It’s coming into fashion – this living in community thing, although it’s hardly a new idea – actually it is rather quite ancient.
But, having 16 years of intentional community living under our belts, I believe, the people at Open Hand, Inc. have some valuable perspective regarding what it means to live “in community.”
Here’s a few fundamentals from me. Others (in the same community) may see things quite differently. This is one of the joys of being in an intentional community, everyone gets to uniquely see, know, and interpret everything. We are a group, but there is no expected or imposed “groupthink” – of course it happens (the groupthink thing, given that when people spend a lot of time together and read a lot of the same books it is inevitable – but it is not expected).
First: If you wish to establish an authentic community it is essential that you make room in your heart (whatever that means), head, and home for people who are different, sometimes very different, from yourself.
Diversity (which cannot carry restrictions) and full acceptance (which cannot carry restrictions) are at the heart and core of sharing life in an intentional community. If you only want people much like yourself in a community you will not taste the fullness of what it means to live in intentional community. In our 16 years we have had HUNDREDS of guests from dozens of countries. Some have stayed for a few days; others have stayed for years. Some got close; some remained at arm’s length. All chose us and in a VERY few instances (I can only remember three) we had to say no. Few have been “like” us, and I am not sure who “us” would be were I to have to articulate it. The “us” changes.
Second: If you wish to live in authentic community it is essential that you give up ALL belief in your ability to control others, to control outcomes, to control very much at all. You are PART of, you are ONE with, you are in the driver’s seat of your own life ONLY. The minute you try to drive (control or “will” others) you have ceased to be an authentic community and have become something other than that. This issue of control extends even and especially to your children – where of course, a lot of the impulse to control is really tested.
Third: When you live authentically within an authentic community almost all your ideas and dreams will be modified and improved (most of the time) by the very process of being together.
I must also briefly note that community living, intentional community living, is not some flashback to Woodstock or to hippie communes, and nor is it some form of “communism-light.” (These are all things that I have heard said about us over the years).
At Open Hand, Inc., we all live in our own homes. We each pay our own bills, have our own jobs, and we do not put all our resources into a common pot. We are free to attend any church, or no church at all. We are not free because of some decision by the leaders of Open Hand, we are free simply because we are human. No one at Open Hand would even consider restricting the freedom of another, and nor would we deem to determine where or if someone should go to church.
But, we do dream great plans together and even watch a few of them come to fruition. We talk a lot, we support each others goals. We get behind each other. We are friends. We are intentional about our friendships. No one is “the leader,” there’s no handbook on how to be one of us, there’s no training program or qualification required.
Fourth: We don’t “own” or “claim” people or efforts as “ours.” For instance, we have been part of stimulating and facilitating and overseeing (ominous word) and “planting” (there’s a good church word) “works” (another churchy word) for years but we really don’t care who claims the credit or even if our name is attached to the endeavors. We already know it is not by our genius alone and we already know it takes MANY to make things “go” and be successful and so I say all power to those who wish to wear the efforts of others like a badge or a trophy. Go ahead, get all the credit you think you deserve.
Fifth – and I am going to close with this for today – my sons are ALWAYS surprised when they meet people who tell us they don’t know their neighbours.