Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Testimony of Community

The enclosed is a rough draft of a new submission. By the time the editor gets hold of it, it probably won't look like this. Still, I share the content with you, hoping it will resonate with my readers. For those of you who spend much time organizing, planning, and otherwise pondering how to build lasting, strong groups of people, I direct this post specifically to you. I doubt our experiences are that uncommon, if you set the name and concept aside.

Community is often one of the forgotten Testimonies. As Friends, our calling card to the rest of the world is usually Peace. Accordingly, the Peace Testimony often receives a disproportionate amount of our attention. Though there will always be wars and rumors of wars, it is also important that we focus on ourselves as a Beloved Community. Despite the advent of the internet and the prevalence of electronic communication, face to face interaction with other Friends has never ceased to be important. To me, the most meaningful aspects of being Quaker are the interpersonal relationships I have formed with other Friends.

Here in Washington, DC, the need for real Community is palpable and perceptible. A city of hard working, overachieving transplants, everyone a person encounters seems to hail from somewhere else. This often means that cliques or in-crowds are in shorter supply than might be true in other cities. Without years for people to establish long-term friendships and relationships, social networks are tenuous and often fragmentary. After an often-exhausting workweek, sharing an hour or two with Friends keeps the focus on what really matters. Due to the prevalent culture, drawing that distinction can be more challenging here than in any other city in the country.

DC Friends often find it hard to strike the proper balance between spiritual life and vocational demands. Washington is a highly competitive place full of the highly driven and highly intelligent. The lessons taught are often in contradiction to basic virtues like humility, cooperation, and servant-led leadership. Criticism aside, Washington is very different from the way it is often portrayed in the media or by others in the rest of the country. Its flaws are well documented, but its strengths are not always given full weight. As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

DC is also a very transient city. Many view it as simply another stopover on a lengthy career journey. Young Adult Friends living in Washington have often lived in several other cities before reaching the age of 30. Community is complicated by the difficulty in retaining membership and participation. Maintaining continuity is one of the foremost challenges towards leadership and congregational stability. Washington can be a revolving door of sorts, and one either embraces that reality or laments it. Coordinating schedules and attracting Friends to activities even after an exhausting workday complicates fellowship.

Young Adult Friends in DC can be a contradiction in terms. Desiring Community the most, they are often the least able to sustain it in practice. While the entire area is transient enough by itself, young adults are even more inclined to move and relocate. One simply has to get used to it. Devising successful strategies to pull Young Adult Friends together requires a sense of dexterity and a willingness to experiment. It also means listening to others and taking into account their suggestions. Eventually, everyone manages to end up on the same page. No one ever said Community was easy.

Community is quite a bit of work regardless of where one lives. In increasingly individualistic times, finding commonality between diverse interests and differing life experiences is difficult. Some Friends have embraced Quakerism after a long search. This was my particular experience as well. Some are still processing and unpacking prior negative experiences of Community. Others are classic seekers, skeptics at heart, listening for a reason to really believe. The Spirit guides for those willing to surrender to God. Our journeys differ, but our needs are similar.

Sometimes we form Community organically, without a stated intent. While in the moment, our hearts join together as one. Should we share a laugh or a meaningful Worship, we are reminded of what Jesus reminded us. “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” In those times, where we work, where we might be in two years, the sum total of our fears and reservations, our best intentions, and our expectations of Community are subordinate. These are moments of sublime beauty and grace.

I have discovered that the fear of failure, rather than any other stumbling block is the most common obstacle to forming Community. God tests us to spread our wings and realize our full potential. However, ultimately, should our hearts and intentions be pure, his ways succeed. Embracing the mystery without understanding the final resolution typifies our relationship with the Divine. This routinely runs contrary to how we believe and comprehend as individuals. In building a common vision, trusting God cannot be underemphasized. Amazing, profound, miraculous things take shape then.

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