Having spent a little while away from the Ruka, I feel like this is a crucial opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned about intentional community this semester.
I guess we knew that we could use a little advice from people who had tried to do this before, we didn’t think that we could just simply strike out and make intentional community work without first consulting the veterans, and because of this our first attempts at community happened before we ever moved in. Spending our summers apart, we each began to shape our ideas of life together by reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer in different places–Memphis, Chile, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, and Milwaukee/New York. Engaging with the text we each learned different things. Most significantly for me, I came face to face with my biggest challenge–my wish dream.
Bonhoeffer was a famous theologian who wrote Life Together as a reflection on his experience in Christian, intentional community. Bonhoeffer explains that a wish dream is both a necessary step in a burgeoning community, and often times the destruction of community; “innumerable times a whole community has broken down because it sprang from a wish dream.” Defining a wish dream as the unrealistic expectations that a member brings to community, and the rubric by which a member judges her community, Bonhoeffer (if he had used more gender inclusive language would have) expressed that:
The human who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by herself. She enters the community with demands, sets up her own law, and judges others…She stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle. She acts as the creator of the community, as if her dream binds humans together. When things do not go her way, she calls the effort a failure. When her ideal picture is destroyed, she sees the community going to smash.
So I’ve visited a couple communities in the U.S. and at each community Bonhoeffer’s book (Life Together) gets brought up (so I knew that it must be important). Consistently, people really dig paraphrasing one statement that Bonhoeffer makes and usually they morph it into sounding something like “if you love your dream for your community, you’ll destroy community; but if you love the people around you, you’ll create community.” When I picked up the book this past summer, I anticipated reading this passage with great excitement, I couldn’t wait to put it into context. I guess I expected that this passage would just slip in there, right after a five step plan for changing the world with intentional community and right before Bonhoeffer started talking about social justice or something. Troubling for me, I found out that there’s a lot more to it than just this statement, I realized that what I had worked for up until move in day had been all a big formalization of my wish dream–a meaningless attempt to craft a hollow community on paper–and I had no idea how this would play out in reality. With a little context, what Bonhoeffer actually says is, ” Every human wish dream that is injected into community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. She who loves her dream of community more than the community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though her personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
Needless to reiterate, I came to the community with a huge wish dream, with a hope of how things should go and what community should look like. I had it written down and budgeted out, I knew how much every piece of my dream would cost and I had made up dates by which events and things would happen–I had it down pat. But what I’ve learned is that I need to change a lot more than I need to fix what’s going on around me. In actuality, community at the Ruka looks a lot different than what it did on paper. A lot of the plans I made shifted and transformed into other things, but the same motivation continues. Throughout the semester (with muddled frustrations and a few too many blow-ups on my part), I’ve learned that the coolest part about the Ruka is that it gives us much needed space–space to figure out who we want to be before we face the scary next year.
At the end of a semester, I can look back fondly and be thankful that the best is definitely yet to come. And now, I recognize the blessings I’ve experienced as I’ve watched my wish dream sink. I open up my heart and life to the possibility of life together that doesn’t bow to my plans and that doesn’t say “I knew this wouldn’t work” when things don’t go my way, but instead revels in the cool twists and turns that transform this community into a process, not a destination, and that show me the ugly parts of myself, but the beautiful parts of us together.