Friday, November 25, 2016

Community in the Church

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had"
-Romans 15:5 

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” 

-Kurt Vonnegut

“People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.” 

-Wendell Berry 

The church is frequently referred to as a "community of believers".  What do we have in mind when we say that?  Do we mean Christians who are friends?  Do we refer to people who love Jesus and also love each other?  Or do we simply reference a group of people who meet at a specific place and celebrate a familiar routine with steeped traditions being celebrated week after week?  

I'm sure we all have our own varied interpretations of what "community" means to us, especially when we talk about the church.  But if I am being honest the idea of community in the church is different now, at age 37 than it was when I was age 7 or 17.  

I grew up in a church where I also had deep personal friendships, people I saw at church I also saw in the community, at the store, at basketball and football games and at their houses, for Thanksgiving.  I saw them in the Summer, outside of work, at the Mall, at the local gas station getting a fountain drink.  

What I'm getting at, I suppose, is that these people had a connection, we didn't just go to church together, church was where we met, where we worshiped but we also did life together.  Let me give a few examples.  

My best friend for as long as I can remember is David.  David has a strong family that quickly became my family growing up as I was over at his house almost as much as I stayed at my own.  His mom, Mrs. Aida and his dad Dan, were like surrogate parents to me.  They fed me, hugged me, asked me how my day was.  They loved me like I was their own.  I was the only non-Mexican in the house, it made no difference.  

I vividly remember one semester in college being especially difficult.  I had thoughts of dropping out, I had doubts about my future.  I felt depressed, I felt suicidal.  I hadn't seen them in awhile as I had been away at college.  I stopped by one day, no phone call, no warning, no nothing.  They welcomed me in.  We started talking and I spilled my guts.  I cried and cried and they formed a circle around me and laid hands on me and prayed.  I hugged them for what seemed like hours.  David, Dan, Mrs. Aida and even Melissa and Daniel, the other siblings were there.  

Another particularly meaningful memory was with my friend Amie.  I was back from college, working for the Summer and we were having a long and meaningful conversation in the bank parking lot.  The Summer breeze blew through the car windows as we sat and talked.  We laughed and we cried and we talked, for hours.  How many people can you talk to for hours?  About anything?  I have a few and it speaks of community, of a deep connectedness that was established a long time ago and is still vibrant even after long times of separation.  

I could give many more examples, walking the streets at night with my good friend Bob, talking about music and girls and God.  Discussing theology with my friend Ben or James or talking about punk rock with John, who is the sweetest guy I know.  

Maybe I'm romanticizing the past and maybe I"m expecting too much of the church for today.  After all, I've grown up, I've got a full- time job where I work much more than a 40 hour week, I've got kids that keep me happily busy.  I've got a lovely wife who I am so lucky to have.  

But I don't have that deep connection with church lately.  Perhaps it's because I stepped out of ministry almost 10 years ago for various reasons (that's another post), maybe it's because I have a job where I have learned not to trust people because as Dr. House says, "Everybody lies".  It could be that church has become more shallow and disconnected for various reasons.  We come to church, we meet, maybe we go to lunch, and we go home.  That's it.  

One thing I do know about community.  You can't force it.  You can't make emotional appeals for it to happen, you can't synthesize it.  It happens organically, naturally, and with effort by everybody, or it doesn't happen at all.  More than revival, more than a better offering, more than anything, I think our churches need community.  

I don't know where to start other than there.  Maybe someone can walk with me and talk about punk rock and life.  I think I'd like that.  

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