This is Part 1 in a three-part series about what's shaped my ideas of community, and though it didn't start out as a personal history it quickly descended into one, so i let it write itself. the final piece is posted over on our heartloose blog, and if you want to skip all the navel-gazing and jump right into the dream, go on and head right over.
The wind is blustery and rattling the camper, I'm idly picking away at an annoying wart on my left shin, and the boys are lightly squabbling in the other room. Michael's prepping to fix the plastic skirt thingie from the camper that ripped apart again two flat tires ago.
We're boondocking, in Oklahoma this time, needing a couple days to ourselves in-between visits. There's an increase in the down time we need, and I think it speaks to our desire to settle somewhere coming very close to the surface. It's been simmering for months. It means I've been thinking about community and fellowship a lot. Soaking it in where I can. Craving it. Studying it. Jumping in with both feet wherever we land, taking nuggets and ideas with me, leaving ever-larger chunks of my heart behind. Kinda feels like it's been 2.5 years of a very slow wine-tasting, hence the need for time in between. To savor, reflect, internalize the good, and flush a few tannins out sometimes. Drinking a lot of water.
My sense of what makes a strong community is being reshaped a fair bit from what I thought for decades. My first seven years were defined by my family, my church, and my neighborhood. Family meant three generations of shared traits and fierce love and deep loyalty, shaped most visibly by the heart of my paternal grandmother … Grambie. Her nearly unshakable love oozed and propagated and set the standard for how I define devotion. And at age seven, when we moved away from her, I saw it in all its purity and warmth and beauty, without any of the pitfalls. It can be a very very beautiful, and somewhat addictive thing.
Church (aka Meeting) meant structure, friends and family, swinging on the railing between meetings and sucking honey-suckle stamens, worship, prayer, and Bible study. I mostly remember sitting by Grambie so I could beg Luden's cough drops, explore her purse, have her make me babies-in-the-cradle with her handkerchief, and bury my head in her lap. Miss Beth, reading me Little Golden Books in the back room. The occasional loud and charismatic preacher that left me feeling a bit awed. Mr Barry's lectures with maps and pointers and doughnuts afterwards. Overall it gave me a sense of belonging, love, and security.
Meeting wasn't my entire life though, because I also had my neighborhood. Friends my age, hula-hoops and lemon-twists and metal roller skates. Mulberry picking and the swing set in the back yard, with the chance to wander to friend's houses and play in driveways and back yards all summer. I had freedom, and felt like I belonged.
I also had a vague sense at a young age that a love of God and the Bible meant automatic community. We traveled to South America several times before I was seven, and visited rural christian communities who flung open doors and hearts and nearly-bare pantries with an abandon that wasn't as clear to me then as it is now, but I do remember the love, and the simplicity of what seemed to matter in life. Loving each other, seeking out God, eating together, honoring family, and giving whatever you had out of love. I saw poverty without misery. Contentment without possessions. Service with quiet but unmistakable joy. Subconsciously, it made a huge impression. They were strong, joyful, solid communities for the most part, with a seemingly tireless serving of each other.