Tattoos, tribes and true community

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42 (NIV)

What makes a true community?

People use the word community to describe all sorts of social groups. But what constitutes a “true” (real, authentic, fully realized) community? If we are born into the same race or family, does our membership in the same tribe equal true community? What if we wear the same colors, tattoo our bodies, endure the same initiation, does our gang become a true community? What makes a true community?

Psychologist and author, Scott Peck, says that most people have only experienced true community in accidental ways and that usually during crisis. He says that most groups that people think of as communities are really just “pseudo-communities.” He believes that true community requires going through a four stage process of deepening relationships and connection.

These four stages are:

  1. Pseudo-community: Where participants are “nice with each other”, playing-safe, and presenting what they feel is the most favourable sides of their personalities.
  2. Chaos: When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their “shadow” selves.
  3. Emptiness: This stage moves beyond the attempts to fix, heal and convert of the chaos stage, when all people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to us all as human beings. Out of this emptiness comes
  4. True community: the process of deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community. This stage Peck believes can only be described as “glory” and reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one’s fellows.

Peck’s description of true community as the “deep yearning in every human soul” is what drives us to tattoo ourselves and identify with tribes. We all have a deep desire for true community.

I think God made us that way. He made us relational. He made us to be in relationship with Him and with others. That’s why Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and to love others as ourselves. In other words, God designed us to be in true community with HIm and with HIs people.

As I look at any community that approaches the level of being “true,” they always seem to have certain traits in common. The first century church described in the book of Acts was certainly a “true community.” They had four traits in common. These four traits or “devotions” were the apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. Restated, they might be 1) a common belief, 2) a common identity, 3) a common practice, and 4) a common dependence.

This past Wednesday I gathered with my weekly WCC Community Group. After the loss of my wife’s father last week, our family was in need of some “true community.” We gathered in a member’s home to read the Scripture together, eat together, laugh, talk, and pray. They (and many others in our wonderful church) brought meals to our home. They filled our house with flowers and cards. They phoned and emailed their words of comfort.

True community. I think I’ve found it.

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