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Archive for January, 2009

Been thinking about freedom a lot lately.  Freedom of speech.  Freedom of religion.  Freedom to exercise my rights to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  For about a year now I’ve been living in two alternate realities when it comes to freedom.  Both come from ideas I learned in recovery.  Often I’ve heard people say that as time goes on and they are sober longer, the road gets narrower.  From this standpoint, the perception of freedom is minimal.  But in the Big Book, Bill Wilson also writes that, as we begin to have a spiritual experience, “We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.”

But before I get into dissecting this delightful paradox, I also want to talk about “rights.”  Specifically inalienable rights.  My friend Diana Christian, who writes wonderful books about living in community, has pointed out time and time again that rights always come attached to responsibilities, and that the two are in direct proportion.  That is to say, increased responsibility is the road to having more rights.  To me, this is the basis for accountability.  People come to Koinonia all the time and want to excercise their rights, but in the same breath they want to be free to do what they want to do.  They do not expect to be asked to show up on time, to attend meetings when they would rather be napping or playing or working, to have to clean up after themselves even more than they did before they came here…the list of inconveniences could go on.  But unless all of us agree to be accountable to one another, that is to be responsible to our fellow community members, we will drown in petty conflict and temper tantrums, and the fabric of our community will come unraveled.

This brings me back to the highway, but before getting on the highway we must travel for a moment on the narrow road.  As I become more accountable to more people, it seems at first glance that I have fewer choices.  I have to be in the office to do my job.  I need to show up when I say I’ll be there.  I need to complete my work in a timely fashion.  I agree to prepare ahead of time when I’ve signed up for devotions.  I can’t just leave my things laying all over the office, or around my yard, or in a community vehicle, because it inconveniences others when I do so.  Hmm, somehow life in community is starting to seem constrictive, like I’m even less free here than when I worked in corporate America and had all kinds of bills to pay.

But then I realize that having more responsibility happens because I truly care about the other people here.  If I’ve upset another person here, it matters and I try to make it right if at all possible.  If I fail to show up when I have devotions or when I said I’d facilitate a meeting, no one is going to hold it over my head or threaten me with punishment.  But I will have to face the people I failed in the morning, in the evening, at community lunches and potlucks.  And because I care about these people, the status of our relationships matter.  I literally will not survive here if I go to bed angry too many times in a row.  If I fail to notice or acknowledge the way my actions are affecting others, I’m actively driving them away and breaking apart the very community that I came here to be a part of, and that I’ve pledged to stay here to sustain.

I know now more than ever that I am not entitled to anything.  I started writing this post three weeks ago, and did not have an ending for it until I watched the inaguration speech today.  Three weeks ago I started with the title “Inalienable Rights.”  Today when Obama touched on “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I realized that we are coming at our rights from the wrong angle.  None of these are our birth-rights, no matter what country we were born in.  Rather, they are gifts offered to us through God’s grace, and to think that we are entitled is to refuse God’s love for us.  It blocks us from real freedom in Christ, from our birth-gifts.

But, thank God, as we venture into a way of life where accountability serves as our lens, as Bill Wilson puts it, “We feel we are on the broad highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous, p 75) I believe he means that when we embrace a spiritual way of living and agree to be accountable to each other before God, an immense freedom descends upon us.  More freedom than we have ever known.  I only thought I was free when I had no responsibilities to other people, when I lived alone and my life was such that my deepest commitments were to show up at a job that would not fire me for being late and to stay up most of every night drinking with my acquaintances.  I thought I had it all figured out back then, that I had the best answers to all the questions.  In reality, I was a slave to the bottle, to the drugs, to what other people thought, and to my own selfish desires.

Now I’m learning to ask more questions, and to wait for the answers to come.  Sometimes God gives them to me directly.  But more often they come through the people I live with and meet here at Koinonia.  The people upon whom my life depends.  Sometimes I think it would be so much easier if I could just make decisions on my own.  Sometimes I think running away is still equivalent with freedom.  But then I look around and see all of the people walking beside me on the Broad Highway.  And then I smile, say a prayerful thank you, and bask in the brilliance.

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Talking, Walking

It’s an old cliche: “If you’re going to talk the talk, you better walk the walk.”  And it’s heavily on my mind tonight.

As a whole, Koinonia has come such a long way in the reestablisment of community here at our farm.  We have begun to make clear commitments to God, to the mission of the community, and to one another.  We struggle through some days as we work towards more clarity and deeper unity.  But overall, I’m in awe of how much we have grown.

We experience a few growing pains whenever we enter a “growth spurt.”  And from my perspective, we are in one of those phases right now.  So I’ve been deep in thought and conversation with many fellow community members about some of the issues and questions that have continued to emerge in my own range of sight as we all walk this path together.  Earlier this evening, I was conversing with a friend about some of these issues, seeking clarity on a particular conflict that has come up between myself and another community member.  It’s a tough situation, because my human nature wants to be “in charge,” to be right.  I want to have final say in the way that other people are acting.  But the spiritual seeker inside of me knows from many hours of prayer that it’s never quite that easy.  So as I was rambling on with more questions than answers, my friend cut me off and said, “You know, I’m really sick of all this talking about community.  I’d rather just do it and stop talking about it so much.”

His frustration and bluntness under the circumstances caught me off guard, but it’s kept me thinking several hours after the conversation ended.  And here’s what I’ve come up with: talking and walking go hand in hand.

In order to have a community that will endure, that will be capable of weathering the many storms that come our way, we must talk about and create enough structure to hold us together during the difficult times.  And, even when things seem to be falling apart around us, we must continue to practice that structure.  Even when it seems like everyone is going off in their own direction and we aren’t sure who to trust, we must continue to treat each other with respect and dignity.  If we are committed to peacemaking, as our mission statement says, then we need to start by making peace with one another.

So we will keep on talking about how to do community.  And we will continue to walk the path that God has laid out before us.  And I will keep on praying, thinking, responding, and learning all along the way.

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