Posted on April 20, 2009
In the 2 Christian communities I’ve invested most in, the theme of finding home has always been just under the surface, ready to bleed at any idle scratch. Mostly, this is because they involved young adults who were leaving their family home and experimenting with the identities that are possible in a Christian community. As with any community of purpose, there is a strong sense of belonging that replaces the sense of home experienced in the family. In our Seeds community, our young adult members have all left home (geographically & metaphorically) in order to study in Bendigo. They have found a partial new home (metaphorically) in our Seeds community, but it is insufficient because questions remain over where they will ultimately settle (back in the old home? here? a new place?) and with whom.
Erik Erikson, the developmental psychologist, identified 8 stages of development in which a core tension must be resolved before a person is able to grow. For young adults, the tension is ‘Intimacy vs. Isolation’. They must resolve questions of long-term partnering, where to live, what to do with their life. It’s a sociological fact of Western societies that young adults are deferring the resolution of this tension through university study and the tendency to stay in the family home until their late twenties and beyond (as an aside, this fact has an economic dimension – and how does this affect Christian communities?). In his book “Secret Men’s Business”, John Marsden addresses how adolescent boys become men. Although the book is about ‘boys to men’, it’s also about leaving home to find home. Indeed, Marsden insists that boys must leave home to become men, as well as defeat their fathers. It’s all part of leaving the symbolic home. Erikson thought that failure to resolve a core tension results in stagnation and immaturity.
Christian communities of purpose will often become secondary or tertiary homes for those who have left home, or moved on from study, and are still trying to resolve the tension of ‘intimacy vs. isolation’. To an extent, this is OK – in fact, I wouldn’t have decided to take the path I have if I wasn’t able to experiment with radical discipleship through the alternative home of Christian community. But if the journey of following Jesus can start with that alternative home, it can’t end there, or our discipleship will stagnate. Sooner or later we need to leave the nest. The difficulty for Christian communities is that young adults are often the most energetic and vibrant members! For their spiritual health they will need to leave, but encouraging them to do so seems like self-harm. I think we can only trust in the mysterious economy of God – a kind of redeemed prosperity doctrine in which those we farewell will go on to be a blessing to others and we will receive as we give.