Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Call To Real Community

Pink spills across the evening sky reflecting off windows of houses with soft glossy luster.

The air has a faint scent of dryer sheets as I pedal on the narrow road that winds through my neighborhood. Warm air whips a few strands of hair against my cheek as I breathe in deep and count slow: "One....two....three....four..."

I feel my chest rise and belly expand and I continue to breathe in.... "five.....six.....seven.....eight.."

Then the slow exhale mixes with pure oxygen and movement.

It's a one-mile loop to circle my neighborhood. I don't ride here for the adventure of it, but because it's the community I live in.

We've lived here for well over a decade and mostly I've tried to keep to myself.

These people? We appreciate their well-fertilized, neatly manicured lawns, but what we have in common is our location. There is a cross-section of people from deeply varied backgrounds.

There are single folks, couples, and large families. Some are retired from long-term employment and some have had long-time disabilities.

There are men who are caregivers for their wives and women who have buried their husbands. Teenagers around here, drive fast and text through intersections.There are people who park on our lawn crushing sprinkler heads so they can retrieve their mail and others send their kids and pets over to our yard.

That word community has at its Latin root, "common."

As in, together.

And wherever there is a lot of togetherness, we've probably all learned... it imperfect, hard, and messy.

My neighborhood is a very small example of that.

Even in this beautiful community, I could easily put out tall metal stakes to mark out boundaries, close the garage door and pull the shades.

And too often I've been that person who takes this approach to my church community.

It's easier to dart in and out of places where community could happen. Just nod politely. Maintain a safe distance from certain people. Establish safe boundaries. Keep the conversation casual and short. Avoid uncomfortable topics and hard conversations. Return as quickly as possible to my isolated life.

C.S. Lewis has been quoted by many in relation to deep theological issues, but one of my all-time favorite quotes from him is this: "If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity."

Isn't that just the truth?

Church is hard because it is intended to be community where we share Christ in common. 

Church community is designed for our growth.

Community is a hard thing, but community is the important thing.

"Love is never stimulated apart from community."

Lewis might have been thinking about this verse when he made that statement: "....let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another..." Hebrews 10:24-25

That word, stimulate? Other Bible versions use words such as: provoke, move, motivate, spur, promote, encourage, and my personal favorite ––stir up.

People in community tend to 'stir up' stuff in other people. For good and for bad.

People and their stuff... tend to bring out our stuff.

But in Christian community faith and hope can collide to bring about something miraculous. 

We grow up. 

We learn to get over ourselves. 

But when we avoid achingly-honest relationships we stay stuck in our immature and selfish ways.

Two unsolicited conversations, with two unrelated women, prompted me to write this post.

One precious lady said that she wasn't going to church anymore. The way she saw it, no one ever spoke to her anyway. A few weeks later, right in the middle of a busy check-out lane, a woman told me she quit going to church because she didn't need others. She was just doing her own thing at home.

Both of these situations are tragic to me and seem to fall into two camps of thinking. The one says I don't need people and the other says people don't need me.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. As messy and hard and often hurtful as community can be, I need ––we all need–– those women to show up and use the gifts that only they can bring.

Every single person has a critical part to play, especially in the context of Church. And when someone decides to not show up, the whole group suffers the loss of what only that person has been given as gifts and talents.

I believe that we are made with a soul hunger for relationships that are real.
And if we are honest, most of us would probably agree, that people who are real and vulnerable are the kind of people we are drawn to.

The opposite of real and vulnerable..... is fake and closed. While I believe everyone needs community, when I set up metal fences to keep people at a distance, relationships will never grow easily.

Church community that is healthy takes us beyond our self-interests and superficial pursuits. This is the place we learn to serve others, acknowledge areas of sin and immaturity. Community has the potential to teach us about grace. The receiving of grace and extending grace.

This is the messy part that trips up too many of us. It's hard work.

Sometimes we have to allow community to gather around us and sometimes we have to be the one who gathers around others.

We need to circle the things that cultivate healthy relationships and find rhythm in hard community. 

Often we have to go first and move toward someone in the next gracious act of love to build community.

The practice of Christian community makes the Gospel a living reality, and it will have a ripple effect in our churches, neighborhoods, schools, families and more.  

We may never "feel" like loving our neighbor, roommate, a friend that betrayed us, or that ever-present difficult relative, but when we behave as if we do love them, before long the feeling follows the action.

And a bridge to community will begin.

Love is the binding agent that seeps into the broken spaces of hurt from past community failures. 

The truth is, where there are people there will be more hurt and more wounds. But when we risk greatly instead of playing it safe our lives will reflect Jesus to a world that longs for something real.

Apart from community, we tend to remain shallow, selfish and surfacy. How can we learn to love if we isolate and insulate ourselves?

Love cannot happen in a vacuum. Love happens when we place God at the center and give Him permission to have His way in our lives.

When we surrender to Jesus He will draw us into community, but we have to release our grip of what that looks like.

Breathe in deep and slow as we navigate and circle the places and people in our lives. May we shine Light into the world that sinks into peoples souls.

Remember this? You need people and other people need you.

Church community should impact how we live in every circle of our lives. Of all the place we gather, when we love Jesus we can make an impact for eternity in those places.

One of the primary ways this can happen is to move into real community.

Perhaps there are a few telling questions we could ask ourselves?

     Are we teachable?

     What does our community look like?

     Does our community have room for truth-speaking relationships?

     How do you inspire others to greater love, kindness and community?


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© Rhonda Quaney