One Good Argument for Community

(“Community” is a buzz word, especially around Christian circles. For the sake of this post, I define it as consistent, intentional interaction with other like-minded people.)

Everyone wants community in the sense of a group of friends that bring fun and joy into your life. The problem is, as we age we settle in to our preferences, which include the kind of people we want to be around. If the friction is too high, we usually jump ship on the relationship, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. But it can get to the point where we don’t spend time with anyone except those who affirm us.

It terrifies me that being a know-it-all is something only other people can see. I’ve never met a know-it-all who sees that they are one. One good argument for being active in a community is that it helps prevent this invisible social disease.

Recently my wife made me aware of a behavior of mine that I didn’t know was happening. That’s putting it lightly. I frowned as she told me about what I was doing because I felt misunderstood, never intended to leave that impression, and couldn’t have possibly been doing what she claimed I was.

Then I realized, this isn’t the first time she’s told me about this. Not only that, other people at different times of my life have told me of this same tendency in me. It’s completely invisible to me.

In this moment I have a choice: trust myself, or trust the opinions of those around me. I decided to trust her and have since come to see that she was right. I would have never come to this realization, never even known the behavior was there, without her telling me.

That’s one good argument for community. Of course the topic is riddled with complexities. Good community has to be sincere. There has to be trust. You can’t rush it. It has to be organic. You can’t over-organize it. You can’t just go to the store and buy it. You can’t force it. Not just anyone can confront you. It’s a great ideal, but it’s sometimes hard to find.

But you can show up, play the long game, take an interest in others, and accept that friction is not only a necessary evil of community, it’s one of the goods. You need others to contradict you, to tell you something about yourself you disagree with, to misunderstand you and sit with you and work it out together.

We don’t know ourselves as well as we assume. We need community.

Don’t describe yourself like this.

At a group gathering where people took turns standing and introducing themselves, a man stood up and said something about himself I’ll never forget. “I’m a renaissance man. I play drums, I write, I build things, I…”

I can’t remember the rest because I was bored and stunned that he would describe himself that way.

Source: Urban Dictionary (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=renaissance%20man)

We all have those friends who make amazing things and rarely share them with the world. When we discover their talents long after we’ve met them, we’re usually amazed and say something like, “I had no idea you were a painter! Why don’t you talk about yourself more often?”

The truth is, we’re happier that they don’t. There’s something about us that loves to discover, loves for things to be hidden for us to find on our own. If everything is shoved in our face all at once, we lose interest.

What’s true about people’s talents is also true about their sorrows. When people have gone through difficult things and are noble and quiet about them, our compassion for them abounds. But if they put their woes on display and reiterate over and over how bad they have it—how much they’ve suffered, how hard it is, how no one else probably has it as bad as they do—our compassion evaporates in an instant.

Covered things allure us. Underplaying strengths is attractive. Overplaying pretty much anything is repulsive.

One more observation about the “renaissance man” from the gathering: he wasn’t great at any of the things he mentioned doing. He was a novice. There’s nothing wrong with being a novice, but I have noticed that people who are great are usually humble about their work. They are inspired by people ahead of them, they’ve seen what’s possible, and they know that they still have room to grow.

When I was a teenager and met someone who played guitar, I had a method of finding out immediately if they were good or not without them knowing what I was doing. I would simply ask, “Are you good?” If they responded immediately with a yes, it was almost certain that they weren’t.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

When I’m tempted to complain about the lines at the store and the effort required to plan a holiday meal, I wonder what those who have nothing would think.

When I’m tempted to feel down about not seeing family at the holidays, I wonder what mothers of prisoners would think.

When family drama weighs on my mind and I’m tempted to be angry, I wonder what orphans, both young and old, would think.

When the future feels uncertain and I’m tempted to fret, I wonder what those who were recently diagnosed with a terminal illness would think.

When I’m discouraged that Thanksgiving means being stuck in the same house we’ve been in since March, I wonder what those who make their beds under bridges would think.

When I’m upset that traditions won’t be kept the same way and that things won’t feel like they always have, I wonder what refugees who’ve been away from home for years would think. 

When I take the food for granted and rush through the meal like it’s a job, barely tasting it as I eat past the point of satisfaction, I wonder what those with no food on their table would think. My wife’s great-great-grandmother lived through the Great Depression and was thrilled to receive an orange for Christmas one year. She marveled that her parents could do it. She ate one slice per day and wrapped the rest in a handkerchief until it was gone.

When I feel stretched by the demands of parenting and impatiently demand personal space, I wonder what parents who have lost children would think.

Giving thanks lifts me out of myself and provides a much needed distance from my wants, my needs, my disappointments and sufferings. To give thanks I have to forget myself for a minute and look around me, not just at the pains and trials of others, but at the good things life has afforded me.

I’ll never forget the morning after the saddest day of my life. The first thing I saw was the head of my 16-month-old boy looking up over the pillows in the hotel room to see if we were sleeping across the room. Would you believe that under grief so heavy I could hardly breathe I started off the day with a laugh? In one of the worst moments of my life, goodness found a way in.

I don’t know why 2020 has been so tumultuous and dark. I don’t know when COVID will be a page in the history books instead of the daily headline. I don’t know how to cope with the weight of this world completely. 

But I do know that to be here—just to have life and be able to think and breathe and eat and speak and give and receive love—is more than I might have, and for that, I am grateful.

*

Lastly, there’s a prayer in the back of a prayer book that is relevant today. 

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us.

We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

A General Thanksgiving, The Anglican Book of Common Prayer

It’s Appalling How Little We Know

You go to the kitchen sink in the morning and turn on the faucet and water shoots out. What pushes it to your house? Can you say more than “the water processing plant”? Can you describe it intelligently? I can’t.

You sip coffee that probably floated across a pod of dolphins in the Atlantic a week ago while you were sleeping, and you browse social media at the table. How does that internet in your hand work? Can you describe it in detail? Could you break it down to an 8-year-old so they could understand? I can’t, and I’ve been using it for 20 years.

You drive to work in a car, and if you were pressed to do so you would be unable to teach me how the combustion engine works, how rubber is gathered for tires, or why exactly we need to change the oil every 3,000 miles. What does the oil even do?

Most trivial things like these can be studied and learned easily on the internet. While that’s awesome, it’s not really the point. The knowledge we hold in our heads at all times is minuscule. The top experts in the world hold only a little more knowledge in one specific field because they have devoted their lives to studying it.

All of this, and we constantly try to impress people and want to avoid looking stupid at all costs. But we’re all at least a little stupid! No one knows everything. 

The smartest people of all time hardly knew anything. They did prove it’s possible to learn a few incredible things. We can learn too, but never if we insist on that strange game of making impressions and saving face and acting like we know a lot.

99% of Relationship Problems Would be Solved If…

Each person took the time to set their mind completely on the other person.

This is so simple, so self-proving, yet so hard for us to do. We are hard-wired to do the opposite. Typically the best we do is throw the other person a token consideration and then double down on proving our own point.

Failing to learn and value the desires of other people is the reason…

  • …many men are unsuccessful in approaching women. They’re trying to get her attention instead of giving it from the heart.
  • …many job interviews fail. People try to sell themselves instead of learning how to make their employer’s life easier.
  • …many parents have no relationship with their children. They haven’t taken the time to look at the world through their eyes.

It’s also the reason some fast food workers will interrupt you for a clarification that they would have gotten had they not interrupted.

It’s simple; it’s not easy. It takes a massive amount of humility and vulnerability, but it works wonders in almost every situation you can imagine.