As a teenaged girl, I remember going to stay with my friend on the weekend. On Sunday her parents gathered us all up to go to church. Being a devoted in my own religion, at that time, my black-and-white received view was that going to another church a deadly sin, so it left me in a disorienting dilemma. What should I do? Should I refuse to go and insult this family, or should I go and risk my immortal soul? My religious community sensibility was quite strong, but in that moment I couldn’t bring myself to refuse to go. As I rode along in the car, I wondered what it would be like to enter another church, which I had never done before. And what should I do when I got there? Should I participate? Should I find a distraction? When I entered this church I looked around quickly in desperation to see if there was a way out. As my eyes glanced at the alter and up to the ceiling, I noticed that it was covered with knotty pine…with hundreds of knots! What a distraction that could be…to count every knot on that ceiling while they held their ceremony. Perhaps I wouldn’t go to hell after all! As the ceremony began with a hymn, I thought “Well singing can’t be bad.” Since I loved to sing I enjoyed this immensely and in-between the songs, eyes raised to the heavens, I counted knots.
When church was over a lovely breakfast was held, and everyone there was very friendly. They didn’t seem like people who were going to hell? They appeared to be kind and good people.
In this one event, dipping out of one community and into another, my understanding of community and myself changed that day. I was different, for I could no longer believe that these good people were going to hell, as I had been told. I had evolved just a little bit, and coming back into my own religious community, my new understanding was unraveled slowly within its walls. These two traditional communities, each telling their congregations what to do and what to believe, neither of which supported or trusted the other had a link through me that one day.
Of course there are many kinds of communities, but one might ask, what it is that holds a community together if it isn’t some kind of similar belief or mind set?
Such a simple story and I sense we all have had experiences when someone new came into our community, or we went into a new community and something changed, however small. Often we experience an internal conflict perhaps even feeling an energetic disconnect, and in each instance, we try to ascertain some resolution. And sometimes those conflicts are external, and resolution between members is an important part of being in community.
This view of collective life is framed with assumptions about the paradoxical nature of group life. Like-principled people can see the paradoxical nature of living in communities, and conflict can be looked at as expressing something on behalf of the collective and its wholeness with paradox.
Through principled reflection we may come to understand more clearly those paradoxical forces that draw us into the repeated oscillations of enchantment with the side we identify with and despair when the side we don’t identify with emerges.
And now as I look back on it all, I am grateful, for I know how important this early learning was for me, in learning friendship, non-judgment, compassion and plane ol neighborliness with all of human kind.
How did you learn these qualities?
This article has been crossposted from the PI Online Community; it is connected to a piece that was originally published in the Kosmos Journal.