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Between People: Jon Pyle
Let's talk about Community, Y'all 🤠
An unrecorded podcast 🎙️
Rob: Jon, we've been having quite a few 'unrecorded podcasts'1 this year about a lot of things you've been talking about over at Better on the Inside / Beyond Sunday.
I'm curious what has stuck out to you?
Jon: I was so proud of us for inventing the ‘conversation’.🤣
It has been wonderful getting time to chat about these things, particularly because we don’t have a result or end decision we have to get to. We’re not required to show our work or execute an idea. We just get to explore without a map or a destination, which means we can sometimes get to unexpected places. Often it’s uncomfortable, but we’re not worried about sacred cows or ideas that could get us in trouble.
Sometimes it’s a specific problem we’re solving, sometimes we’re trying to imagine a world without greed. I love the idealism and freedom.
Rob: We've really been trying to get at the heart of the issue lately in our blogs. And the heart, to me and I think you, is community. Maybe a RETURN to community? What do you think?
Jon: Absolutely. I don’t think we even know what community means anymore. I know I don’t. In America, we’re so conditioned to be individuals and value our personal freedom that the idea of surrendering to a whole is foreign and kind of offensive. I didn’t realize how deeply ingrained rugged individualism was for me until I started to interrogate ideas I thought were foundational. Following curiosity to a natural conclusion instead of defending or proving an agenda has reframed how I see community and what is possible.
Rob: I think that’s been key to our conversations too. No agenda. Not defending a point of view, just probing at things that make us uncomfortable. Let’s us be open to curiosity.
Jon: All that said, I had to define community for myself. What did I mean when I used the word? Defining the concept painted a clearer picture of where we were trying to go. And I read a book that really helped me break something super complex down.
In America, we’re so conditioned to be individuals and value our personal freedom that the idea of surrendering to a whole is foreign and kind of offensive.
Breaking Down What Community Means 🫂
Rob: Breaking it down for sure. You've been pulling this definition together by looking at community as parts of a whole. What are the parts that really make community to you?
Jon: A quote from Eugene Peterson really seared itself into my brain and defined community to me.
“Somewhere between there is community—a place where each person is taken seriously, learns to trust others, depend on others, be compassionate with others, rejoice with others. “How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along!””
— A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene H. Peterson
I took that quote and turned those phrases into words to simplify the definition.
Jon: “Each person is taken seriously”- I’d call that dignity. Honoring someone and respecting their inherent value. This is a baseline for any relationship and therefore, a community. This may very well be the most difficult of the attributes because our performance-driven culture has poisoned us to believe our value is based on performance in subtle ways. Everything in American culture, even inclusion, is based on what we contribute. And we’ve internalized these messages deeper than we’ve realized.
Rob: Yeah, so much of who we are is tied up in what we do. And it’s so hard to keep up with that too! There can be this ‘what have you done for me lately’ attitude. It can really damage our image of ourselves and others.
Jon: “Learns to trust others” - I love that he says “learn” 🤣as it relates to trust. Trust is hard. Unlike dignity, trust is earned. It is actually unwise to trust every individual without some kind of evidence. It is slow to earn. But trust is the most precious relational currency available to humans. And any community worth being apart is built on mutual trust.
Rob: Trust is so hard to earn, and so easy to lose. You have to be intentional about maintaining that with people. A community without trust is a den of vipers, to borrow a phrase.
Jon: “Depends on others”- this is interdependence. If we struggle with dignity… HOOOO BOY do we struggle with interdependence. As people that love to project the image of the rugged loner cowboy (think John Wayne), depending on others and having others depend on us, is unattractive to most. Many would go so far as to consider interdependence as weakness. How often do we celebrate “I don’t rely on anyone but myself!?” Even though we don’t want to surrender our independence, we have to need each other to make community work.
Rob: I want to touch on that one. Interdependence is so HARD! Our entire western perspective - especially our United States / Texan spirit - is all about this sense of rugged individualism and bootstraps your way through things that I think it's hard to admit we all rely on each other to make things work. How do we sort of re-program ourselves to understand?
