Intentional Community

We recently announced we are beginning a very small intentional community in October when our friend Melinda moves in with us. In the coming months Melinda and I (and Lyndie if we can peel her away from Pinterest) will be writing a great deal about our thoughts and preparations for this transition. Today I’m defining what intentional community even means.

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Intentional community is one of the few buzzphrases of the twenty-first century church that I think actually succeeds in representing the reality is sets out to. So much of the emergent church’s lexicon seems to be too clever or original for its own good, and the ideas represented get tripped up by the awkwardness of the language. Words like progressive and missional always bug me because they imply that anyone who disagrees with the positions of the group claiming those words could not possibly be described by them. The phrase intentional community however is theologically neutral, and the practice it describes has a long and diverse history within the global church.

To live in intentional community is to be purposeful about giving and receiving the benefits of community with a small group of friends. Basically, it means to live life together. In the last several decades within the Christian context it has meant that a small group of Christians live together or in close proximity and take care of each other, sharing friendship, honesty, spiritual practices, resources, meals and daily tasks, and support for all areas of life. An intentional community is a chosen family, a group of people you are committing to loving well.

This practice is far from new. The description of the young churches in the New Testament show arrangements very similar to this in which believers met in houses, shared meals and funds, and took care of each other. Benedictine monastic communities have lived in a similar manner for 1,500 years. And like with so many other ancient forms of Christian spirituality, the practice has seen a resurgence in popularity over the last few decades as young Christ followers seek a more authentic way of living the ways of Jesus than what they are typically offered in their churches.

I don’t want anyone to hear me saying churches are not places where a person can find community. They certainly can be. I have had many wonderful experiences of friendship and trust in church settings. One thing I’ve noticed though is that it can be very easy to exist within a church without this. The fault for this may lie more with the environment of a given church or it may lie more in my own heart, but the fact is it can be very easy to just smile on a Sunday morning and drift through a service without seeing or being seen, to offer a kind of honesty during a small group meeting that looks really vulnerable but is actually far from the true hurts and joys of my heart. But in living on a daily and weekly basis with a specific group of people who see you at your best and your worst, it is difficult to maintain complacency, difficult to project a facade of okay-ness you don’t actually feel.

An intentional community is not a cult. It is not a harem. It is not a revolutionary group. It is not anything weird at all, in fact. It is friends choosing to live as family. It is people who share the same desire for authentic spiritual life living in such a way that they can help one another along on that path. It is followers of Jesus committing to hold each other up on good days and bad days. Not just happy Sundays and sad Sundays, but on the Tuesdays when you’re cussing about your boss, the Thursdays when you really need someone to listen to this song you just heard because this one line hit you right in the chest, the days when your children’s behavior is making you really understand abusive parents better, the days and days of tedium when there seems to be far more laundry to fold than profound observations about God to contemplate, the nights when God suddenly shows up in a conversation after four beers, and no one has to drive away afterwards.

Intentional community is definitely not something new we’ve come up with. It’s been around a long time, in a lot of different settings. It isn’t even a new idea in our own lives, as we’ve been reading and discussing it for years. But it is new to us in practice, which means we’re learning as we go, and there will be a lot of trial and error. Join us as we journey toward a better understanding of community. And if you’re ever in Greenville, you’re welcome at our table.

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Next Monday we’ll be posting an FAQ about our specific plans for intentional community.

Posted in Church, Faith, Intentional Community | 2 Comments

Rest

Readers, I need to ask for some grace.

The last couple weeks have been exhausting for me. Everything here is fine – marriage, parenting, health, friendships, plans – everything is good. But a friend is hurting, and I’m tired, and I’ve had no emotional energy to throw into blog posts this week, and probably not next week either. If I feel like I can do one, I will, but it doesn’t look likely.

Please understand this is a very temporary break, and I intend to be back on my daily blogging schedule on Monday, April 9. I’m planning on posting the promised explanation of intentional community on that date. Shan will have a guest post for us that week as well, and in the following weeks Melinda will be working into the schedule also.

Life is good, but it’s tiring, and leaves us daily in need of grace. I know I will be shown it here. Peace of Christ to you.

Posted in Blog Housekeeping | 4 Comments

I’m almost sorry about this one

I want the hours back I’ve spent
chasing words through the crawlspace under my house,
like rodents my cat won’t catch.
There is a poetry to dirt under your nails
when it comes from the garden,
from hours in evening sun,
palms stained green from pulling weeds,
but none such lyricism to the choking filth
of basement dust that comes out in sneezes two days later,
and if you win
you have a dead rat to show for it.

