Authentic Community

Do you know one of the main ways that a trained agent spots a counterfeit bill?

By studying a real bill so thoroughly, with such passion, that they know it extraordinarily well. When you have memorized an original to the extent that you know it, truly know it… you can spot an imposter.

I think this idea can be applied to many different areas, but I’m thinking about it in terms of Authentic Community.

I can remember moving to a new town and visiting church after church to try to find a community where we would fit, where we could raise our children, where it felt like we could stand arm in arm with folks throughout this life. It was surprisingly difficult! Everyone was invariably nice to our faces and interested in the surface conversations. But we attended one church every Sunday for more than a year… and then left the church when, sometime around the 14th month, the pastor asked us if we were first-time visitors.

It wasn’t a large church. It didn’t feel like authentic community.

Thirteen years ago, during the time we were dating, engaged, newly married, and pregnant with our first child, we attended a Bible Study with a group of people in similar life stages. I continue to hold that group up as a standard for a healthy community. We laughed together, spent time together, fought together, and showed up for one another when we moved houses, needed yard work, or had marital conflicts.

Over time many of the families moved to different states. But guess what? We’re attending a marriage conference with one of those couples this weekend. And the other families? We still love each other deeply even though our geography makes day to day living more challenging.

We invested in each other, and, though we are very different, we’ve chosen to live life, hard, with one another through all the stuff.

Authentic.

Community.

I look at the culture I’m immersed within and I see so many areas of dysfunction. We say that we are in different interest communities – the hiking community, the kombucha community, the crochet community, the dirt bike racing community – but those interests are often one-sided and don’t encompass the entirety of our human experience.

We don’t often see authentic community. We see counterfeits – things that look kind of like the real thing when you squint, but it’s not actually the real thing when you taste it.

Authentic community says, “Come over to my house for a spell – I’ll leave the laundry on the sofa while we talk.”

Or maybe, “I know your mom has dementia and it must be hard to speak about it to people. Do you have any words that need to come out, even if they’re ugly? I’ll listen and be privileged to hear you without judging you or holding it against you later.”

Sometimes authentic community says, “I’m in a messy spot and I know our relationship isn’t 50/50 right now. Thank you for loving me… despite all the garbage… and I’ll be here for you when you hit your rock bottom as well. I choose you.”

We know that type of community exists because of our connection to the Trinity. Because we have a Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing in perfect unity, we have an inkling and sense that such community can be experienced today.

But it’s really hard. We sometimes try for it, but then find that the people we try to meet there have a different concept of community. Then we feel empty, like someone who took a bite of what they thought was cake yet ended up with Styrofoam.

I mentioned in an earlier post that there are five components of healthy communities. Those components are: Authentic, Inclusive, Outward Focused, Accepting, Supportive,  and Accountable.

How do you create an Authentic Community?

Here are some ideas I’m practicing:

Intentionality. Instead of asking questions about how busy people have been lately, what if we asked heart questions? Things like:

  • What are you praying about lately?
  • How has God been visible to you?
  • Where have you been serving others lately?
  • Do you feel you’re using all of your spiritual gifts right now?
  • How can I pray for you?

Hospitality. I have adored Henri Nouwen’s concept of hospitality:

“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

Isn’t that just beautiful?! We can consider each person we encounter and offer them hospitality, an invitation into shared community, that will be life changing for both of us. Isn’t that amazing?

Vulnerability. We are in a performance oriented culture, we want to believe we have it together, that our to-do list is getting checked off, and that “We be small but fierce.” My entire perspective on vulnerability changed when I saw Brene Brown’s TED talk The Power of Vulnerability. Watch it. It’s life changing.

If we are serious about wanting communities, we need to be willing to put ourselves out there to try to make them happen. It’s not enough to accept a counterfeit, we need to do everything we can to make it real.

It’s possible!

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