face the great change, that makes all other changing seem like nothing. And after that moment in time, there will be eternity. With the eyes of the finite I see all of my problems and I see that I only have one shot at this. I feel the pressure of making a decision that will open many doors, while completely eliminating many others. That is a terrifying concept for me right now. I have so much that I want to keep about the prospect of staying here, and so much I want to keep of the prospect of going away. I simply cannot have both. In the eyes of the finite that sucks. Through the eyes of the infinite it is like nothing. But it sure is hard right now.

I am a pretty happy guy, seriously. This is just the one thing that is difficult. There is so much that is good about life that is taking a bit of a backseat in this post. Please feel free to pray, and let me know if you feel strongly about anything I have said. Oh, and cheques are still welcome.