catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 17 :: 2009.09.04 — 2009.09.17


Isolation in community

Christian community is a strange animal.  With Acts 2 looming somewhere in the distance, every community admits that it falls short in one way or another.  However, each community also tends to believe that it does have it figured out on at least one point.

“We’re great with parenting!”

“We understand the value of local food and economy!”

“We pursue the monastic with integrity!”

…Each tribe priding itself on what it gets right and therein lie the seeds of isolation.

Unless we rally around Jesus, we begin to offer one thing and deliver another.  Community with strings attached, however well meaning, is tough to swallow.  It will alienate the visitor as the rules of the community are obvious and yet often impossible to achieve.  Members will also feel estranged as they hit invisible walls time and time again.

Isolation within community hurts.  When one is in the midst of this phenomenon, we start looking for what went wrong, usually starting with ourselves.  What am I missing?  What am I not doing?  What don’t I understand?  The subtle rules in community life can become as integral to core identity as the Sermon on the Mount.  When you can’t break through into the heart of a group, you know you are missing the mark.  You can’t put a finger on why, and you get damn tired trying to figure it out.

The next reasonable option for those trying to discern the source of isolation is to target everyone else.  What’s wrong with them, the other people you commune with and your leaders?  This kind of searching is difficult for obvious reasons: judgment, further isolation and the cylindrical nature of trying to solve the equation. 

Truth is, it’s easier to create a social club that only has echoes of His heart.  But when a sincere follower winds up in such a club, disillusionment is close at his or her heels.  The Church needs those who are disillusioned for the right reasons.  Can we offer community that delivers what it promises?  I’m not sure.  Everyone has tried and is trying to do just that.  Besides it may just embody the new Christian cliché, “If you find the perfect church, don’t join or you’ll screw it up!”

Maybe.  But a lot of water could pass under the bridge based on that maxim.  There are levels of health.  There are levels of embracing Jesus and the things He cares about.  Speaking the truth about the trends in communities shouldn’t immediately summon clichés, no matter how recently they were coined.

Community is a good thing.  Community falls short.  There are lessons to be learned when we can’t break through, deep lessons about the friendship of Jesus when we feel isolated.  Isolation reveals in a new way the truth that we’re never entirely alone.  But that isn’t our ultimate lesson to learn.  We aren’t called to make it on our own.  Eventually we must find our way out of those places and believe that God has more for us as a part of a community in which He is at the center.

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