21 Apr Community
I don’t remember hearing the word “community” used or talked about very much as I was growing up. Even during college and later, as I launched into adulthood, I recall the emphasis being primarily about the individual, and that was true whether the issue at hand was job, family or faith. In the latter, the focus was overwhelmingly on each person’s relationship with God, rather than God’s desire to form faithful people into a community to bear God’s image to the world. Now, maybe I just have a really bad memory. Or, perhaps that’s just how someone in the “coming-of-age” stage of life hears things. It’s also possible that what I experienced was shaped significantly by the “me generation” and is, therefore, at least reasonably accurate. But, at any rate, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
It was 15 years ago when I first became aware of “community” as a deeply held value among some groups of people. I was totally captivated by the idea. What a lovely, inspired, and inspiring approach to relationships and life, I thought. Visions of belonging and being loved and accepted danced through my head—and I think there were some sugarplums and unicorns mixed in as well.
It turns out that community is just about the hardest work we’ll ever do. (Lots of folks already knew this and could have told me so, but what can I say? I was coming to this party a little late.) The Body of Christ, a.k.a. the church, is the community with which I have always most closely identified. For better or worse, these are my “peeps,” the people to whom I have been joined and with whom I share life. But, it’s not easy. You can’t possibly expect to put 150 people of varied backgrounds, ages, and stages together and not experience some turbulence. There are inevitably differences of opinion or approach, miscommunications, and sometimes even immaturity or dysfunction that impacts the cohesive functioning and unity of the whole.
Jesus, after all, did say that it was the sick who need a doctor, not those who are well. We are all, of course, “sick” in one way or another. Insecurities, fears, anger, envy, impatience, arrogance, being judgmental—every time the church doors open, we all arrive with our “baggage.” Sometimes we are driven by fears and needs so deep that we don’t even know they are there, but our defensiveness, our need to be right or to be viewed a certain way or to be valued or acknowledged are the tell-tale signs that we are fearful and anxious. When we act out of those fears and anxieties, we are not easy to get along with, much less love, but that is precisely what Jesus tells me to do—to love people who hurt me, who are my enemy, who are unlovely. I’ve discovered that that’s what community really entails—loving those who sometimes (or often) aren’t very loveable.
That includes me, needless to say, which is why compassion, forgiveness and mercy are essential to true community. To be honest, some days, I wonder if it’s worth it, especially when I am fatigued. But, there are two reason I choose to keep at it. First, for all the effort and challenges of community, it is the source of many of life’s richest blessings. I am loved. I do belong. I am encouraged and supported. I am forgiven when I mess up, which is often. There are even people here who laugh at my jokes. That’s close enough to sugarplums to keep me coming back for more.
The second reason I don’t give up is that there is no “out” clause in Jesus’ call to discipleship. To follow Jesus is to love those he loved—no exceptions. To follow him is to stay faithful to his community. I don’t know about you, but I can’t do it on my own. It is only by yielding to the Spirit of God who is remaking me into a person who is poor in spirit, humble, and pure in heart that I can love as Jesus loved. No, there are no unicorns in my real-life communities, but Jesus is here. And, that makes all the difference.
Yours for the Kingdom,