Some men (and god, yes, some women) fetch their dripping words
from under lily pads and in the bends of streams
and hold them up proudly by the mouth for cameras,
hooks dangling from the corner,
all smiles as they say
something clever about patience.
Their hands stink of the words for days
but their faces beam and they earned the stink
on the water, under the sky,
and they sit that night around fires
and tell stories of the silver, flitting words
as though they could keep them alive out in the dry air.

Words are hideous things when we can’t mean them.
(When we must give them anyway.)
I am a spelunker of words,
grabbing them by tails
and hauling them out of the gravel and joists,
as often dumping them quietly behind the barn
as showing them to the horrified household.
They are equally dreadful when we mean them and can’t give them,
when they find a hollow wall we didn’t think to check
between the breezeway and the bathroom,
and stay there till they die,
brilliant little survivors who still need a way to eat,
and ruin the air for months till they’re forgotten.

Posted in Poetry, Writing | 1 Comment

Vintage Kettle: Fringe

Hey friends. I promised a post today on intentional community. You won’t be getting it today. For now I’m planning on posting it Thursday. Everything is fine here, just a tiring weekend that didn’t get the memo about the blog post I needed to write.

Today I’m pulling an old one out of the archives for you. This posted originally in November, 2010. It’s poignant to look back on now and see what the last year and a half has held, to see the stirrings that were already present, to see what has and hasn’t changed. Enjoy.

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There was a time when I didn’t like children, and then some exceptional ones taught me how, and then I wanted more than I could safely carry. By the method Lyndie and I were taking we could only adopt one at a time, but we could dream about as many as we wanted, and doing so was stressing us out subliminally. We didn’t yet have the first one in our arms and we were already worrying over the shape the next adoption would take, and how many there would be. Then lying in bed late one night Lyndie spoke truth into our circus plans. “You know, we might just be one child kind of people. Either way, we need to be for now.” Cart, meet horse.

Your first baby is an eight pound universe. There might be others out there, but it can’t be proven. Yours is the only one you’re aware of. Ours, as it turns out, was 8 months old and 15 lbs, give or take a mashed up banana, but our small blue planet moved around her and its tides obeyed her gravity. When I’d rock her to sleep she’d stare at me with eyes like liquid coal and I’d whisper all I knew from Mueller, Blake, Dickinson, Barrett Browning, Byron, Millay, anything I could remember on any given night. I probably could have read her microwave recipes and gotten her to sleep, but the poetry reassured me, if not her. What reassured her was what always calms us when words don’t mean anything yet – skin, heartbeat, eyes, breath, voice. Still, I hoped she would reach up and claim those lines for herself – she walked in beauty like the night long before she could walk.

I don’t have to rock her to sleep anymore, or even stay in the room. We sing some songs, pray, sing a couple more, and then kiss goodnight. She calls out softly “Te amo” when I’m half way down the stairs, and I call it back with a smile she can’t see. She falls asleep on her own. She’s the age now when most couples would be thinking about having another child. I think my wife is getting there. I’m still not, and I’m not sure what that means. Part of me can’t help but wonder if Lyndie was more right than she thought that night several years ago. We might just be one child kind of people. If I’m honest, I know the biggest thing that compels me to have another is my belief in the need and power of adoption, not any personal desire to be a father of two. I rather like being the father of one. And I have no idea what direction our lives will take in the next few years.

Will we stay in our house; will we stay in our church; will we stay in our town. These are the questions that float through the air at our home every month or so, like dust getting pounded out of couch cushions. They resettle and we forget them again for a while. There is a degree to which we will probably always feel like square pegs trying to fit into round holes here, and I imagine our daughter will feel this too as she gets older. Non-conformist, bohemian, liberal, artist – they’re about the most useless, or at least most frustrating, things to try to be in a small Midwestern town. I can’t promise Yosi will be any of those things, but I know her parents, so there’s a chance. And she’s not white, and our town is, pervasively. Something like 97%. So there’s that, for whatever you take it for. She’ll not have the easiest time of it, but it will give her material, should she ever choose to use it.

Sometimes the sky looks like woodsmoke and we walk down the sidewalk between the brick buildings downtown in our thrift store finest with our funky-haired darling in between us and we feel poetic as hell. The rest of the time we listen to good music at home in the evenings and try to be everything to each other. Every few months good friends will come from out of town and those few from in town will come out of hiding and we’ll stay up too late, drinking all from one bottle and laughing at obscure film references and when Lyndie and I finally go to bed we talk about communal living like we talk about traveling Europe. We live always on the agitated fringe of contentment. We’re not all that daring, but it doesn’t take much here.

I said last week that to be a writer is to spend your life staring inappropriately, and I wonder if sometimes we do it hoping someone will stare back. We love our church, but we so often feel we’re the only ones staring, the only ones who want…whatever it is she and I seemed doomed or blessed to spend our lives looking for. I don’t have multi-colored hair anymore, but I still don’t feel tamed, and I don’t want those around me tamed either. Lyndie said it well once: “Hoping to meet a kindred soul is like saying, ‘Look, we’re wearing leopard print under here!’ to everyone who might possibly understand.”

