Raising the Bar on Church “Community”

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Gabriel Naptali

Gabriel Naptali

I remember being asked in seminary to play guitar at a Friday night gathering. I was told that in doing so I would be making an offering to the “community”. I didn’t have a clue what that meant. I was at school to figure out the meaning of life and to discover what Jesus was on about. As the father of a newborn who didn’t sleep much, and a steakhouse waiter by night, I didn’t have time or energy for “community”. Okay, there is a serious dose of narcissism, born of survival, in this story.  But this word “community” seemed to me to be a buzzword that didn’t actually mean much in practice.

As I look back on twenty-seven years of congregational ministry, I still wonder what it really means. I wonder if we’re not unconsciously invested in keeping things fairly superficial at church—because we don’t actually have the skills to go deeper with each other. There are exceptions, and I’ve had the good fortune to work in a community that did life deeply with each other.  But when you look at the number of conflict resolution experts who are making their living off congregations who can’t seem to get along, it makes you wonder.  It’s not the fault of congregational members. We need to be teaching what it means to be in community, and that includes practices that are going to make us fit for community. Many of us got our training for community life in dysfunctional families. We’re actually imprinted to believe that conflict, superficiality, and denial is normal. The moment anything approximating intimacy breaks out in congregations most people simply re-enact largely the unexamined history of our family of origin.

What’s to be done? Church culture, or any culture for that matter, is forged in a set of either unconscious or, ideally, conscious agreements about how we intend to show up with and for each other—my definition of culture. Below, is a very brief introduction to seven agreements that I’ve developed that represent one possibility for building an emergent or evolutionary culture. When my new membership site is launched ( coming soon! ) I will be teaching these.

Agreements for Building An Emergent Culture:

Listening for the Emergence of the New:

Cultural, intellectual, and emotional filters limit what he hear. These filters cause us to hear, not what is arising in the moment, but rather past memories. We can learn to listen simultaneously to the intuitive intelligence of our bodies, to the unique truth of another, and to what Life or Spirit wants to be heard in this moment. We are responsible for knowing when we’ve stopped listening to the fresh truth of this moment, and are rather listening to memories of the past that are unresolved.

Speak True Words:

 We commit to speaking from a place of our deepest truth.  In an evolutionary paradigm, this requires that we suspend yesterday’s wisdom and all of our default stories, for what belongs to this very moment, to this unique person, or this particular group of people. We allow our intuition to inform our speaking. Our truest words will always be a response to sacred Wisdom as it arises within and between. Speaking our truth is not to be confused with speaking the truth. In an evolutionary culture, we can learn the semantics of speaking true words. For example, we can choose to keep in mind that our remarks should always end metaphorically in …, or etc. rather than with a period or an exclamation mark.  As well, we can learn to use any declension of the verb “to be” sparingly, where doing so freezes reality into a false equivalency, i.e. “this” is “that”, you are this…

Steward Spaciousness:

 We commit to knowing directly when we are in a state of contraction and when we’re in a state of expansion. When our body, mind, and heart are in a contracted state we will always be operating and making decisions from a past memory. The new future that wants to emerge can only happen from a condition of expansion.

Fail Bravely:

 The universe is essentially a living, learning Whole intelligence that is in the process of evolving through trial and error. We commit to understanding that in an evolutionary worldview failure is simply information feedback for deeper understanding and to advance the intelligence of the Whole. We welcome feedback about how we are showing up knowing that this is not about our ego, but about our direct participation in the evolution of the universe. Failure is like our inner GPS system that tells us when we’ve made a wrong turn and non-judgmentally corrects our course. How we interpret and exploit failure is perhaps the most accurate measure of our own evolution toward a transpersonal self.

Face Crisis as Opportunity:

 We celebrate that the universe is also a great teacher, and that much of that teaching comes through personal and collective crisis. Furthermore, we operate from the wisdom that in an evolutionary paradigm, the crisis itself is a new birth. The crisis provokes the emergence of new and necessary intelligences required to transcend the crisis and become the new thing Spirit is doing in the world.

