A few weeks ago, members of the residential staff here discussed the rule of community: living one’s life as life together, in a commitment to shared mission and a common life. We had 20 minutes to go find a poem, reading or scripture we thought embodied the essence of community. The “word” that instantly came to my mind was this article I come across on FB on the illusion of independence.
The article began with the author walking through a hotel lobby observing a bunch of downward facing heads, all tranced by their electronic devices. He talked about how our electronic devices often enable our false sense of independence. We can be in a group of people, but alone with our iPods, tablets or cell phones. These personal devices aid in the thinking that we are self-sufficient and/or the product of our own making, separate. The reality is that every inch of clothes on our backs, the buildings we inhabit, materials we use; every item in our cell phones and iPod, including the music was brought to us via someone else’s work, gifts, effort and time. We literally couldn’t exist without the work of someone else. The people who make our modern lives possible are more invisible than ever, worlds away even, but, they are part of what makes up our whole. We are in fact connected and interdependent. The author writes:
“Freedom is about finding the balance between the small me and a bigger we. In relationship to each other, we learn to embrace the reality and the sacredness of our interdependence, while also respecting each other as independent, unique souls. We learn this in romance and friendship and marriage and family. In fact, any place where two or more are gathered can become a space in which we touch our independence and our interdependence at the same time.”
Richmond Hill is a place where I am able to touch my independence and interdependence quite often. I eat dinner with people almost every night of the week, a chance to practice community. This is one of the few spaces in my world where I can eat dinner without being interrupted by my cell phone or being sidetracked or ignored because of someone else’s. We call it “Real Time FaceTime.” Just the practice of regular meals supports our mission of hospitality, spiritual development and racial reconciliation. A table, a simple meal and good conversation with new friends is transformative. Whatever has gone on in my day seems to be suspended as I engage in another’s story, or laugh or listen to some element of my own life that I’ve explored before or prompted by others, may be exploring for the first time. In these conversations I am reminded of my own uniqueness, of story, experience and perspective but I am also invited to encounter these things in others. I am constantly brought outside of myself into something larger than myself.
We reflected on community again at another meeting. I commented that for me, community is about commitment, commitment to each one of them, our retreatants and the mission of Richmond Hill. I fulfill my individual commitments (of chores and working on Rapid Transit) because I know that when I do my part, I am contributing to a whole and when I do not, the whole suffers.
There is a collective “we” that I am reminded of here that forms the basis of our lives. It is possible but incredibly burdensome for one person to wash all the dishes after our Monday community meals of 50 people, but with 3-5 people, in sync complementing one another, it happens in minutes. During retreat weekends, we huddle around the round desk to talk through who will do what, as we divvy up our hosting duties. The gate to our entrance often gets stuck, and it’s impossible to open or close it manually without the help of another. The collective work is emphasized, the individual’s role is necessary.
I was about to go and give a Transit presentation in January. My supervisor offered to accompany me, as he thought it would be a tough group. I said “why do we both have to be there, if I am going you don’t need to.” He said “I know you can do it by yourself, but there is a reason Jesus sent them out two by two Ebony.” He got me on that one. I could have done it by myself, but it did matter that someone was there to support me, a friendly face in the crowd that provided strength and comradery on the way there, during and back. It mattered. I am grateful that this is a place where the illusion of independence is continually shattered when I offer my own uniqueness in service, receive the gifts of others and work toward the shared mission of hospitality and prayer for the healing of Metropolitan Richmond.