29.9.12

{Community}

I'm supposed to be doing a little bit of a talk at a local church this weekend. As a part of a wider theme of community, they asked me to talk about "a week in the life of Stillwaters." I have a lot of thoughts about community, and being asked to talk for just 5 minutes on what it's like living in my particular community seemed to me to be very hard. Not because community is a complex or confusing thing; but because it is so simple. How does one explain what life is like living with other people, when its just...normal?

Stillwaters is a community in Wellington city who have committed to doing life together and creating a safe space for people to come to where they feel welcomed and hopefully, where they see Jesus. We try to live simply and outside of the individualistic consumer culture that is so pervasive in this generation. There are a few key things that we commit to; our main event is Friday night dinner at the Castle 
(the central and largest Stillwaters household). We talk, we cook and we eat together. On Sunday evenings we then have a church service. During this time we sing and share stories, we read the Bible and say a prayer, and we share communion. And on Thursdays we have a bible study and a music group. And we are committed to our neighbours.

It makes me laugh when people think that community is such a huge deal, so post-modern/revolutionary/activist. I thought that too; it took a few months living here until I hit the wall of my own idealism and realised that in fact, community isn't a shiny, beautiful utopia where I, in all my angelic perfection, selflessly serve others with my precious time and resources. It is in fact extraordinarily ordinary and quite messy - full of ordinary and broken people in an ordinary and broken world, coming to terms with their brokenness and being shocked at their own ordinariness when viewed in the light of the grace of God. And through that, other ordinary and broken people come and we have conversations with them and we eat with them. And somewhere in the midst of all that ordinariness and brokenness  Jesus turns up.

When I was preparing notes for this talk on Sunday, there were 10 people sitting in my lounge drinking tea. Some of us were watching Gilmore Girl reruns, some were at the sewing machine preparing bunting for Stillwaters' 21st celebrations. Some were writing essays and others were having extended conversations over crosswords about the meaning of ‘obfuscated.’ This is one kind of typical evening in the Castle. There are also the quiet evenings that are just as common where we read, or are out of the house, or escape to our bedrooms, or are at work, or just have dinner and a chat, and go to bed.

Given that each of us in the Castle have our own lives, I can really only talk about myself. And I don’t think there is anything particularly revolutionary about my life at Stillwaters. From Monday to Friday I wake up and am blessed enough to go to university. I study Development Studies and Māori Resource Management and every day we face issues of justice and injustice, less-than ideal race relations in Aotearoa and inequality in all aspects of society. I guess the difference between my classmates and I is that when I go home at the end of the day, I don’t get to leave these issues behind in an academic setting; instead, they are a reality that by choosing to live in community, I have chosen to live alongside.

Living in the Castle has unique moments; never knowing just how many people to set the table for on a Sunday night after dinner; having friends off the street knocking on the door for a cuppa at all sorts of times; extending your culinary tastes to include our Friday night speciality “sausage surprise."

But in this talk, I really want to emphasise one point; living in community isn’t radical. It’s not an amazing feat and it’s not a novel concept. Living in community isn’t really any different to living with a family; we may not be blood-related but we are whanau. That is the wonderful thing; our God is a god of reconciliation and of community. We are created to be with others in the deep, relational sense, to experience reconciliation to one another and to God. People have been living in community for thousands of years; it’s only in the last 300 that we have started to pursue this concept of the individual, and build walls around our possessions. Our lives in Stillwaters are exceedingly boring 90% of the time. We are merely a group of people responding to the call of Jesus to love others, trying to open up that path of reconciliation.

So in light of these thoughts, how do I describe a week in the life of Stillwaters? 


We have commitments that we are committed to. We cook meals, we go to university and work, we look after kids and we have cups of tea. We pray for the brokeness and violence in this city and we that everything will be well. We do it because in our own individual journeys we have each seen a glimpse of Jesus. When I see the side of God that proclaimed "blessed are the poor...blessed are the hungry...blessed are the meek", then I realise that I cannot change the world. But maybe God can change us, if we would just open ourselves to the concept of love and sharing with others.

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