Take Responsibility, Receive Freedom:

 In times of crisis and conflict, we take 80% responsibility for the condition of our life, regardless of circumstances. While we know that this is not absolutely true, assuming this degree of responsibility catapults us from the position of victim, to a deep inquiry about how we can both learn from and take responsibility for the life conditions that are facing us. We give up blame and shame. By taking radical responsibility for our life conditions we discover true freedom.

Hold Nothing Back: Surrender to Grace 

 

surrender

From within an evolutionary paradigm, surrendering to grace means allowing ourselves to be re-sourced by the creativity of the cosmos itself, which is always present as the fundamental animating energy of life.  As the presence of the universe in human form, we realize that we are expressions of an immense, intense, and intimate creativity. This dynamism constitutes a natural grace that we may participate directly in by committing ourselves to consciously amplifying this creativity and thereby live with maximum vitality. Hildegaard of Bingen called this dynamic source of energy “viriditas” (or the greening energy of the cosmos). Teilhard de Chardin called it zest. In an evolutionary paradigm this is what it means to have the “same mind (and heart) that was in Christ Jesus”.

As we commit individually and collectively to such agreements we realize the natural cosmic condition of community, what I call the Kin-dom of G_d. We take our place in the ecology of community that is always, already present on this home we call Earth, but which humans alone are free to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I’ve only read one article “What is Evolutionary Christianity” and this blog entry by you so far, and I thank you for your clarity. What we call “communities” may be largely gatherings of individuals who are, sadly, more comfortable that way. Are you suggesting that our interiorizing those seven agreements will lead to our being more competent at day to day relationships? The community you are talking about at the beginning and the community you are talking about at the end sound different to me. Does the visionary one lead to the intimate one? I will read more. Thanks.

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Hi Paula, yes, I’ll be teaching these agreements on my upcoming membership site, and the hope is that as people learn these skills and commit to them, the possibility of greater intimacy increases, and together we create the conditions for an evolutionary or emergent culture. Thanks for your comment.

  2. CC Coltrain says

    Hi, Bruce – after our Centers for Spiritual Living Convention in Vancouver, I came home and taught these seven concepts in my community. I followed it with a whole year of talks about spiritual and social evolution.

    I think these concepts did help pull us together. I had people practice several of them with whoever was sitting in the next seat, and asked them to practice in their lives outside church.

    Thanks for bringing them up here – I will continue to work on weaving them into our culture!

    Thanks for all you do – CC

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      I remember that convention well. Good to hear that the agreements went over well. On the membership site we’ll delve into them in more depth. Good to hear from you CC.

  3. Don Smith says

    Two things popped into my head on reading this:

    1. Being open to newness and change forced me to leave my faith community! It drove me to a community of one! So much for community building… ;^)

    2. I am reminded of the Isaac Asimov novel/short story where, in the distant future, people value their privacy and individual “space” so highly that only 2 or 3 people live on an entire planet! Is this the direction we’re going versus the (integral evolved) hippie commune model so many of us cherish?

    Funny the things your posts trigger in my twisted little mind!

  4. Maria and Rodney Williams says

    Bruce, we’ve just joined the home for evolving Mystics and look forward, albeit somewhat tremulously to being part of this community.
    It is only just now that I found this blog post on the Agreements….expanded somewhat from the précis at Common Dreams in Canberra last year..
    I say tremulously because even in writing this reply I’m jumping into the deep waters of vulnerability that being part of a community entails.
    What I look forward to is the Expansiveness into new dimensions of faith and understanding that the promise of Evolving Mystics offers.
    Cheers to you…:)

    • Bruce Sanguin says

      Maria and/or Rodney, it takes courage to live on our evolving edge, doesn’t it? Even responding to a post is putting oneself “out there”. Vulnerability or self-emptying is a precondition of spiritual evolution. Happy that you are part of this community.

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