Community can be hard to come by. It’s not a shock for me to write something like this. But having, keeping, and maintaining friends let alone a loving and supportive community is pretty hard to come by.
I remember talking to one younger person engaged in ministry. I asked him who he talked to for support when his day to day was difficult. He said no one. Apparently he had tried to reach out but found others so unwilling to be available that he gave up. Not only did he give up but seemed to double down on his present strategy, which was to rely on God more and not trust others.
Community is hard to come by and impossible to control. You have very little control in people’s interest in relating to you. Luckily many people have loving spouses or nearby family that fill the role of “no matter what” support. But there are also plenty of people who live without much if any family like support at all.
Community is something we all desire, but mostly on our terms. We view it as a negative if a friend inconveniences us or seems to impose or expect more than we are willing to give. This is neither particularly praiseworthy or terrible, it just happens to be reality for many.
So where does Jesus fit into all of this? How does the emphasis on love, compassion, and family fit into the kingdom of God? Where do the teachings of Jesus fit in the community life of the church?
Jesus seems to challenge all our notions and lifts up stories like the Good Samaritan. The honest and compassionate man who spared no expense to see another fully and completely restored.
I wonder do we have that vision towards each other? Do we want complete restoration and wholeness even at great expense to ourselves?
Our present day notions of community are fairly impoverished, mostly from disuse than from anything particularly terrible. We mostly don’t practice long lasting and meaningful fellowship with others so we are unaware of the diversity of approaches and richness of meaning it can bring to faith.
We often say we want community, but do we really? Do we want the hard work that goes along with cultivating virtues that are relationally practiced even at great cost? Do we want to be challenged to love our fellow even when it is the middle of the night? Do we want the messiness that comes with confrontation, repentance, and reconciliation; elements found in any real and meaningful relationship. Do we want the joy and sorrow that comes with watching another person grow, succeed, and struggle over a lifetime?
Or do we want the way of ease and bliss? Do we want to continue down the road of desire without fulfillment. The road of stepping around toes? The road of “I’m doing well.” The road of good news “I got promoted. I had a nice vacation. I had an awesome date.” The road of following cultural or even social media cues without real significance.
Community is hard work. It’s a cultivation of virtue and compassion over time. It’s a road filled with disappointment and filled with joy.
There’s not a lot of great books that really work through contemporary community (with its unique challenges), but here’s some things to think about. Start with folks who live in your rough neighborhood. Have regular contact with folks. Don’t give up on others, but try to understand their stories and why you see the hesitation or disinterest. Be realistic without internalizing the blame for broken relationships.
May the Lord bless you with an abundance of community.