One of the hallmarks of being a part of the Mount Paran Christian School family is that ours is a commUNITY - emphasis on unity. We are spiritual brothers and sisters, one in the body of Christ. But, what does a strong community look like? Why do we, as both a school and as a society, seek community? How can we ensure that we are the tightly-knit family we, at MPCS, proclaim to be? And, how can others learn from our experiences in community-building?
In her book Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, author Christine Pohl tackles these large questions, stating that “[h]ow we live together is the most persuasive sermon we’ll ever get to preach.” Humans are made for community, which is partly why so many find it challenging to social distance/quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. We crave close connection and deep relationships; living in isolation goes against how God created us.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18)
Our God-given desire for connection can be marred, however, by our cultural expectations, our desire to seek community on our own terms. Cultural norms of being “self-made,” living in a constant state of “busyness,” or a sense of entitlement are all a danger to the beauty of a close-knit community.
For Christians to build communities that are full of grace and truth, Ms. Pohl suggests we put in the daily effort of four key practices: Truth-Telling, Gratitude, Promise-Keeping, and Hospitality. It is through this day-in, day-out, ordinary practice that we will knit our lives together in deeper connection, says Ms. Pohl. Over the next several issues of this WingTips blog, we will explore each of these practices, beginning with truth-telling.
KEEPING UP APPEARANCES
One week post-Election Day, in one of the most contentious Presidential campaigns in recent memory, here we are, as Americans, grappling with the issue of politics and the political process. Sadly, we have nearly come to expect that politicians are not telling us the truth, where “dishonesty and spin are common,” leading us to cynicism and distrust, says Ms. Pohl. But falling prey to this stereotyping of leaders does us no good. There are many honest, hard-working representatives who listen, who mean and do what they say. As a society, we must have higher expectations for our elected officials and hold them accountable. The same can be said of all of our government officials and business leaders, churches and schools, family members and friends. We must have higher expectations, even, for ourselves.
In our modern era of social media and selfies, where we face pressure to present ourselves in the best light possible, to only present the “perfect” versions of ourselves, we fall into what Ms. Pohl describes as the “danger of deception.” Instead, we need to turn away from false promises and false speech, from Photoshopped images and unrealistic expectations, and turn toward Jesus. We need to love the truth, using it to build others up and affirming that which is right and good.
TRUTHFUL LIVING: IT'S MORE THAN JUST HONESTY
Living in truth goes beyond never lying or simply telling someone what they want to hear. Living in truth is “a framework for interpreting community life and relationships.” It’s living in faithfulness and recognizing that it’s possible for multiple truths to exist congruently. In Living Into Community, Ms. Pohl outlines that there are two types of truths: forensic truths, which are facts or “knowledge of the past,” and narrative truths, which are personal or acknowledged truths. Understanding that these two types of truths can simultaneously coexist is huge, especially when we consider the larger societal issues we face today, such as racial injustice. Each person can have different narrative truths based on their own personal experiences; it does not negate other truths. For instance, just because one may not have personally experienced acts of discrimination does not mean that it does not exist for others - it is true for them, even if not for one’s self.
We must also be wary of the “little white lie,” which leads to a path of dishonesty and can periously become big little lies. As the old adage says, “Liars need good memories.” To lie is to “demean the people deceived”, says Ms. Pohl, as if they are undeserving of the truth. Lies also hurt the liar, whether it’s cheating - the student has deprived him or herself of actually learning the material - or stretching the truth, which is too often rewarded and is patronizing. Instead, to be truthful is to be vulnerable, recognizing our own shortcomings and giving grace to the flaws in others.
CAN WE HANDLE THE TRUTH?
“Discovering wrongdoing in a community brings concerns about truth-telling to the foreground immediately,” says Ms. Pohl. “Because we want to deal redemptively with situations, we struggle with how much to say and to whom we should say it.” We must create safe places for truthfulness, with clarity in communicating our missions and philosophies. We must live in the light instead of falling prey to “flattery, dishonesty, lying, and self-deception.” (Ephesians 4:25)
Ignorance is not bliss. We cannot live deluded lives, deliberately ignoring the needs of others. We are called to serve a greater good, to turn from rumor and gossip and to instead embrace “God’s desire for truth in our inner being.” We must listen more and talk less. We must be truthful in our speech and in our actions. We must address concerns quickly, face-to-face, in a gentle and honest manner.
What does this look like at MPCS? For employees, this means that we are called to pray for one another, to go to one another in love when dissensions or concerns arise, and to hold each other accountable. (Matthew 18:15-17) Families of MPCS are charged with the same expectations, pledging to bring any criticisms directly to the teacher and/or administration so that they may be handled in a biblically-appropriate manner, avoiding discussions with those not involved so as to avoid a spirit of dissension or division. As with all that we do, above all, truth-telling must be done in love. It is only then that we, as a CommUNITY, will have the room to grow and flourish.
Ms. Pohl encourages us to ask ourselves to explore our motivations when sharing information with others: Who is helped? Who benefits? Who is harmed? Why should it be known? When we consider these questions before speaking, we can be more careful in choosing our words so that we can be both honest and kind. By living in truth and speaking honestly, we honor our fellow human beings, we honor ourselves, and, most of all, we bring honor to God.
This is the first in a series exploring community-building practices outlined in the book Living Into Community by Christine Pohl, suggested by Head of School, Dr. Tim Wiens. Amber Irizarry is the Communications Content Specialist at Mount Paran Christian School. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Communication from Georgia State University.
To learn more about the Mount Paran Christian School CommUNITY initiative for diversity and inclusion, click here.