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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Four Ketchups

I have recently learned an important lesson about living in community- one of the keys of living in community, one of the foundations of the whole thing, is refusing to have your own ketchup. Let me explain.

I recently moved into a dormitory at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, IL, after having spent the previous year living in an intentional community. I didn’t live in the dorms during undergraduate years, so I was very interested to see what it would be like. Having lived in the small space of intentional community, always rubbing elbows with your community members, I was pretty sure I could take whatever the dorms threw at me.

My surprise came at the first kitchen meeting. All of the different floors have a communal kitchen facility- so, for example, I live on the eighth floor, and I share a kitchen with all those other dorm dwellers who also live on the eighth floor. The kitchen is communal but the food isn’t—that is, we share the pots and pans, and oven, but not food. Therefore, we divvied up the fridge space—everyone got a half a shelf (one fridge, divided by six people) to store his or her food.

I thought half a shelf would be more than enough space for my meager individual food items. However, space got tight quick! I looked through my selections to see the problem. The thing is, some food takes up a lot of space- a gallon of milk, a bottle of ketchup, some mustard- that’s half the space right there.

Then I noticed that everyone was having the same problem- the fridge was stuffed- and then I noticed we were all having the same problem with the same food items! In the fridge were four ketchups, four gallons of milk, three bottles of mustard and three half-gallons of orange juice, three bottles of soy sauce, etc. Furthermore, I know we are having a hard time consuming our individual food fast enough- it is not uncommon to see someone dumping out milk because they weren’t able to drink it all fast enough.

Having lived in community, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Why not all go in together on one ketchup? On one milk? Save ourselves the space and reduce mess?

As many people who have tried to build community from nothing- easier said than done. It’s no one’s fault, but we on the eighth floor have been unable to come to any communal arrangement- and so our fridge still has four ketchups, and no space. If a collection for food is taken up, some one doesn’t want to throw in because they don’t use ketchup, they only use milk. Someone wants to throw in less because they don’t drink as much milk as others. In whose part of the fridge will we store this communal food?

Let me end my reflection by saying that I love living on this floor. Everyone has been great, and friendly, and very deeply hospitable. But I realize now, more than I have before, that living in community is not about living near people. I do not live in community at the moment, though I share an address with hundreds. Community is about intentionality, about letting go of your personal best interest in the particulars for the best interest of the greater group at large. Community is much harder to create, and much more powerful, than I had realized before. It is a much deeper blessing, much more dependent on God’s grace, than I had suspected.

Part of community is about refusing to have your own ketchup.


Anonymous said...

"Birlliant" I love it.

Arleen Spenceley said...