Jon: The economy is doing a great job for us! In our comfort, it is very hard to move away from rugged individualism. “I’m fine. Why would I change?” But everyone I know is struggling financially (and emotionally too). Not like cut out a Starbucks drink struggle, but get another job or move in with someone struggle. Everyday, we are being forced to rely on one another to survive. And while I don’t want debt and financial difficulty for folks, a healthy byproduct is increasing the sense of interdependence. I need you, you need me, we need each other. Part of the American ethos is avoiding this because wealth is insulating, but this is how most of the world lives and has always lived. Plus, the interdependence we do have is all buried like infrastructure.
As individuals, I think we can highlight the interdependence that already exists to help reprogram ourselves. Show people where there is already interdependence done well and acknowledge. The only way to do it, is to do it, though. I think we can slowly and carefully enter into these relationships and form communities.
Jon: “Be compassionate with others''- compassion is about empathizing with those who are suffering. At its heart, compassion is about putting ourselves on the level of the hurting and struggling. The word implies starting with an imbalance, or at least some distance, and covering the gap with love. In healthy community, we sit with people in their pain. Not to fix or to make ourselves feel better, but to comfort and care.
Rob: It can be so difficult to sit in pain or grief with someone, without trying to fix something. The discomfort of grief is more about my discomfort than theirs… and it can’t be about me!
Jon: “Rejoice with others”- In our very serious world, with very difficult circumstances and more suffering than we can shake a stick at, joy is so important. It is both a reprieve and transcendence. We find the energy to keep going in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles because something in rejoicing lifts us to a higher plane of being and unites us with the people around us. Within every community is a sense of joy. To simplify, everyone wants to hang out with people who make us happy and put a smile on our face.
In our very serious world, with very difficult circumstances and more suffering than we can shake a stick at, joy is so important.
Joy, Joy, Joy 😃😃😃
Rob: Joy is so hard to discover in community because so much of the world right now is hyperfixated on the negative. Reality is hard to square with the ideal world or community we want. How do you think people can find joy in communities?
Jon: Joy is actually really simple. Childlike, really. Which is why it’s so hard for us grownups to embrace. We have decided to equate serious with negative, for some reason. In addition, our digital world is driven by outrage. The worst drives traffic, clicks and shares because it’s easier to mine and exploit. I don’t think it’s more powerful than joy, but it’s more immediate and consistent with the pretty hate machines we’ve built.
Rob: Yes, it’s a simple thing that we’ve made complicated or broken. The negative generates so much more traffic. Negativity and fear. But it feels to me like joy just lingers so much longer. There’s something about it that sticks though.
Jon: Yeah, joy helps bond communities together and is a balm for the wounds of the world. Picture a community as a beautiful restorative garden or spring. It’s an oasis and an escape from the harsh, cold world. Every person I’ve ever met wants that. But without a community that’s difficult to achieve. Joy found individually is necessary and valid, but doesn’t seem to have the same lasting effect as rejoicing in community.
Rob: Man, that picture of a garden has really been speaking to me. I know we talked a little bit about my poem, The Return, and this idea of returning to the wilderness. But this idea of a garden being a community is just captivating. But gardens take work, cultivation, intention.
Jon: I definitely think intentionality is a key to how we find joy in communities. We have to look for it, share it and create it. That’s part of why I ask everyone what brought them joy this week in our little Facebook community. When we share our joy, it makes a huge difference. And to create joy, we gotta tap into some childlike silliness. Be ridiculous. Have fun.
Picture a community as a beautiful restorative garden or spring. It’s an oasis and an escape from the harsh, cold world. Every person I’ve ever met wants that.
Rob: Beyond Sunday has really been a refreshing departure from my usual podcast experience of fanciful creative inspiration, marketing training, and about 27 different basketball podcasts. You've made such an impact with every new guest, and I've really enjoyed each new perspective. It can be so hard to pull myself away from my own view and see the big picture with all of us together.
But the question really is... who has been your favorite guest so far this season?
Jon: That’s a very tough question. I enjoy them all, but Sharifa Steven and Kate Boyd kinda blew my mind. Their interview inspired the shift TO the new season. It was an episode with a really quick turnaround because their angle on women in ministry was just so important.
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This is an inside joke Jon and I started years ago. We were talking about having a podcast, but not recording it 😆. So we invented… the conversation.