I love you all, but only to a point.
Although the other dimensions of Francis’ life so far – poverty, peacemaking, creation – are starkly challenging yardsticks, his version of community is actually the hardest for me to write about. That’s because, with those others, the gap between his lived example and the world we inhabit is so absurd that it’s difficult to see how I can even begin to get there from here.
Community, though, is a thing I already talk up. Social isolation and loneliness and the need for social connection are themes you probably pick up from me pretty quickly. Communitarian policy solutions that seek to actualize our mutual belonging, rather than relying on the impersonal market or impersonal government, are often my faves.
So while the other dimensions of Francis’ life show me to be a failure, his radical community reveals that I’m a fraud.
As Linus once said, I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand.
Actually, that’s not true. I do love people. I have embraced the spiritual practice of trying to encounter each person, not as an extra in my story but the protagonist of their own. I am slowly growing in empathy by learning to support many of you in ongoing prayer. I have even learned that it’s OK to let you all return the favor once in a while, although I still resist the difficult grace of the passive voice, as I called it some years ago.
A lesson I learned from a student of class culture, Dr. Ruby Payne, is that while middle-class Americans count on possessions, poor people count on relationships. And Francis and his brothers practiced the radical community of the poor. They slept in the same shoddy stable together, worked together to provide for each other’s needs, took care of each other in sickness, begged together, prayed together, grew together. That all-in vulnerability reflects Dr. Payne’s when-all-you-have-is-each-otherness, but it isn’t just a bond of material necessity; it’s an essential part of Francis’ spirituality as well. Like the first apostles in Acts who shared everything or the challenge once posed by evangelical pastor and author Francis Chan to live in a community that served as each other’s sole insurance policy, Francis and his brothers embodied love through complete interdependence.
And I think I’ll pass. Or at least set a size limit on my radical community of 2. Maybe 3.
I am blessed with a partner in the vocation of marriage with whom I have so much in common that I can commit to complete vulnerability. While our daughter makes the transition into young adulthood, we are blessed to enjoy keeping her in our tight circle. I can say with assurance that the experience of total mutual dependence and complete vulnerability is the biggest catalyst for growth and the closest model to the life of the divine that I have to go on.
Beyond those two, though, I treasure the ability to share life together, but I also need to be able to smile kindly and close the door on you and say goodnight. (Some sooner than others.)
I can blame it on introversion, or a good-fences-make-good-neighbors ethos, or the culture. I can point to friendships that rusted away and communities that dissolve from disuse as the excuse for why I am not all in on radical community.
But the reality is, more than poverty and peacemaking and creation, I *could* embrace radical community. I just don’t.
Leave a Reply