This past weekend Taylor and I had a community “welcome night” in our neighborhood. I know that needs a bit more context, so let me explain:
We live in this thing called “intentional community.” I promise it’s not a cult (sort of, heh). In the neighborhood where I live, there are about 12(ish) different homes all located on the same block—we call ourselves Madison Square. Those of us living in Madison Square have committed to, well, “living intentionally.” This means we cook dinner together every week, we get together regularly for “porch night,” where we enjoy beverages and theological conversations, we “retreat” together, and you know, knock on each other’s door when we need something (like the vacuum I recently borrowed—thanks Bethany and Jacob!) Besides living in our own homes, we share a larger “common house,” where we meet to chat about community stuff like voting on new members (I promise we’re not a cult) and things of the sort.
Our community consists of everyone from single folks to married couples, PhD to first-year Master students, and families of up to 5 kiddos to (semi) newlyweds. We also have incredibly diverse people: from our very own Irish who brings home some solid whiskey from the motherland, to my favorite Filipina who puts together one hell of a Kamayan dinner, to our local Tennessean ethicist who teaches us how to pray like the monks at the French monastery he once lived at. We’re all Fuller students (or spouses of) and all represent different Christian denominations, from Episcopalian to Presbyterian to Anglican to non-denominational to Evangelical Covenant to still others in between. Madison Square (and really, just Fuller in general) is a hot-pot of cultures, theological beliefs, worship styles and backgrounds.
Besides the awesomeness of learning from such diverse people, living in a tight knit community is beautiful because you know your neighbors got your back. For example, our kittens have taken off running through the back door a couple times. Every time they’ve done this, Taylor and I have either been out of town or on our way to do something we couldn’t cancel. It never fails—within hours, our neighbors have banded together and caught the runaway kitten—all without our asking or even being home. They just care and it’s really wonderful.
(I can’t not mention those outside of Madison Square—friends who have sat in the car with me for hours over In-N-Out and Destiny’s Child’s Survivor, passionately reminding me that my voice matters and regardless of how hard it gets, I need to keep talking about the hard stuff.)
Anyways, back to “welcome night” this past weekend.
I was asked to share with the group about what the past year in community has meant to me. Thinking about this question naturally led me to reminisce on our journey to Southern California and Fuller—the beautiful, messy, yet unbelievably transformative journey the past year has been. One word kept coming to mind when I thought how I’d describe my and Taylor’s spiritual and emotional state when we first arrived: disillusionment.
I’ll quote Barbara Brown Taylor from her book, The Preaching Life to give you an idea of what I mean:
“Disillusionment is the loss of illusion — about ourselves, about the world, about God — and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for truth. Disillusioned, we come to understand that God does not conform to our expectations. We glimpse our own relative size in the universe and see that no human being can say who God should be or how God should act. We review our requirements of God and recognize them as our own fictions, our own frail shelters against the vast night sky. Disillusioned, we find out what is not true and are set free to seek what is — if we dare.”
When Taylor and I left New Orleans a little over a year ago, we left utterly and completely disillusioned. Sure, we left with a sense of freedom to finally ask those hard questions (that led us to leave in the first place), but honestly, we were terrified at what answers we’d find. Like Barbara Brown mentions, disillusionment is painful. When we got here, we arrived a bit bruised and battered; also kinda bitter, carrying a whole lot of baggage (how’s that for alliteration).
But as I thought about what I’d share to the group about this past year, I realized for the first time that those deep-purple bruises we arrived with have finally started to turn that weird, almost-healed-yellowish color. I couldn’t help but notice that the baggage we brought isn’t feeling so heavy anymore.
I wish I could say that healing has come from dedicated mornings of meditating on Scripture, praying the anger away, and doing all of the, you know, textbook “good Christian” stuff. Sure, those things have happened and have been beautiful and necessary… But most of the unpacking of my baggage has come from those random and not-so-spiritual moments chopping onions around a table while I vent to new friends about past grievances. Healing has met me on those late nights of drinking cheap wine while lamenting with others over police brutality, sexual abuse within the Church, and harmful theology that has gone unchecked for too long.
I’ve been reminded this past year that disillusionment isn’t so bad when Jesus meets you there through the patient faces of those people who listen without judgment and show just enough compassion to keep you from getting too cynical —and not getting cynical is important. I read a quote a few months ago (I don’t remember where or by whom so if you know please let me know) that said something along the lines of, “I’m not worried about getting angry. I’m worried about getting cynical. Because cynicism is anger without hope.”
And so I will say, if you find yourself disillusioned, surround yourself with people who allow you to be angry, who welcome you despite your baggage, and who provide just enough hope to keep you from getting cynical. But perhaps more importantly, be that person for someone else—someone who may need to experience the compassion and patience of Jesus.
And lastly, as obvious as this seems, I think we need the constant reminder that this happens most effectively through the beautiful gift of diversity within community. Why? Well, hope looks different for everyone, and you may just need that faith-shifting perspective to get you through another day.
Stepping out of our comfort zones to build relationships with those who may pray differently, practice communion differently, and think differently theologically will help us get to that healthy place of disillusionment where we glimpse our own relative size in the universe and see that no human being can say who God should be or how God should act and come to understand that God does not conform to our expectations.