It never fails. I go to the theatre to watch an action-packed superhero movie with my husband and leave wiping tears out of my eyes.
How does Marvel do that to me, every single time? It’s because they know how to tell a story that will connect with their audience’s deepest need—to feel a part of something even bigger than themselves.
It doesn’t matter if you side with Cap or Iron Man, the truth is we are stronger together and we all can identify with having a role to play in defeating the bad guy. Marvel does an excellent job of creating art from the theme of self-sacrificial love and it gets me every single time.
Our deep need for connection and interdependence is probably what makes the current divisiveness in our communities so painful.
We do not have to try hard to find something to argue about, something we can align ourselves with as we engage in this normalized, yet toxic cycle of creating a false sense of us versus them. Unfortunately, there is a steady stream of opportunities to create otherness where there should be inclusiveness. Opinions posing as facts and half-truths have been twisted by evil to become alternative facts and fake news.
Darkness carries on damaging and destroying, undetected, while the children of God bicker amongst themselves over the stupidest of things. We are supposed to be the light of the world, clearly pointing others to the love of Jesus Christ and we can’t seem to see the forest from the trees.
Divisiveness is an intentional strategy of a very real enemy, and the only way to overcome it is through creating community.
In just two short years I have personally experienced:
• being a part of community,
• losing community,
• and building a new community.
The emotional roller coaster of those experiences can be summarized in the following three holiday memories.
On Christmas Eve in 2019 I remember my breath catching in awe as I watched our church’s completely dark auditorium become bright with light shared from just one candle from the stage. Everyone shared their light with their neighbors the moment they received it themselves and the result was a stunning reminder about how God multiplies our efforts to love our neighbors.
During the entire advent season of 2020, I was bullied ruthlessly by the enemy. “There is no church for you.” “You will never find a community who will accept you.” and “You do not belong.” The lies were constant, every day. I remember making it to January and telling a close friend, “I think I’m done with church. I’m going to focus on secular stuff for now.” Thank goodness I didn’t make it the ten-minute drive from her house before the Holy Spirit interrupted my plan with, “Yeah, about that. We aren’t done with you.”
And now, it’s November of 2021 and I am cheerfully volunteering for assignments for my church’s advent plans and eager for the season to start. Write about love for the last week of Advent? Sure, sign me up!
What’s the variable in these three different snapshots? It’s community!
Unfortunately, many of us are experiencing grief over communities we were once a part of but aren’t any more, communities where we can sense that we are no longer welcome, or communities we suspect we may be out-growing. We are witnessing the impact divisive culture is having at communal and individual levels.
This is especially true for allies who hail from white evangelical spaces. So much of the white evangelical tradition is fighting against racial justice and progress—refusing to name systemic racism for what it is and pouring fuel on the fire that is hysteria over critical race theory. For some of us, we cannot in good conscious remain in those communities.
So, what’s an ally to do?
It is challenging enough to grow and develop as an ally but grieving the loss of community and feeling alone in the work puts us at even greater risk of giving up. You, ally, are not alone! There are many allies in the world feeling similarly to you and there is a powerful healing that can happen when you find them and link arms.
I know this because in January of 2021, shortly after I had thrown the spiritual equivalent of a foot-stomping tantrum, God helped me find community. In fact, in his goodness, he helped me find a few small communities that eventually grew into my current support system.
The first community started as a small book club that read books about anti-racism.
The second started as something of a support group for recently ousted church leaders who cared deeply for racial justice.
The third was a group of women who prayed and shared vulnerably with one another over a monthly meal.
All of them were unexpected blessings from God that have made a dramatic difference in my ability to continue along my allyship journey.
As I found myself becoming a part of these communities, and helping to grow them, I have learned a few things and I want to share them with you.
Because ally—you need community and sometimes you must make it yourself.
How to Create a Community of Allies
Step 1: Create Clarity
Before you bring a group of people together, you need to get clear about what it is you are looking for—what needs do you want to see this group meet for one another. Maybe you are wanting a community that learns together, like a book club. Maybe you need a small group of people to get together and have nuanced conversations about racial justice and allyship. Maybe you need a group that holds one another accountable to setting aside time to making progress in their allyship journeys, whatever that might look like for each person. Maybe you need a safe space to share about your experiences and do some healing of your own before you step into allyship work. Maybe you need a group to help you deep dive into theology or history.
Whatever it is, take the time to ponder what it is you’re needing to accomplish in this community and who you are looking for.
Step 2: Create Opportunity
There is a good chance that you will find this step to be hardest. It requires patience, faith, and vulnerability. I know, that’s the worst. I’m sorry.
