Discussion with our regular gathering last night ran along the lines of christian community… this springing from 1 Peter 2:1-10 on living stones being built into a spiritual house with Christ as the chief cornerstone. After taking communion together, we sat around the communion table which was adorned not only with bread and wine (and candles because we’re emerging, after all) but also with a 30-pound boulder from the garden and eight smaller stones that we had gathered from the shores of Lake Superior. Living stones….
At any rate, the conversation led us to the nature of living lives together, what that looked like, whether that was church, and so forth. There’s been a question hanging in the air for us for a while now are we a church, or will we become a church, or neither? Most of the time we’re happiest to ignore the question and when it comes up we somewhat intentionally dismiss it by saying it isn’t one we really wish to dwell upon anyway because it’s largely irrelevant to most of us. I finally observed last night that I would rather do “this” for 20 years and then ask if it was a church all those years. They say hindsight is 20/20, so I think I’m happy to wait until we get some and then ask the question again. Until then, the question is a distraction. So far as a group, it seems we trip on this question, try to answer it, toss it out entirely, and then we’re all happy again until the next time we trip on the question.
What remains relevant and immediate is the subject of community, of sharing lives together. In this, I believe it can be said, is found true community. If those lives are shared with the common touchstone of Christ, and if that touchstone be intentionally sought together in the midst of shared lives, then you have true christian community.
Here’s the institutional rub: an expectation has grown up that the structure provided by the intstitutional church the Sunday meeting, the midweek Bible study, prayer meeting, or cell group, the occasional weekend events or conferences, business meetings, and leaders’ meetings will provide the basis for relational joining with which to build christian community. Unfortunately, the majority of these events intended to provide contact points often work against that goal. Notice that most of these events and programs have some other goal in mind besides relationship; most are focused around a subject, and most are characterized by one-way communication. The pews all point in the same direction, as it were. This is both a literal and a figurative observation, of course… many of these meetings have a subcurrent of bringing people on board with the vision and direction of the institution, and in most organized churches I’ve seen, there’s enough of it going on to leave people with no time remaining to invest in relationships… the stuff of which community is actually made.
My observation is that most relationship happens “between the lines,” in the overflow of what’s been planned event-wise, outside the structure, irrespective of the schedule. Real relationship is not a program not even a mentoring program or an “accountability group.” Relationship can grow out of those things, but those things do not automatically mean relationship exists or will come to be.
Jesus was a child born of immaculate conception following angelic visitations to both parents… he was the Son of God, and to say he was a “special” child would be a bit of an understatement. Does it not seem rather odd, then, that the two people to whom he’s been entrusted to raise to adulthood take him on a trip, and they actually lose him for a whole day before they notice, and it then takes three days to find him? What’s going on there? Are they incompetent or what?
Friends of ours provide an insightful answer, and recalled it again last night as we discussed it. They have a place at the lake with their family, and often have many friends down to visit. During such times “at the lake,” they often do activities as a large group if they go out boating, sometimes there may be four boats full of people out on the lake headed for a picnic spot or a swim or whatever. Once on such an outing, our friend suddenly thought, “Where’s our daughter?” and then answered her thought, “Oh, she’s fine, she’ll be with friends.” A young girl, she was in fact in another boat with an aunt or something… but at this moment it suddenly struck her exactly how Mary and Joseph could have “misplaced” the boy Jesus.
It would seem then that when you’re among friends and family who are trusted, who your children also know and trust, who they grew up with, and who also look out for your children, you tend not to worry about them so much. This is community. Not merely another family that you trust or perhaps your children’s grandparents… but a whole group of people who watch and care for one another, even for each other’s children. And you trust them in it. Now how often do you see that these days?
This led our discussion to consider the matter of being intentional about fostering these kinds of relationships, family relationships that work together to create community. People with whom you share your lives, and who share theirs with you. It would be safe to say, I think, that as we wrapped up our discussion, this is the matter hanging in most of our minds. Being intentional about fostering relationship. Making space for it, and investing the time…. whether it’s a ten-minute cup of tea or a 36-hour road trip. It all goes in the relational bank.
Community then, is made of relationships. Relationships are made of shared lives and here I apologize to those who saw this coming even before I did so to create community, simply “Share your life.” If you want christian community, “Live your faith. Share your life.” Whooda thunk it’d be that obvious?