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Living in an intentional community: new year check-in

I’ve recently started watching the show Community on Hulu between waiting for new episodes of New Girl, Modern Family, SVU, Parenthood, and The Following. Note: we do not have cable, much less a working TV so Hulu is all I have  when I feel like indulging in media.

 

I was intrigued to watch the show Community simply because of its name. It is a rather quirky sitcom, but I’ve found a couple really good messages about being in community. For those who haven’t seen it, it is about the adventures that a regular study group has while all going to the same community college. In one random episode I clicked on, one message that was revealed was how to adjust community if someone new comes in, or if someones leaves. Surprising how relevant TV can be sometimes.
We (Rob Demar and I) had our second reflection of the year last week with our program director who led us through a few questions about our community and how to realign our actions (if needed) to make our year as intentional and focused on each other, our neighborhood community, and faith as possible. Part of our commitment to this year of service is living in an intentional  community, and after a few months of living and working with each other it made sense to re-evaluate where we are at as far as the covenant that we made for our community, and just a general check-in about how we are feeling it is going.
Coming into this year, we all brought an idea of what we individually define community as, and how we have experienced in the past. We have found that we all come from very different places on that front, but as we all understood- community is malleable and flexible depending on who constitutes it.  My personal definition has been crafted over many years of experiencing different communities: Girl Scouts, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc, the Leadership Minor at the University of Minnesota, Students Today Leaders Forever, and more informal yoga, running, or other fitness communities I have been a part of – to name a few.
After living with each other for 4 months, and still with over half of our program left, we have a lot of time left to iron out some kinks that have come up over the past couple of months. It is undeniable that we all want to be in community with each other and make our year about Faith, Friendship and Service.
But we also have to face it: community is messy. You come in with different interests, personalities, preferences, pet peeves. Coordinating this and all of our schedules may seem easy for 3 people because there aren’t more of us to coordinate with. Just to give you a peek, within the 3 of us we have one very deep and intentional person, yet not detail oriented, one who is almost the organizer and small detail-focused one of the group, and the other one is kind of more big picture, and carries a facilitator and initiator role. So all very different!
But we have figured out that because there are only 3, things become much more personal and raw quicker, because we see each other more often than we would if there was like a group of 6 or more.  I like how Eileen E. O’Brien, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Catholic Volunteer Network Board Member (the branch of  that VVC is a part of) describes it:

“First, we must define what community is and what community is not. Community is not family; those volunteers in community are generally not related by blood or marriage. There is no long-standing or contractual obligations between the members. After their mission time is finished,  community members may or may not see each other again (or even want to).”

 
While we are still working through making this year everything we want it to be, we have to recognize that compromise, challenge, vulnerability, frustration and uncomfortable moments are all necessary parts of the process. But we also recognize that fun, adventure, creativity, honesty, intentionality, God and love are things we also desire to be present- which most of the time they are.
It is hard to put a definition on community, but again Eileen O’Brien says it well:

“In airing the differences, community members need to start from a position of good will: expressing it for oneself and assuming it in others. Assume the positive, not the negative. A small item we used in our community: If the door slams, assume it is the wind; do not automatically assume that that community member is mad or having a bad day. Assume good will.

Community is an intentional sharing of one’s life, involving prayer, compromise, and  respect. These habits are not meant to paper over differences, but to give strength and comfort, to point all the members together toward God, seeing him through their fellow community members, and through members of the larger community whom they serve.”

Observations and internalizations: a poem inspired by Bank St

I feel very grateful to be inspired to write poetry. It always come so randomly, but also so strongly for me. I was inspired to write one evening when I was walking the 3 blocks home from work…

 Let’s take a walk down Bank Street

where broken glass grows faster than grass

                                                                             and

a “good afternoon” could be the last thing someone hears.

where children’s laughter in abandoned school yards from past recesses should be heard louder than

                                                                 police sirens.

