Communal. Beyond Friendship

This week I enjoyed meetings in Hollywood with two friends, one a veteran whose name you would recognize and another a budding talent whose name you one day WILL recognize. In both conversations the subject gravitated towards the need for community. Both these guys are serious about faith, thoughtful creatives and needing a deeper sense of connectedness with the faith community. The young guy had tried the “hip” emergent churches and felt they were fake–thin facades of pseudo intimacy and authenticity masquerading as deeper community. When I speak on college campuses the same theme pops up. “I love Jesus but can’t find a church where I can connect.”

ECCLESIOLOGY-a theology of church is this generation’s challenge–it seems that all the buzz about small groups as subsets of large church, while useful, is not getting deep enough for most of us. In part, it is our fault, due to our personal resistance to going deeper. I think media culture plays a role. We go to a movie, or play an electronic game with friends instead of sitting at a coffee shop talking late into the night. Turns out watching “Friends” on TV is not the same as developing a deep community of friends.

A faith community is more than just a gathering of friends. Certain aspects of community are essential to our wellbeing and are part of what Jesus indicated his loving, transforming counter-culture should look like. Well people need:

To hear.
To be heard.
To know and understand.
To be known and understood.
To confess and hear confession.
To guide, advising and being advised.
To pray (“where two or three are gathered in my name.”)
To worship.
To celebrate.
To serve and be served.
To make merry & laugh together.
To grieve & bear burdens together.
To sense: seeing, touching and feeling.
To resuscitate and heal.
To make and eat meals and to drink together.
To love, accept and forgive steadfastly and deeply.
To be loved, accepted and forgiven.

Community expands our horizons as Anais Nin said, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Our most important growth may be dependant on someone we have not yet met.

Community welcomes and stretches us. My friend Audrey Ward told me a physician friend of hers once observed, “Life is about asking questions in good company.”

Communities do not replace our individual pursuit of God, but we cannot pursue God without both solitude and community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this point in “Life Together,” where he advises, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community¢â‚¬¦ Let him who is not in community beware of being alone¢â‚¬¦ Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants to fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

Community absorbs our individualities and makes something new. The root of community is “common.” In a highly individualist, privatized age we can’t conceive of early Christians having all things in common–selling what they owned and pooling resources. But that practice shows how community is more than friendship. If you were an artist trying to paint “friends” you could show two individuals side by side. Try to paint community and the individual characteristics lose their edge and a third new reality emerges–two individuals are blended and morphed into a third new reality. Community is the mystical by-product of individuals merged in a new reality. I think it is part of what Jesus meant when he said you must lose yourself to find yourself. Bernard Barnes captures this in his synaptic connections series. His “Cafe connections” (above) captures this sense of a new blended communal reality emerging from a gathering of individuals.

In a sense, by setting a March 31 deadline for the initial funding our new media ventures, Kathy and I, and the CFC Board are putting the decision in the hands of the community. The community will give birth to the new ventures, or we will not proceed.

Community is more than friendship, but it starts there, which is why I sign most of my correspondence and blogs, “Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.” Can we learn together what this means? Can we be community for each other and with each other?

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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