A huge influence in my spiritual walk occurred during the seventies. This experience was intentional community. In an attempt to put the biblical account of the early church into practice, several dozen Christians lived communally. In various arrangements of households of families and single people, we shared our possessions, our income, our decisions, our lives.
This was an incredibly intense time of my life. Living that closely with others cannot help but rub off some rough edges of a personality. And rough edges do not come off easily! But, while this experience was not always particularly fun, I experienced a lot of joy through this time. Tremendous personal growth happened for me in many areas: spiritually, emotionally, religiously, mentally. My marriage strengthened, my wife and I began our family (my two sons often explain their biblical names by saying their parents were Christian hippies!!), it led to a much clearer idea of the bigger picture of what life is about. Certainly the idea that life is lived in community with others became a central theme for me.
One exciting aspect of all this was that I came to see there were practical applications for biblical truth. Through living communally, we as a group were demonstrating Biblical ideals lived out. We acknowledged throughout this experience that communal living was not for everyone. But we felt specifically called to do this, at that time, as an example of God’s love to the world.
An illustration of this: one way to demonstrate God’s love was taking people into our households as a way to help them out. Jay came to us as one of the many thousands of really messed-up Viet Nam war vets. He had gotten heavily involved in drugs over there, like so many of our young men did, and was trying to clean up his life.
I don’t know all the military terms and positions, but Jay had been an expert in weapons. We were living on a farm, and one day the owner took Jay out for some casual hunting. Jay was walking along carrying a shot gun at his side, barrel down. The farmer asked him if he could hit that fence post up ahead. Without hesitation, without breaking stride Jay leveled the gun one-handed at his waist and blasted off the top of the post. He did know how to shoot!
For some reason Jay developed an intense dislike of me. One day when the rest of the household was gathered in the living room for prayer, we could hear Jay upstairs pacing. Finally we heard his footsteps coming down the stairs. Goosebumps formed on my arms. I could sense the sinister nature of whatever was about to happen. Jay announced to the group, “You win,” and stomped outside.
Later we learned that he had been upstairs attempting to summon his knife. He had this weapon of death which he was going to use to kill me. He did not know exactly where his weapon was, but felt that through occult means he could summon this knife to himself. Apparently he had been involved in satanic rituals, and had successfully invoked his weapon before. This time his methods did not work.
I learned two lessons that night. One is the utter reality of the Spirit dimension, both light and dark. There are other forces, unseen, surrounding us at all times, and ready to interact with us. Two, I am protected! It was not my time to die that night, and Jay was not allowed to be the instrument of my death. I sensed that I had much to do in this life yet, many things to accomplish; my tasks were not yet over. I took this very seriously to heart. In no way have I ever taken this lightly.
Leaving intentional community for seminary a few years later was extremely wrenching. Anticipating this, my wife and I took an entire year to process our decision with our households of fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Our family leaving the community was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back; within a year, all aspects of that intentional community had fallen by the wayside.
While sad about this, I am able to see the importance this communal expression of spiritual truth was in my life at that time. Great memories were made. Lifelong friendships were forged. Although many of us live in places scattered all over now, looking each other up as opportunity provides reminds me of the deep friendships formed during that tough time of community living. I have never regretted the decision to participate in this shared expression of life together.