Living in Community
Americans are right that the bonds of our communities have withered, and we are right to fear that this transformation has very real costs.
~Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone
Hope remains while the company is true.
~JRR Tolkein in Lord of the Rings
In the 80's my mom and dad bought their first home in a developing community. Many of their neighbors were the same age, and as each started to have children, they reached out to each other and became their own built in community that we all now lovingly call the "Sandlewood gang." Some have moved away but we all keep in touch, go to birthday parties, show up at each others weddings, and share our lives. I grew up playing with the neighborhood kids. In an era without cell phones my mother was happy to let me run down the street to ___'s house as long as I was home for dinner.
Before that my mom and dad lived in and old apartment complex where they met two of their best friends. That's how life was then, but as Robert Putnam pointed out, we as a society are becoming increasingly isolated. I've now lived in several apartment complexes where I couldn't tell you my neighbor's name. I'd bring cookies over, homemade, and they'd look at me with such disdain and annoyance that you'd think I'd put arsenic in them. This is the world we're living. We go to church at our megachurches because it's easy to blend in, it's easy to be hidden, to avoid being known.
And this approach is failing us. The early church thrived in small communities. Acts says that they "ate together" "prayed together" "and shared all they had." But this sort of community is dying. We don't want to be known, be vulnerable, be accountable. When someone dies we'd rather send a sympathy card than cook some meals or go and offer our shoulder. When someone we know is sick we send flowers instead of calling and asking "what can I do to help?" When someone is in financial trouble we shy away hoping they won't ask for anything and resenting them when they do. And I know I've heard, "take your problems to the Lord," too many times to count but it isn't said in love or conern, it's said so that the person on the other end won't have to listen. No small wonder that "the world" thinks Christians are hypocritical. We don't live any different than our pagan neighbors. We preach about unconditional love, but we often fail to show it.
Depression and suicide rates are growing in the United States and it's no wonder. This life is hard, painfully so at times. God is so faithful and loving and He can get us through anything alone, but often we as Christians use this to avoid walking along someone in a troubled time. That's what community is about. We're all trying to walk the same path, but it's so much easier to do it with someone beside you to help, to encourage, to listen, to counsel, and to pick you up when you fall. Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
It all starts with us, community. It starts with reaching out to our neighbors, friends, and family. It starts with sharing our hurdles, hurts, and triumphs. It's starts with being real. Once we are, we give others permission to be. That's how the early church survived and thrived. That's the metaphor that JRR Tolkein (who was a Christian) brings in when he talks about the fellowship that helps Frodo on his journey.
Sometimes we believe we cannot live with others. But we need to realize that we cannot succeed without them.
Acts 2: The Fellowship of the Believers 42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.