It is hard to imagine sustaining significant friendships on the margins if we ourselves are not part of a community. It is simply too difficult to do alone. A community of friends who share our deepest commitments to God and to those on the margins keeps us accountable and gives us strength and support. But even more than that, it is hard to conceive of ourselves apart from the life of a community. We are who we are because of the communities in which we dwell.
“Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission,” by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl (IVP, 2010): page 126.
A couple of years ago I had breakfast with Jean Vanier, the French Canadian founder of the L’Arche movement. L’Arche is an international network of communities made up of people with disabilities and those who come to share life with them. Jean Vanier has spent the last 40 years living in such communities. I asked him, “What’s the hardest part?” I was expecting he’d say “Sometimes I get fed up of being with developmentally disabled people and I just long for a normal life,” or something like that. But what he said was this. “Sam, if you really want to know, the hardest part is when young people come from college and they stay with us for a summer, or maybe for a year. And they say ‘This has been the most amazing experience of my life – I’ve learnt to see the world so differently and value things so truly and ponder things so deeply.’ And they have this word they like to use… ‘transformative,’ that’s it. They say it’s been transformative. And then they leave. And I think, ‘If it’s all been so fantastic and transformative, why are you leaving?’” And I said to this great man, maybe the greatest man I’ve ever met, “Ah, but don’t you see, if life is fundamentally the accumulation of experiences, you have to leave, otherwise you’d have to rethink your whole life.” “Oh,” he said. “So people leave, because they’re frightened of who they’re becoming if they stay.”
— Dean Sam Wells, Where Are You Staying?
There is an old anecdote in which a mystic, an evangelical pastor and a fundamentalist preacher die on the same day and awake to find themselves by the pearly gates. Upon reaching the gates they are promptly greeted by Peter, who informs them that before entering heaven they must be interviewed by Jesus concerning the state of their doctrine. The first to be called forward is the mystic, who is quietly ushered into a room. Five hours later the mystic reappears with a smile saying, ‘I thought I had got it all wrong.’ Then Peter signals to the evangelical pastor, who stands up and enters the rom. After a full day has passed the pastor reappears with a frown and says to himself, ‘How could I have been so foolish!’ Finally Peter asks the fundamentalist to follow him. The fundamentalist picks up his well-worn Bible and walks into the room. A few days pass with so sign of the preacher, then finally the door swings open and Jesus himself appears, exclaiming, ‘How could I have got it all so wrong!’