If walls could tell a story, the homes in the West End could fill volumes of a time that “once was”

where prostitution wasn’t a norm, and food benefits weren’t being cut like the last plate at a food kitchen.

Where a robbery is only a crime, not a means for survival

 and strength to make it to the next day

                         comes

                                     from

                                                 faith

                                                             and

                                                                        hope.

I HOPE that even though we may have a different past

I am who I am because of you [ubuntu] andlifeisa

                                                                                        g i f t

that is not opened by everyone everyday.

So let us walk down Bank Street where birthdays are celebrated at memorials on the places of deaths on every block-

                           where bottles of grey goose, cigarettes, candles, wilted flowers

                           commemorate the soul that enjoyed them.

Where prayers like “If the sky that we look upon, should tumble and fall

                                      All the mountains should crumble to the sea…

                  I won’t cry, I won’t cry

                   No, I won’t shed a tear

                                                       Just as long as you stand, stand by me”

                should be expressed loud and clear.

This is Bank Street.

New Year’s “Resolutions”

]New Year’s Eve has always been a bit strange to me – the notion of an instant moment in which everything somehow changes – and the weeks that follow seem, for many, to be filled with empty promises of hopeful changes in behavior to be a newer, slimmer, healthier, fill-in-the-blank-with-your-favorite-“-ier” self.  I recently saw a list of the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions on Facebook, which echoed this. While few, if any, of the Resolutions are, of themselves, a bad thing, I can’t help but think how self-focused and socially-influenced they seem to be. It has had me thinking – wouldn’t it be great if more of us (myself included) tried to make commitments aimed toward the common good, rather than to benefit only ourselves?

I have found myself asking some questions that may lead to making some “Resolutions,” but perhaps of a different sort. If I say that I am committed to living mindfully, deepening my spiritual journey, and aspiring toward greater solidarity with our brothers and sisters who daily face the realities of poverty and injustice, then where are the inconsistencies in my life and what are some next steps I can strive to take this year to continue on this journey?

The skeptical or cynical part of me stops immediately and thinks “really, Maura?!? With a toddler and a newborn, a part-time job, and everything else life throws one’s way, do you honestly think you can follow through on something else?”  But then I stop and think about that a bit more – yes, I can, and must, take on something else. If I am committed to living more justly and raising these a family in light of that, if I consider my work not just a job and a paycheck but a ministry and a vocation, how can I not continue to take steps on this journey?

So in my own context, how can I better promote the common good? I don’t know that I have answers to any of these questions yet, but they have had me thinking over the past couple of weeks:

What nourishes me spiritually, and how can I continue to look for and be present to the Incarnation we just celebrated over Christmas in my immediate presence – even my 2 year-old son as he refuses to nap? How can I carve out time to be more aware of the presence of God in the world?

How can I be more intentional with the community of people with whom I surround myself, including with our neighbors in need? How can I better prioritize community, and how can I move more toward relationship rather than ‘helping’?

Are there decisions or practices to which I – and we, as a family – can commit in order to live a little more simply and leaving a smaller footprint on the environment, to be in greater solidarity with most of the rest of the world? Are there practices or habits that I do out of personal convenience or because they are normative to our society that could be changed to be more in line with the common good?

What a gift for me that I have the opportunity to walk with these Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati through their year of service – challenging me as I invite them to continue on this life-long journey of faith, friendship, and service. I know they will continue to serve as reminders to me to continue asking tough questions, even when we do not have answers, and then to try to, as Rainer Maria Rilke said in Letters to a Young Poet, “live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, [we] will gradually, without even noticing it, live [our] way into the answer.”

Cheers to 2014, a New Year hopefully full of good questions.  I hope you’ll consider joining me along the journey as you explore and live into your own questions and strive to bring about the common good.

Maura CarpinelloMaura Carpinello has the great gift of serving as Program Manager for Vincentian Volunteers of Cincinnati. When she’s not walking with the VVC members as we all “live the questions,” she is walking around with her two young sons who keep her very busy.