4 Books I love on Community

by Mark Votava


1. Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus by Kathy Escobar 

“If we can’t accept the paradoxes in ourselves, it is impossible to accept them in others.  This means we won’t be able to live in free and generous ‘with’ relationships because we will constantly be consciously or unconsciously working to squeeze the paradox out, instead of learning to live in its tension.”

Mercy and compassion are essential components of love…  The essence of downward living is embodied in a life of extending love, mercy and compassion to others.”

“Like pain, we need to accept doubt as part of our experience instead of resisting it.  This can be extremely difficult for those experiencing a deconstruction-reconstruction process when it comes to faith…” 

“A Life of descent invites us to give away power as much as possible… Genuine power diffusion means giving it away to people who aren’t typically influential.  The least.  The last.  The marginalized.  The oppressed.  The not quite as pretty, talented, educated, or socially accepted individuals.”

“Making room for equality sometimes means we have to let go of our tendency toward perfectionism…”

“…a central part of our role in relationship with each other is to become dignity-restorers.  We do this by helping people draw out and express their natural creativity.  To create, is to directly connect with the image of God within…  The creativity that is in each person is a natural reflection of God’s creative image inside of us…”

“Community gives us a different set of eyes…”



2. Community and Growth by Jean Vanier 

“To live in community is to discover and love the secret of what is unique in ourselves.  This is how we become free.  Then we no longer live according to the desires of others, or by an image of ourselves; we become free, free to love others as they are and not as we would like them to be.”

“Some people flee from commitment because they are frightened that if they put down roots in one soil they will curtail their freedom and never be able to look elsewhere…  But freedom doesn’t grow in the abstract; it grows in a particular soil with particular people.  Inner growth is only possible when we commit ourselves with and to others.  We all have to pass through a certain death and time of grief when we make choices and become rooted.  We mourn what we have left behind.”

“No community grows without times of trial and difficulty; times of poverty, persecution, tensions, and internal and external struggles; times which destroy its balance and reveal its weakness; times of difficulty which are inevitable when a new step has to be taken.”

“A community must be a sign of the resurrection.  But a divided community, in which everyone goes their own way, preoccupied with their own sanctification and personal plans, and without tenderness for the other, is a counter-witness. All the resentment, bitterness, sadness, rivalries, divisions, refusals to hold out a hand to the ‘enemy’ and whispered criticisms, all the division and infidelity to the gift of the community, are profoundly wounding to its true growth in love.” 



3. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us by Christine D. Pohl 

“Gratefulness to God and gratitude for life can strengthen persons for the long journey toward wholeness and justice.”

“A willingness to ‘stay with the process’ or to stay in connection with a community during difficult or uncertain times allows progress to be made in spite of the messiness.  Although giving things ‘time’ does not guarantee that we will move forward or find healing, slowing processes down often provides opportunities for giving attention to relational issues.” 

“Creating a community that lives truthfully necessarily involves individuals committed to the practice…”

“Hospitality was a central practice in the first fifteen hundred years of the church.  During the Late Middle Ages, however, its special features were undermined for a variety of reasons, and hospitality came to be identified with the lavish entertaining of the rich and powerful.  Its practice often served to reinforce power and influence.  The connection with poor people, with equality, and with crossing social and cultural boundaries was nearly lost.”

“Part of the challenge of recovering hospitality involves helping people to notice it and to tell stories about their experiences as guests, hosts, and strangers. Becoming more attentive to hospitality and story-telling allows us to recount the blessings of welcoming strangers and to learn from some of the challenges.”



4. Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz

“Grace in community brings us closer together, not in a way that creates unhealthy fusion but in one that validates the human struggle we all face.”

“I use my false center to label everyone around me.  The more differentiated someone is from me, especially based on her or his nationality, religion, or sexuality, the more I use descriptive terms to highlight our differences.”

“Understanding the humanity of Christ has helped me embrace my own humanity.  Seeing Jesus validate needs, behaviors, and passions that don’t seem divine is an invitation for me to grasp the implications of his incarnation. I’ve come to understand that spiritual doesn’t only mean divine but in some ways becomes the hinge between what is human and divine – and sometimes it’s expressed in very material things, including my humanity.”

“We’re learning that gratitude isn’t a throwaway at all.  It does indeed make and break community.”

“…the gifts of contemplative spirituality carry us into the most ordinary and restless parts of our lives.”

“Most of real life consists of living in the ordinary, in-between times, the space and pauses filled with monotony.  Most of real life is undramatic…”

“Although we should know better, many of us are surprised when we encounter boredom in our communities, relationships, and vocations.  We are surprised when we find ourselves living restless, discontented lives.  We want more.  We want meaning.  We want to be part of things that are significant and vocations that make a difference.”

“So now, as we strive toward faithfulness, may we throw ourselves on the mercy of community, allowing our lives to be woven together to create vibrant tapestries of hope.”



What stands out to you through these books and quotes?  Which book would you like to read the most?