But once you have summoned all your patience, faith, and vulnerability, you will need to create opportunities to find your people. Think of it as an epic, live action game of “Find Waldo” but instead of Waldo you are looking for people who, like you, are desperate to connect with others to be encouraged and grow as allies.
It might sound impossible, but I promise it’s not. Start paying attention and asking questions, and don’t discount acquaintances that you know of, but don’t totally know personally. One of my favorite ally friends is someone who crossed my path a few times before we finally connected on a deeper level of allyship. When you think you might have found one, be brave and ask them if they would like to join you.
I will talk more about what they might join you in doing in the next step, but first a little bit of relationship wisdom from someone who has engaged in some questionable relationships in the past:
Relationships always get messy, so be careful who you invite into your community. Do not follow your desperation to end feelings of loneliness into regrettable choices. Steer clear of the crazy makers who are trying to outshout other folks on social media, even if they you agree with what they have to say. You are looking for fellow travelers on the allyship journey who have at least somewhat healthy communication styles.
Step 3: Create Space
Once you think you have found a fellow ally in need of community, the next thing you need to do is create a space where you can connect. At first this might just look like a coffee date or lunch. I won’t lie, I feel like I am the queen of social awkwardness, so I don’t have a lot of suggestions for these initial get togethers. Making friends is hard, you guys, especially these days. So, if you too are starting to panic just thinking about this idea of an initial one on one hangout then allow me to make a suggestion.
Create an opportunity for a small group of people to get together and hang out. They don’t all have to be people in your allyship community, but they could be. Either way, invite the new person into that situation and get to know them better.
Relationship building takes authenticity and time, so please don’t try to rush, or fake your way through this step. It takes as long as it takes. It’s the up-front investment that will lead to having a safe place to take all your allyship doubts and discouragements later, and I promise you it’s worth it. I cannot stress enough, friend—allyship is best done in community!
Step 4: Create Culture
Remember earlier when I said that relationships always get messy? Once you have a group of friends who you think are ready to define the relationship as allyship community, it’s best if you all get to work creating a shared culture. This is the most important step in creating a community of allies, do not skip this step.
Every group has its own set of dynamics, so these norms will look different from community to community. However, my suggestion would be to focus on three key components of your community culture.
1. Explicitly state cultural norms—These can be awkward to discuss so forwardly, but they really do help to create a safe environment for allyship.
Some of my favorites are that we agree not to judge one another or our spouses, we commit to sharing as honestly and vulnerably as possible, we resist the urge to fix another person, we do our best not to interrupt, we apologize and offer forgiveness as often as necessary and as quickly as possible, we respect one another’s boundaries.
2. Encourage the establishment of healthy boundaries—The truth is healthy boundaries might be a new concept to most people, our culture is not great at creating or maintaining them. If you find this to be the case, it might be a great place for your community to start learning together. Either way, make sure that your community members can express when they feel like a boundary is being crossed, especially during disagreements.
3. Stake out the rules of engagement for disagreements—If your allyship community is not coming across any instance of disagreement or conflict, it’s possible that you all are moving at a snail’s pace when it comes to growing as allies or that people are not being completely honest and vulnerable with one another.
There is nothing wrong with conflict, but allies need to fight fair with one another. My favorite rules of engagement include agreeing to give time (or take time) to cool down but committing to finishing the conversation, acknowledging that there is always more than one side to a story and that nobody is going to get it right all the time, no name calling, and most importantly no intentional efforts to harm another person.
Step 5: Create Change
If step two was the hardest step and step four was the most important step in creating a community of allies, this is the most powerful step. Using your community of allies to create change involves two intentional acts:
1. Encourage and develop leaders—Leadership, like allyship, can be learned. I have sometimes lost sleep over the amount of leadership potential that has been destroyed intentionally or by neglect through systems of white supremacy and patriarchy. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to help members in your community grow as leaders who can go and create a community of their own. Better yet, ask God to show you who he has in mind and how he sees you helping to make it happen and prepare to be amazed.
2. Welcome others—Don’t ever forget what it felt like to be without a community. And, always remember that one of the enemy’s go-to plays is to make people feel like they are alone. Again, you can be on the look out for opportunities to invite others in, but if you ask God to help you here, it’s been my experience that you can bet on a quick response.
There is something magical that happens to a person when they feel included, encouraged, supported. cared for and known.
I know this because I have experienced it. I am not the same woman I was just a year ago. With a handful of fellow allies cheering (and sometimes pulling) me along and under the care of a pastor who pushes me to grow spiritually for the Glory of God and not shy away from what I’ve been asked to do as an ally; no matter what lies the enemy might be trying to sell me, I am able to engage in this work from a place of humble confidence.
When we have community, we can more easily pick up the mantle of allyship, speak out against injustice, and rally others to join us. We can be a part of something bigger than ourselves.