It is hard to believe that only two weeks ago I was traveling to Stony Point, New York to begin YAV orientation. Don’t get me wrong, the time has flown by, but we have covered so much ground that it is hard to fathom fitting it all into just 14 days. I’m not going to go into every detail, I simply want to focus on one of the aspects of this year that has already evolved significantly, and will certainly continue to take on new meaning: living in intentional Christian community.
To be honest, I didn’t have much of an idea of what this was when I began to look into the YAV program, or when I interviewed, or when I moved to Little Rock. So to help us both out let’s just start with the basics. I looked at a few definitions for intentional community and settled on one from Wikipedia (I know, I know, never use Wikipedia as a reference, I hope you can forgive me). An intentional community is defined as “a planned residential community designed from the start to have a high degree of social cohesion and teamwork. The members of an intentional community typically hold a common social, political, religious, or spiritual vision and often follow an alternative lifestyle.” As for the YAV program, our common vision is primarily that of the Christian faith (but also falls into some of those other categories due to the nature of the work we do) and our commitment to simple living serves as our “alternative lifestyle”. But what does this really mean in the day-to-day?
Good question. So far we have spent a lot of time talking and only a little time living in our new communities. One thing I know already though, living in intentional Christian community is completely unlike any other living situation I have ever experienced. And it is hard. Until now I have largely been able to live my life on my terms, seeking out only the communities that affirmed me, and avoiding the ones that questioned or challenged me. I was coping with disagreements or discomfort by disengaging until I felt I was safely back in control of myself and the situation.
The problem with this is that it protects ourselves at the cost of those around us, it encourages the polarized society we now find ourselves in, and it forces us to maintain superficial relationships, all because we are afraid of the vulnerability that comes with opening our lives up to others. In this time of electronic communication, I don’t think there is anything more urgent than learning what it means to be present and to trudge through discomfort, so that it may shape us to love more fully. I certainly have a lot to learn.
So what is intentional Christian community? It is signing up to show up, even for the people I don’t always like. It is staying engaged, even when I am ready to give up. It is caring, a lot, about those around me, and adjusting my actions accordingly. It is having the tough conversations, when it would be easier to stay silent. It is lessening my grip on the control I find so comforting. And it might just be the first step in practicing the agape love I am called to as a follower of Jesus Christ.
As my YAV year gets going there will be a lot I want to share, more than I will often cover in my blogs. From now on I will attach two more ways for you to keep up with what is going on day-to-day at the bottom of each post: “The Highlights” and “What I’m Reading”. “The Highlights” will be just what it implies, a handful of the most interesting, impactful, or entertaining things we/I have done since the last post. Keeping with the theme of straightforward names, “What I’m Reading” will give some insight into which texts are leading the wanderings of my mind, as well as helping me stay accountable to my commitment to read more this year.
- A week of orientation in Stony Point, NY with 60+ other YAVs that began with a lot of nerves and ended with new viewpoints and lifelong friends.
- A week of Ferncliff orientation learning some specifics about what this year has in store.
- 30 or so minutes spent chasing Penelope the rabbit around the farm/garden after she went rogue and escaped her pen.
- My first Arkansas Travelers minor league baseball game!
What I’m Reading:
- Devil in the White City -Eric Larson
- The Bean Trees – Barbara Kingsolver