No, the title of this letter is not clickbait, because I really do want to reflect on community and orgasms.
I‚Äôve experienced real, authentic community‚Ä¶ the kind that is beautiful and unforgettable‚Ä¶ the kind we want to experience all the time and enjoy consistently.
I work hard at understanding community, researching it, experimenting with it, and facilitating it. I used to think that somehow, if we just apply the right principles, honored consistent values, and worked hard to facilitate authentic community, that we could enjoy it 24/7. In fact, this was one of our boasts in the last church I pastored. The message was that if you joined us, you would experience amazing, consistent, authentic community all the time. You would become a part of, and contribute to, a rich, constant, and dependable community life. Guaranteed!
But then the worst happened. We went through a devastating church split. But we braved on to try to rebuild what community we had. We nearly did, except every once in a while there would be a crisis and we‚Äôd have to start all over again. Trying to achieve healthy community life was my daily project, but it often got frustrated.
What was wrong? This question has consumed my thoughts. I still believe in community. I still want to facilitate authentic community. But something was wrong with my thinking. There was something about authentic community that I was not understanding clearly.
Then I watched a CNN special on a cult, called ‚ÄúHoly Hell‚Äù, earlier this year. A member of the cult had been video documenting the cult leader, Michel, when finally he left the cult and turned the videos into a documentary. He interviews others who had left the cult. Consistently, every member is in tears as they describe the manipulation, control, and abuse, including sexual, that they experienced. But they also shed tears over the grief they experience because of the traumatic loss of community. The community life they enjoyed was amazing and unforgettable. In spite of the incredible suffering and trauma they endured, they are incurably sad because they had known what they thought was authentic community and feared they would never experience that level of intimacy and safety again. It was like the family they never had, and now they fear they never will experience it again.
I watched with dismay, because this was exactly how I felt! In the churches I worked in led by charismatic men, traveling in circles with these powerful magnetic leaders, I experienced such a deep level of intimacy, safety, and love. But this was also where I experienced the deepest levels of manipulation, control, and abuse.
The question dawned on me: Was it possible to have one without the other?
If that cult documenter were to interview me and many others who have experienced abuse in the church community, I‚Äôm sure he would find similar dynamics at work‚Ä¶ that something beautiful was created... community! If we could just purify it somehow and extract the abusers and their abuses, this pristine community could be experienced once again along with guarantees.
I‚Äôve come to this conclusion: No! This kind of unbelievable community is not possible. It's also not natural or healthy.
Lisa and I were talking about this yesterday, and we compared it to a marriage. It‚Äôs not normal or healthy to be in a constant state of orgasm. We have a healthy relationship, a romantic one, and our sex life is good. But, sometimes it‚Äôs filet mignon and other times it‚Äôs hamburger. It‚Äôs ridiculous to desire and achieve filet mignon 24/7. We love steak. But we like fast food too. In fact, we fight. But we try to make our fights good ones. Our fighting has helped us become better partners in a long-lasting relationship. Our ability to negotiate through the thick and thin is exactly what makes our marriage and our family healthy. Good health requires germs. Good relationship requires struggle. Sure, we might think it would be nice to be in a constant state of ecstasy, but this isn‚Äôt realistic, isn't healthy, and isn't even desired.
One of the worst things anybody could say to me after conflict in our community is, ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre no different than any other church!‚Äù They might leave, vowing to never commit to any form of community ever again. This always hurt me deeply. But now I say, ‚ÄúWhat you mean is, we‚Äôre no different than any gathering of human beings!‚Äù I‚Äôve said it before: there's no perfect community, only perfect moments. That would be the most honest. No community is perfect. But a healthy community tries.
What I‚Äôm learning is that, as an online community facilitator, expecting people to experience and remain in a constant state of ecstasy is to set them up for exploitation. To offer utopia is to entice people to submission. Like orgasm, is it possible that a utopian community is also in a state of constant surrender, weakness, powerlessness, and self-abandon?
This is obviously what happens in cults, what happened to me under charismatic leaders, and what may have happened in communities I‚Äôve facilitated. When we are in such a state of perpetual euphoria, don‚Äôt we submit ourselves to a perpetual state of vulnerability? Abusers and bullies prey on that like nothing else. To be vulnerable not only opens us up for pleasure, but also for pain. Bullies interpret vulnerability as weakness and love to prey upon it. We need to be careful.
I don‚Äôt mean that we should never become vulnerable. But to be vulnerable 100% of the time isn‚Äôt smart. It‚Äôs not healthy. It‚Äôs not even possible! Isn‚Äôt it better, like in a good marriage or friendship, to still respect personal boundaries, to provide space, to negotiate affection fairly and equally, and to enjoy deep levels of intimacy only when all parties participate willingly and passionately?
Perhaps our longing for a safe and guaranteed constant utopia indicates a deeper malaise. Perhaps it‚Äôs a sign that we don‚Äôt want to be independent or empowered. Perhaps surrender is the only place we think we are cared for‚Ä¶ safeguarded and supported‚Ä¶ rather than learning the hard work of caring for ourselves, safeguarding ourselves, and supporting ourselves. Perhaps we wish to be forever subdued rather than free with the responsibility that requires. Perhaps we feel safer in a group even though we surrender our personal power and rights. These are questions we should ask ourselves.
On the other hand, I do believe we should expect, and work for, moments of vulnerability, intimacy, safety, and surrender. I think we need to make our relationships and communities spaces where independence is encouraged and supported, where individuals are empowered to be self-governing and self-determining, but also where people can be vulnerable, honest, raw, and real, and find understanding, respect, affirmation, and encouragement. Both are good.
Healthy independence leads to healthy interdependence. Being empowered makes our vulnerability volitional, and this kind of vulnerability is healthier and safer.
So, it's more realistic and healthy to say that our community strives to be a place where we can become more empowered and independent, but also where we can voluntarily surrender to one another when the moment presents itself, but only if we want to.
A healthy, functional community offers hamburgers, but also filet mignon. We can‚Äôt guarantee which will be on the menu at any given moment. Surprises are fun. But you get to choose what to cook, what to serve, and what to eat. Isn‚Äôt this best?
Love to you all, my friends!
DavidLooking for a community to be your empowered self but supported as well? Join us at The Lasting Supper. If you prefer to work with me one-on-one, check out my coaching services.