This all sounds hopelessly adolescent, and we are far from lonely, and (I think) far from snobbish. We don’t need people to look, act, think, recreate, eat, drink, listen or watch exactly like us. I have many real and sacred friends who listen to music I hate and decorate their houses in hues I pretend don’t exist and hold political and theological beliefs diametrically opposite our own, yet are friends of the heart. And this is beautiful. This is one of my favorite things about the true Church, and about all humans when we’re open to love. At the core our needs are the same. But how we desire and receive those needs…well, there’s the rub.

How the hell did I get here from that first paragraph? I guess I just can’t think of my daughter without thinking of the environment she’ll grow up in. I want her to know beauty. I want her to have fun without having to spend money. I want her to hold her doctrinal convictions with an open hand. I want her to grow up around people of varied ethnicities and religions. I want her to remember her parents’ strange and wonderful friends. I want her to see into people, to hear them. I want her to have an insatiable thirst for truth, and a courage to question how its accepted forms were arrived upon. I want her to learn how to be comfortable with all kinds of people, and how to be content with her own company. I want her to experience beauty so ineffable it fills her to brimming, and to become addicted to that consummation of the heart. And in all of this I wonder how to pull it off in little old Greenville, Ohio. If you’re reading this, I think you probably understand.

Posted in Church, Faith, Friendship, Intentional Community, Parenting, Training Up a Child | 2 Comments

Friday TEN: my favorite search results from the last month

Two things you need to know about these search results before you read them: 1) Every single one of them is real and unaltered. Each one of them was typed by a real human being somewhere, and somehow their search engine led them to my blog. 2) These are just from the last 30 days. I could do one of these posts every month. People are neat.

1. biracial men are best – I knew I would regret this assertion when I put it in that one post. Wait, what?

2. feminism “pretending to be” – Hey! Take that back.

3. married 10 years desperately want out husband don’t work i work hard i provide want sweet man that works – I am fully aware that laughing about this makes me a bad person.

4. life is like a frozen river + god – I really, really need to get this put on a t-shirt. I would make up a different explanation for every single person who asked.

5. I’m looking forward to…good answers – Get in line, pal. I hope you brought a sleeping bag.

6. redheads get asked inappropriate questions - The question is, do you give inappropriate answers? Wait, was that another inappropriate question? Gosh, you were right!

7. how should a 29 year old act – I end up with this search result every single month.

8. do conservatives want transracial adoption because its cheaper than fostering? – I…I just…There are so many things wrong here, I don’t know where to start. Apostrophe rules, though the least troubling, would be as good a place as any.

9. what is a word that means safe place – This has made me smile every single time I’ve seen it, and for absolutely no good reason I can explain.

10. All the search results I can’t even type here because they’re so impressively offensive – For real. And here’s the thing – I expect people to search for these. I’m not naive. But how on earth did these searches get them to my blog? Thanks, internet! I owe you one.

Posted in Humor, Top Tuesdays / Friday Five | 7 Comments

Joining the Glasses Club

Yosi got her very first pair of prescription glasses yesterday. She's very proud of them. She hasn't even broken them yet.

Posted in Adventures in Parenting, Parenting | 6 Comments

Kick off

I announced last month Melinda will be moving here in October to live with our family and start an intentional community with us. And after a month of not saying anything more about it, it’s time to start laying out our plans, answering your questions, and explaining more about the crazy path we’re embracing in the name of love, community, truth, friendship, beauty, grace, vulnerability and the God who has modeled all of them to us through Jesus.

Over the coming months you’ll be hearing more about these plans than you probably ever wanted to know. There will be discussions of books and web resources we’ve learned from during this process, interviews with people who have been involved in similar projects, issues we’ve worked through in preparation, stories of how this idea evolved and became a plan, and a lot of information about what it is we’re actually planning on doing. Melinda will be here on the blog regularly to help me out with all of this.

One of the questions I was asked about several times when I made the initial announcement was (and I’m paraphrasing) What in god’s name is intentional community? We’ll be answering that in a post at the beginning of next week. Also next week, we’ll be posting an FAQ that should address a number of the questions and concerns that have been posed to us since we started talking about this publicly. If you have questions you want answered that you didn’t get to ask on the original post, feel free to ask them in the comments here and we’ll make every effort to answer them.

We’re very excited to be moving forward on this journey. We’re looking forward to your support and questions and curiousity and – as long as you’re nice about it – criticism during the process. It’s a crazy idea, we’re well aware. But that suits us just fine.

Posted in Church, Faith, Intentional Community | 8 Comments