One month ago Christina, Bourbon, Baby and I moved to a little community on the east side of downtown Toronto (Riverdale) with three other folks. Our purpose for doing this was multifaceted. I’ve addressed some of the issues specifically on this blog in the last number of months but also, more generally speaking, a number of the themes that I have been thinking/writing/talking about over the last 3-4 years have also shaped this decision.
In some ways we see this as an attempt at resistance. Each of us in the house recognize that there are various powers at work in society. Many stories are being told and these stories form us and shape us. To paraphrase William Willimon, we do not live in a secular society but rather a pagan society. All this means is that many of the stories that are told, that shape us, are detached from the Author of all that is. It’s not that we’re not in communion, we are. It’s not that we aren’t being formed, we are. It’s that all too often the stories that shape our culture are stories of communion that leave out the Creator. And so we worship creation and are thus formed by what we worship, but those things we worship and give our allegiance to are less worthy causes (to be sure, these aren’t necessarily bad things in-and-of-themselves, but when we forget that everything is gift then we can never truly appreciate and love that which is given). So, recognizing that this is indeed the case, one of the reasons we have chosen to embark on this journey is in order that we might begin to consciously resist these patterns that are so prevalent in modern Western culture but which often go unnoticed (or are understood simply as “given”). To the patterns of life that are ultimately dehumanizing we say, together, “no”.
There are, however, more proactive reasons why we’re engaging in this. We don’t want to simply resist (this is reactionary) but we also want to begin to engage in alternate ways of doing things and living in communion. To acknowledge my cards up front this, for us, is something grounded in a firm conviction of what it means to be creatures of a Creator and what it means for these (fallen) creatures to be redeemed and reconciled in the 2nd person of the Triune God, Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel confronts us in such a way that it demands a response. This, for us, is part of that response, a response not just with our minds and our lips but with our lives. How can we re-order and re-callibrate our lives in such a way that as a community we are but a sign, pointing away from ourselves towards the redemptive work of God in Christ Jesus. To be sure, this desire to live in a way such as this is not something generative but rather responsive. We are not naive enough to think that we can build the kingdom of God with our own hands. However, we are naive enough to believe that even now in the midst of death and decay God’s kingdom is indeed bursting forth (and has already arrived in the person of Christ and his beloved community). So then, ultimately, our moving into a house to live and pursue a particular kind of life together is a response to the overwhelming grace of God in Christ, something which we are graced to participate in through the Spirit.
Alright, let me now return to where I began. It has been one month since we moved. Looking back on this first four weeks I am struck by a number of things that I thought I’d briefly share with y’all.
1) Expectations. Coming into this as 5 unique people there were/are, inevitably, a number of expectations (both said & unsaid). One of the things that I have had to realize is that perhaps some of the expectations I was coming with were agendas. Now many of these expectations were good and healthy, however, am I willing to lay down some of my expectations (hold some of them loosely perhaps) in order to allow community to develop more organically. One of my desires for Victor House is that it would be a place of deep prayer both for one another and for our neighbourhood. So then, if this is something that I desire, if this is indeed an expectation that I have, how can I work to cultivate this sort of atmosphere organically, from “the bottom”, rather than in a heavy-handed fashion from “the top”? The same can be said for all of our expectations and perhaps for particular expectations that you may have of others. Are we willing to sacrifice some of our expectations for others? And, for those expectations that are important to us, how can we go about cultivating those as servants rather than as masters? On a related note, this past Tuesday evening we had our first solid time of prayer together, intentionally, and it was one of the highlights (for me) from our first month.
2) Conflict. Last night was another first. We sat down to flesh out some underlying conflict that was building up in our midst. As a community living within the redemptive story of God in Christ how can we deal with conflict in a way that testifies to this redemption of God in Christ? Conflict, generally speaking, tends to drive folks apart and hurt if not destroy communion. How can we come to conflict differently? How can we welcome conflict as something that actually nurtures and deepens communion with one another and with God? I think at least part of the answer is to be found in being a community of reconciliation. David Fitch suggests that reconciling conflict is “Ground Zero for the inbreaking of the Kingdom” and I could not agree more. Conflict, then, should be welcomed: “It’s a sign of the Kingdom telling us we are engaging in new territory we haven’t had to struggle with before…whenever we gather to bring the issue for discernment, we must recognize we are submitting to Jesus as Lord…and so when we submit to one another trusting the Spirit to speak, illumine, and guide, Jesus as Lord is present, the Kingdom breaks in…” Yes! So then, in conflict we learn to “nurture mutual submission to Jesus as Lord”, we forsake “managing” conflict and submit to the work of the Spirit, and we ask “what is God doing here” and observe. May we be people who welcome conflict and humbly listen.
3) The Christ hymn in Philippians 2 is quickly emerging as what I consider to be a central passage of scripture for what we’re engaging in. As folks united in Christ (v1) through a sharing in the Spirit (v1) we strive to be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind (v2). Because of this we will strive to do nothing out of our own selfish ambition but rather will seek to value others above ourselves in humility (v3). And so we abandon our own interests and look to the interests of others (v4). In so doing we press towards the mindset of Christ Jesus (v5) as fleshed out in v6-8 knowing that God exalts this sort of life as He did Christ’s (v9-11). As servants imitating Christ and putting others before ourselves we will do everything without grumbling or arguing (v14) so that God working in us (this is His work after all) will fulfill his good purpose (v13).
So, in conclusion then, it has been a great month and I think each of us have already grown in ways we were not expecting. I’m looking forward to the coming months and traveling deeper into this life together. We have some exciting initiatives we want to partake in this summer that I’m sure I’ll update you on. If you pray, pray for us that we may continue to be a community that is formed by Christ Jesus the Lord, and that lives abundantly together for the good of our neighbourhood and city.