Thursday, April 19, 2012

Hippies and Communal Life

I've been in communal environments during two key periods of my life: from 16-18, and (more or less) from 18-24.5. As I inch closer to my thirties, grounded by family, I find myself simultaneously drawn to, and terrified by communal life. It can go so wrong or so right.

My age 16-18 experiences were beautiful, partially because they were so fleeting. There was total freedom.

The second experience was in a communal church where Eug and I married. Perhaps surprisingly, I loved sharing physical possessions and living communally. The problem was that the second time around, community was not just sharing possessions: there was this accompanying confusing sense that you didn't quite know which way was up anymore. Kindness sometimes felt like abuse, love sometimes felt like domination, and so on. The community was much more important than family, which was disastrous for our new marriage. The experience left me confused and I spent several years healing afterwards.

Now, I wonder how we navigate the "Acts church" idea of sharing everything and having everything in common, without forcing communist conformity. One way seems to be learning to open our home, which we hope to do gradually as we live in Cape Town. I'm hoping that in doing this, we feel the safety of having our space while gradually edging out of our comfort zone.

The second seems to be related to having core truths that we're willing to stand by, and being willing to think rather than follow (recognizing that we learn huge amounts from relationship). A hippie-nomad-Jesus following-unschooling-blogger I've been following the last couple of months wrote- quite gently and forgivingly- about her husband "seeking passion with someone else". I innocently thought maybe he was thinking of traveling somewhere cool with his guy friends for a few months, but my friend set me straight.

I had memories from my second idealistic-community experience rush back. I wasn't quite sure which way was up, and felt super uncomfortable. Was the blogger trying to be ok with this, and using Jesus as the reason? Should I be? (I'm not) We're in different places, and I'd found myself (briefly) jumping on a stranger's bandwagon rather than thinking for myself.

Perhaps in community there's a lot to be gained in the doing: hosting, spending time, sharing cash when it's not coerced. Perhaps in the abstract- in saying how the world should be or how others should live- we have to be careful.

As I get more secure in my own thoughts, I am less fearful of community. If what I'm against is consumerism, life in a cubical, and so on, then what I'm for has to exist and has to be better. And community, with careful and gentle boundaries, seems essential to the good life.


leah said...

I'd love to start a commune with you Jo.... except for not wanting to move my stuff anywhere any time soon. In the meantime I see community living as a continuum. When we share the joys and stresses of life with friends we ARE living in community, even if we're not sharing a bathroom.

And also, David and Lauren are not the first Christians to think their freedom from sin makes free love permissible. I hope it works out for them, though I have some doubts.

Concrete Gardener said...

Yes, I'm with you Leah on community as continuum.

With David and Lauren, I agree with Dan and wish we still got to discuss these things with you guys. I reckon they're off course.