Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Fractured Sense of Community

I am the kind of person who can handle being alone; I do my best thinking in solitary places absent of noise and distraction. However, I find that my purest joy comes from interaction with other people. There is something beautiful about sitting down with a close friend, sharing a cold drink and enjoying each other’s company. I love people, more often than not. Sure, there are knuckleheads and those who give me headaches, but in general I greatly enjoy people. Pick a topic, approach ten different people, and be amazed at the diversity of response. The uniqueness contained within human beings is fascinating and an exciting thing to see. Always keeps me on my toes. I never feel as complete as I do when I am in the presence of people I love and who love me. Even though I can function well in a solitary state, I am at my best with others.

My problem is one of community. Because I spend eight months of the year in one city and the other four back home, I have become used to a fractured sense of community. By jumping from one town to another and back again, I experience difficulty in plugging in with any church groups, service projects or communities. Yes, the community that we created abroad was and is fantastic. Yes, I greatly treasure the friendships from high school and from home that I have been able to maintain. Yes, my dorm community is greatly important to me. The problem is this: by being a part of so many communities, how do I give myself completely to any of them?

A perfect example is my home church, the Vineyard in Colerain, Ohio. The community of young adults contained within the church is strong, vibrant and something I want to be a part of. I have become very good friends with a number of the individuals in that community and I would not trade their friendships for anything. These are people I can discuss anything with, from problems with the church to what kind of bear is best. Sure, we disagree from time to time, but the conversation would never take place without the friendship we share. Unfortunately, I am only home for a few months of the year. When I come back for the summer, stepping into the Thursday night young adult small group blind seems somewhat unappealing. Yes, I know a good portion of the individuals in the group, and I know they would welcome me with open arms. Many have even expressed as much, and I greatly appreciate their openness, kindness and friendship. But I cannot give myself fully to the group, as a mere three months later I will be heading north again. I feel as if my temporary attendance shows a lack of commitment to the community, and that is a stigma I do not want attached to myself. Better not to show up at all than to do so with one foot out the door.

This idea of temporary commitment to a community influences the way I approach service as well. Because I am not in one place all year round, I am unable to make a full year’s worth of service impact; instead, I must settle for a “I am here for a month, but then I’ll be gone again” mentality. Thing is, I refuse to settle for that. I believe that service is more than ladling split pea in a soup kitchen. Yes, the soup kitchen has its place and is necessary, but if your “service” entails filling up bowls and nothing else, what kind of lasting impact are you making?

The kind of service I am drawn to is one of relationship building, personal impact and growth. I want to tutor an underprivileged child so that they might have a real chance at future success. I want to act as a big brother to someone who might have lost their father. I want to be in a place where the lonely might be able to look at me and know that someone cares about them. But if I only show up for a few months at a time and then disappear, will they really think I care, or will they think that I’m just fulfilling my quota of service? Am I serving for their sake, or for my own?

I long for the day when I am in a single place, settled in a city that I can devote myself to. I cannot wait to be able to join a community and be able to give it my complete attention. It would bring me great joy to be a real part of a church, rather than just a visitor passing through. My heart lingers for when I have both the time and capacity to devote twelve months of the year to serve a single community that needs to be loved. I want to be able to serve, to give of myself. But I refuse to do it half-heartedly. If I say I am going to serve, it will be with every ounce of my being. Until I am able to do that, I will wait.

And so on...

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