Thursday, February 15, 2007

communitas [yup - i like big words]

i've added yet another meaningful term to my ongoing collection of giant/obscure terms: communitas.

see, i've been wrestling for some time with the idea of community. i believe that part of our christian identity is to both live in and help foster communities of faith and mutual accountability; i also believe that we are called to redeem the communities in which we live, celebrating the good things/people within them and honoring god by participating with our neighbors in love and acts of charity and mercy; but i really struggle with the way community is commonly conceived in churches in america today.

it just seems so wimpy sometimes [which, of course, is one of the reasons why we talk about community so much at westwinds, to try and give the term some real worth]

in the midst of my "community" struggle/theologue, i've become exposed to the term "communitas", which is being held up in some circles as an alterative to "community." communitas is community that simply happens while a collection of people are doing something; it is incidental community - community that occurs in the midst of a project, or short term missions trip, or mission-in-town, or in the random pairings of people who are aligned [initally] only for some other purpose. in contrast, "community" is seen as an end unto itself - i.e. "we all ought to be in community."

learning this, i've begun to realize that the true community i have often experienced in my life - and especially in my 12 years in ministry - is community that has happened in the midst of doing something else.

my closest friends are all people with whom i have been "on mission" with. we've built websites together, written music and plays, learned how to reinvent the wheel - and in the process, have become lifelong friends like no others i can think of.

victor turner - the brain behind communitas as an anthropological phenom - believes that the reason we experience this communitas is because projects/mission trips/special efforts require isolation from our regular lives and force us into experiences of liminality [wherein we are neither in our "old" lives, nor yet into the lives that await us at the end of our experiences/rituals]. in this light, all of my post-midnight excursions, my overseas pilgrimmages, my cd recordings and web development, my ecclesial redesigns, my imaginations and ruminations about christian spirituality, are that which have facilitated communitas.

which is why many attempts at "community" often feel useless

like we don't know who we can count on

or that the people who might be the greatest friends we'll ever have are simply just great people whom we know.

what's missing in much of american christianity is the vehicle that facilitates community

what's missing is our mission

our reason d'etre

and it ought to be our prime concern to recover it from the archives of our scriptures and our memory.

and not just so we can experience true community [read "communitas"]
but so we can do what the jerusalem church should have done right away
see, jesus commanded them to go out
but they got lazy and spent their time being busy sharing and giving and loving

until something horrific scattered them

in this way, their experience of "healthy community" became a kind of red herring
that actually distracted them from the teachings of jesus
instead of teaching them how to embody them

to come full circle - i feel like i've learned a lot about why i'm wired the way i am
about why i love projects
about why i love to create
because - in addition to the inherent beauty and value of creation and collaboration - in the midst of my "mission" i'm experiencing the intensity of formative relationships that will buoy my endurance during times of isolation, lonliness, and wonder.

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