There is something daunting about putting together a blog about Jesus People. The view from the outside is, “How hard can this be? You all live and work together. Is there anything to say?” And yes, in some ways it could seem like there is only one story here – people moving into our community, serving, and at some point either realizing that they want to do something else and moving out, or feeling a renewed daily call to live with these specific people in this specific place.
But what you quickly come to realize as you live in community is that there is no one story of community. And really, most of us disagree about everything – from how to properly mop a floor to who to vote for to what color to paint the walls. For example, our building has ten stories and nine of the floors are nearly identical in layout. Yet, every room is decorated completely differently from every other room. One family has put together gothic-inspired arches and thick stucco in their room, another family has chosen Mexican tiles and jewel-tone walls. Some people love their dark antique furniture and another couple hasn’t met a wooden structure that they didn’t want to paint white. While the rooms share layouts and all are located in the same building, no two rooms are the same, nor could they be mistaken for anyone else’s.
It’s the same with community. The main structure of each person’s life in community is similar – we live together, work together, eat together; yet our lives are quite different.
And this is the thing about long-term life in community – differences abound and instead of destroying our unity, they give life to us all. You may be having a terrible day, but then you go out into our shared hallway in the early morning and your four-year-old neighbor offers you some Doritos (which his mother doesn’t know he has). Or your friend sees you in the laundry room and says she’s been praying for your mother who lives far away. Or some kind soul who knows you love to make hummus puts a can of chickpeas by your door, with no note, just because they know you’ll enjoy it. These are some of the tiny interactions happening here all the time because we live together.
There are tough times, too. No community can live up to anyone’s expectation of community life. There are days when you aren’t feeling very grateful to have “cream of something baked over something else” again for dinner, or someone ate your ice cream from the shared floor freezer, or took your laundry out of the dryer while it was still wet or forgot that it was their day to empty the garbage from the community kitchen and now there are fruit flies buzzing everywhere.
There are, surprisingly, times of loneliness. Some people feel deeply alone in community, though surrounded by people. Other people feel overwhelmed by too many interactions and have to put up a Do Not Disturb sign on their door and basically hide out in their room once a week, just to recharge.
Again, there is no one story of community living. For every story that we tell, someone living at Jesus People has had the opposite experience. This is what makes writing the Jesus People blog a tough thing – no one can sum up anyone else’s life. But what we are trying to do with this blog is tell a little bit about community – Big Picture Community in general and smaller picture community in Jesus People. We are hoping that what shines through these stories is the idea that community is not some far – off, impossible ideal, only for the saintly. Community is just people gathering together and committing to each other to show up – show up broken, show up joyful, show up on good and bad days, show up even when no one knows what to do. It has been our experience that when we show up, God shows up as well. While we know and believe that God is everywhere, walking together as a group in community has proven to be a clarifying background against which God’s presence is made more visible. Here is God, offering you Doritos in the hallway at 7 a.m., reminding you that He cares about your mom four states away, and holding your hand when you feel alone in a house surrounded by two hundred noisy people. It is that presence that has made community living possible for us, the Jesus People, through the highs and lows of the past almost 50 years. We hope that this blog will inspire you to continue to show up in your own life, building community wherever you find yourself and catching glimpses of God’s presence there.
Genesis Winter was raised in JPUSA and still lives there with her husband, Andrew. They are beginning the empty nest transition. She currently manages events at the Wilson Abbey, JPUSA’s venue space, runs the Chicago’s Best Baker Contest, and works as a spiritual director. Her past jobs include helping run Cornerstone Festival, teaching, and working in the community’s financial office. She is glad to live in Chicago with its extremely diverse population and fantastic food, and is always trying to find ways to bring people together through events.