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.


At 11:34 a.m., Blogger Andrew G said...

BRILLIANT! There is lots of discussion at the mo' around the web (in Christian Blog circles) about community but I really appreciate your perspective.

As I was reading, I kept thinking, "yup, that was me... oh and that too, um... and that one as well."

I especially liked, "The thing about Community is that you have to WANT to give something of yourself." That's the ultimate truth and it's also the scariest truth. I'm finding myself entering the 4th stage (something I've only tasted once and I'm honestly petrified of).
It actually takes a lot of work to consciously leave your heart open to others in your community. It also takes a lot of work to let others keep their hearts open. BUT IT IS INCREDIBLY FREEING WHEN IT HAPPENS! Well done my friend; I pray you find yourself in that 4th stage soon.

At 12:56 p.m., Blogger Jake-M said...

andrew, thank you for your prayers. I identify with what your saying too, about being petrified. So much self doubt, anxiety and fear. I think that committment is the key. I am committed to being open to others. The truth is that I have as much to offer my peers as they have to offer me. Why is it so scary to believe that other people could actually need me? Thoughts?

At 9:52 p.m., Blogger wilsonian said...

Andrew sent me over... and I'm so glad that he did! Excellent post.

I have no idea really, where I fit in the scheme of things... I'll have to give it some thought.

As for your question here... the great fear is not actually believing that others need you. I think the great fear (okay- my great fear) is to leave yourself open and find that no one needs you.

Keep writing... I look forward to it!

At 5:55 p.m., Blogger beth said...

I looked at the length of this blog and thought, "oh my".
I'm glad I read on. Thought provoking and relevant to say the least. I agree on your comment below Andrew's. Deciding to be an open book (in a healthy way) with your friends and community is brave choice and sign of maturity. It is a committment that usually only Holy Spirit or an extremely close friend can keep you accountable to. This is because we can all fake it pretty well if we tried. You mentioned that. I relate. Good point.

It's so important we go back to the commandment to love our neighbour like we would want to be loved. Being open, sometimes being needy, being respectful, being a listener, an encourager...the list goes on. At the end of the day, Love never fails.

Good fruit can come out of all of those stages or seasons, you're right. We learn. We grow.

You're a treat, Jake! You're still very much an irriplaceable part of our community here. B:)

At 2:28 p.m., Blogger Sgt Steve said...

your a community

At 8:47 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now you could find Classes for a multitude of subjects on your area , like online quick book class and they could be found by visiting online quick book class

At 1:42 a.m., Blogger Andrew G said...


i just re-read this post on community (now more than a few months later...)

it's still as challenging and relevant. thank you for being honest.

I think you might want to reread it too!

At 2:53 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Vegetables are great, but the Heart Start Defibrillator is better (At saving your life, that is ;) ).

At 9:50 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a link about that on yesterday that made it sound like you would do better finding it online.

At 6:41 p.m., Blogger rainy dayz can be happy.. said...

Jake I have recently gotten the internet in my own house as opposed to the library which I have been using since sept. Anyways i like browsing blogs etc and saw your post on community. It just made sense, and I having lived in a varied amount of different communities at points of my life, have read alot about communities. I felt before I read your post that I didn't have anything left to learn re:communities. Maybe thats prideful, but maybe just honest. However your post made sense to me and opened my thoughts to ponder a fresh view on community. One which I'm going to take time to ponder on... jake you should write a book......... n


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