Our kitchen is crowded now. There’s pots all over the place. Yesterday, Ingrid made apple butter. There were lots of dishes covered in apple goop. Jamie and Matt’s gifts and luggage were still being moved. Jayber the dog was running between feet and legs, excitedly wiggling his tail. I had to make dinner and at first I was annoyed. The kitchen was crowded, there was no space. I made quiche, and I felt like I had barely any room. I am a clean kind of kitchen person. I like everything neat and its place. Everyone was coming and going. I felt like my head was spinning. I thought to myself, I cannot believe I’m living with these people as housemates.
Of course, it’s a thought I’m not proud of. And then in the midst of stirring the apple butter, Ingrid turns to me and asks, “Can I help with something for dinner?” It was that point I swallowed the anger and annoyance in my throat. All I could say was, “Oh, ummm, yeah, that’d be nice.” So, Ingrid helps me with sautéing the onions for dinner. After dinner, I walk into the kitchen and the pile of dishes. It was almost cartoonish the way they were stacked and leaning with bits of food and apples dribbling off. I resign myself to a trial perhaps greater than Christ’s. This time, Jaimie jumps in. “Oh, Mary Claire I’ll do the dishes. You made dinner. I’ve got it.” I mumble something incoherent about still wanting to help but am more or less scooted out of the kitchen by Jaimie. When I eventually come back, not only are the dishes done but the dish drain has been thoroughly scrubbed. Everything has been wiped down and swept.
Over the past few months, reading people like Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove and Shane Claiborne or listening to David Janzen, I’m told that community is hard. It’s not all roses and clean kitchens. It doesn’t really hit home until you experience it. But what they fail to mention is how can be fulfilling it can be in even small ways. Five people in one house can be hard. Housemates fight, argue, and have completely different ways of doing things. But we are more than housemates. I struggle to say that word when I’m around people explaining Blackburn House. As I try to describe what we are, as an intentional community, it becomes more difficult. I say to people, “Well, we live together, we pray together, and work together.” The word “housemate” feels awkward because it doesn’t sum up what we are exactly. But it’s so much more than that. It’s more than just sleeping in the same house. We clean up after each other. We cook meals together and have scheduled times to eat together. We harvest food for each other. We work on projects together. It’s a lot of together time. If anything, we function more like a nuclear family than anything but we’re definitely not the stereotype. As Janzen kept pointing out when he visited, “Intentional Community is great to talk about on a spiritual level, but there’s a more than that.” The more is the dirty dishes, dirt in the house, crowding of the house, etc.
It’s one thing to talk, another to actually do, as Jaimie and Ingrid did for me. In a community like this, we do a lot more and that speaks more than the books we read. We are a family in Christ. We are attempting to function as the body of Christ, to work together towards one goal. Families are messy, not in a cute way, but in a frustrating and “we’re going to get mad at each other but I guess it’s ok” kind of way. This is how we work. Intentional community becomes a very long and drawn out word for the word “family.” No, we’re not biologically related. We may not be a typical experience of family, but that’s what we’re aiming for. As I think about our place in Todd, I continue to think about how we all fit together. Our intentional community is also a community development organization dedicated to the vitality of Todd. What does it mean “developing a community”? If we’re being honest, really what we’re asking is, “How can we love Todd? How can we love Todd in a way that’s practical?” More than just saying we love Todd, or that we’re praying for Todd, how do we physically offer help and our assistance? Like Ingrid and Jaimie, I think a lot of it has to do with jumping in and asking.
As we begin this year together, everyone is here. We are present. We are dedicated to making this work somehow. We are struggling to fit together. I find it odd that most people my age are more focused on breaking away from family, and here I am trying to find one in Blackburn House and Todd. We tell ourselves that family is important. But how does that actually function? How do we show that family is important? I feel like I’m asking myself, “How do I find family in Blackburn house, in the church, in Todd?”