The Lesson of Community

When I was driving down to San Diego last Thursday (for Thanksgiving with the folks) the thought struck me about a time when my then-wife and I considered moving to San Diego because I was thinking about going to a Presbyterian seminary near Encinitas. That was a lifetime ago. I remember at the time how I was trying to figure out how I could get my PacBell job transferred to San Diego so that I could continue to work (and support my wife) while going to school. That wasn’t a bad idea, but what I didn’t understand at the time was that what I was trying to do wasn’t something that one does alone. In fact I never understood that until I was in the middle of my Master’s program and one of the professors (Sparks) started asking us to talk about our mentoring experiences. Huh? What’s that?

I’d been so use to doing everything alone that i didn’t realize that a large reason that I wasn’t able to pull off these things before is because I never bothered to create or be a part of the larger support network that one has to have to survive and succeed the pressures that doing grad & post-grad work. Here I was thinking about doing seminary graduate work and it never dawned on me that I should be in a supportive relationship with the leadership of my home church and that that would make the whole thing much easier to do (or just plain doable). I do remember some comments that came from a professor and his wife about another professor about how this other professor was able to zoom through school because his family had money. Hmmm. This professor (and his wife) was struggling to finish his doctorate at Fuller, so their negative attitude toward the other professor was understandable. But it was just another thing that I misunderstood and kept moving in my independent (and unsuccessful) path.

My undergrad work had been so much about becoming my own person and making friends that I didn’t see how plugging back into the “Organization” was part of grad work. Granted it would have been nice if there had been a rich uncle somewhere to fund my education but that would have completely missed the point that I’m making. Undergrad work, for me, was about discovering and challenging self. I have discovered that anything beyond that requires the partnership of others. This is going to be a difficult lesson for me to act on. I have a long history of slugging it out (and not quite hitting the mark) all on my own.

For example, one of the reasons that my music ministry never went anywhere was because I never plugged into a place where I could be spiritually supported or with a leader with whom I could develop that mentor/mentee relationship. There were a few pastors I was kind of got close to, but it never got past the moment or the immediate need of the situation. There was (and is) a part of my personality that wanted to stand “apart.”

Being “apart” suited my needs when it came to being an observer and learning from my environments. It was part of my nature that helped me understand things and see the connections that my contemporaries tended to miss. But what I gained in seeing what I saw, I missed in staying disconnected. My observing fueled the creativity that eventually made me a good writer but my alone-ness kept me from having any readership or audience. I learned a lot but no one else really benefited from my insight. So…. I’m having to re-think and re-evaluate my tendency to stand “apart.” It is going to take some work and there will most likely be a number of missteps. But my gifts are pointless if all I have is an audience of one. I have always known that the greatest means of receiving is to give first. Whether it is one-to-one or in a crowd of a thousand, the strength comes from the depth of the connection and not the stubborness of the one. I never knew this fifteen years ago when I considered pushing my education and ministry to the next level. I do not believe that the story would have necessarily turned out differently had I “known” of the importance of being connected, but it has obviously taken me the intervening years to put this together.

I have to laugh, even when I was going through the process at Pepperdine, I was still the one most likely to not check-in or participate on a consistent level (for which one professor torpedoed my GPA because I was very poor at posting to newsgroups). I guess if I intend to move up to the next level I’m going to have to kick it up quite a bit in my willingness to be a part of my larger group. Damn. Being born to money would have been so much easier. Oh well, one does with what one is given and I still haven’t done nearly enough. JBB

music: We Three Kings – Mannheim Steamroller – Christmas

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