When I found out that I was sharing a room with Cameron and Drew I almost asked if I could switch, but I knew that Seth (one of my trip leaders) would laugh and say no, so I simply chuckled and proceeded to my room. If I had to name two people in USP that I’m the least likely to be friends with it would be Drew and Cameron. In fact, plainly speaking, I just don’t like them. On each of our IMME weekend trips I have literally prayed that I wouldn’t have to share a room with Drew and when Cameron speaks in class I cringe. There’s no explanation for why I don’t like them – I just don’t. We just don’t “click”.
As we arrived at Sipi Falls, Seth gave me my room key and my room assignment and I was certain that God was in heaven laughing at me. I walked to my room and resolved to thinking God had done this to me on purpose. I still believe God was the culprit behind it, only now I couldn’t be more grateful.
If the same scenario had played out just weeks prior I probably would have had an attitude most of the time and simply kept quiet, but the beauty of community that I saw in Kapturwa made it impossible for me to do that. Community in Kapturwa wasn’t a commodity to be chosen based on preference and personality. Community thrived because of an underlying commitment that people had to one another. Unlike many Americans who have the option of “shopping” for churches, friends, spouses, houses and neighborhoods most people in Kapturwa are committed to the communities they live in; there is no exit option that so many Americans take full advantage of. They are tied to the land and to one another in interdependent relationship. There is no choosing who one’s neighbor will be, yet the command to love is obeyed. There is no choice as to what church one will attend since there is only one church in the community I lived yet the command to love is obeyed. There is no choice in the matter of relationship and community yet cords of love bind the people together and they are free. Free to experience true community, true reconciliation, and true relationship.
In Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne says, “I feel sorry that so many of us have settled for a lonely world of independence and riches when we could all experience the fullness of life in community and independence.” So often I confuse freedom with “the lonely world of independence” that Shane talks about, but the truth is that although community requires a sacrifice of certain independence, it’s a lifestyle that Christ sets us free to live, meaning it’s a lifestyle loaded with greater amounts of freedom, not less.
I’ve heard it said that love must be freely chosen. But what if I can’t trust my own judgment? What if, because of my sin nature, I only choose relationships and friendships with selfish motives? In a world where relationships are often reduced to commodities, I have lots to learn from the people of Kapturwa. While at Sipi Falls I learned that Cameron and Drew are great, funny, smart guys, but I would have never known that if it were dependant upon my own choice. I learned that they have interesting life stories, but would have never heard them. I learned that there are more similarities between us than differences, but I would have never discovered that. I would have missed out on encountering people with infinite value.
Typically, when getting to know people, if I find out something about someone or observe a personality flaw that I don’t like or that “turns me off” my natural instinct is to disengage or draw back. Unfortunately it seems as though Jesus’ reaction is the exact opposite. He draws even closer when He observes the negative qualities and flaws in a person. Is this commitment to relationship supposed to be my response as well? As a follower of Christ am I not obliged to display this radical call to commitment and community in my life? Did Christ “invest” into relationships as if they were commodities? Or did He not even love Judas, who stole from the group’s resources and would later betray Jesus? What if relationship, like forgiveness, isn’t a matter of choice for those who follow Christ, but a matter of commitment to one another? When Christ called the disciples to follow him did he not also call them into relationship with one another?
It seems that most people choose friends the same way they choose their wardrobe or the car they will drive – to secure or improve their social status. Most people want to be friends with people who are “cool”, smart, popular, or beautiful. Whether we are in junior High School, College, or checking out a new church, people choose friends to secure their place in the societal totem poles we erect. I’ve probably been guilty of this since grade school, but I believe Christ sets us free from operating in relationship through this dysfunctional means. I believe he calls His followers to radically love one another, to draw closer to one another even when the natural tendency is to disengage, to base our relationships on something more solid that social status, attraction, or mutual interest. Henri Nouwen agrees in his book Compassion, writing that:
“In and through Christ we receive a new identity that enables us to say, ‘I am not the esteem I can collect through competition, but the love I have freely received from God’… Through union with God, we are lifted out of our competitiveness with each other into the divine wholeness. By sharing in the wholeness of the one in whom no competition exists, we can enter into new compassionate relationship with each other.”
I have become convinced that Christ doesn’t set us free to simply choose the coolest Christian friends we can find in order to validate and secure our identity in the world. Christ sets us free and makes community possible through a deep commitment to Him and others. Christ sets us free from measuring others and ourselves by a standard that doesn’t exist. Christ sets us free to love and love freely.