I know there are lots of reasons by people these days do not affiliate with Christian denominations. Many have been wounded by the sexual abuse scandals, others do not find acceptance because of sexual orientation, or skin color or political differences. Some have been hurt by unkind comments or personal innuendos. In other words, they have failed to find Jesus Christ in those places which bear His Name and supposedly preach God’s good news of love.
Living in community is not an easy place to be. It is very difficult living with people we really don’t like (even if we are related) or working with a boss or co-workers that drive us nuts, or trying to work within an organization and attempting to bring people together when it seems no one wants to be there. Community builders are people in the sociological world who study groups of people and try to find ways to unite them politically, religiously, building a better place where this community can thrive. It is hard work and yet as human beings it seems to be the common denominator of our lives — drawing people together to do a good work, to live together in peace.
One of the ways this happens best, I think, is when we can move outside the realm of ourselves. The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi has a section that has been a learning tool for me: Let me not seek so much to be loved as to love, to be understood as to understand, to be consoled as to console. Did you read it? — Life is not about me. Life is all about others in my life. One of the reasons building community is so difficult is that we all are so wrapped up in “me”. What makes “me” happy. I want to do it “my” way. No one understands me or loves me or is there when I need consoling. The building of community has to be an outward view whether you are attempting to increase church goers or build a baseball program or develop a community program to help the poor, the homeless, the jobless, the hungry.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German Christian theologian, (died at the end of a rope after being part of a plot to kill Hitler), wrote a book about the importance of community. In it he talked about our brothers and sisters who form Christian communities as monks and nuns. They take a vow to live with each other in close quarters for the rest of their adult lives. If there is someone you can’t stand, you have to try and figure out a way to get along. You can’t just say, “Well, I’m done here.” You have to make it work and often that comes from a lot of time spent on your knees in prayers of relinquishment.
I think of cities and towns who have recently suffered from mass shootings. Whether it is a Christian church in Louisiana or Sri Lanka, or a Jewish synagogue or a Muslim mosque in New Zealand, when this happens the community is breaking down, breaking apart and the lessons of love and working together to survive have to be learned all over again. You cannot claim to be a part of any community when “hatred for our brothers and sisters” are part of the credo by which people live.
Human beings banded together for survival thousands of years ago because they knew they needed each other. The issues of community are not about me nor are they about you or “the other” or “the stranger”. It is about “us” and the problems will only be solved when we can set aside what divides us and speak instead to what unites us. Which these days should be a battle for survival in a world that seems to have developed a massive number of cracks in our basic foundations.
Now that I am serving a stint on the City Council I am already learning what I don’t know about many things. Like most new ventures in my life I am sure I will have a vertical learning curve, but that is alright. We can’t hide out from new challenges and in the process of stretching ourselves we might be surprised at what we learn. I think about my Grandfather who homesteaded and started farming and ranching when he was almost forty years old. It wasn’t easy but in the end he felt very good about what he had accomplished.
As I listened to presenters at a committee meeting recently I was taken at how much keeping a community running is much like owning your home and keeping it in working condition. One community member expressed a concern about the new city parking lot and the need to tend to the details to keep it looking good so that it will last a long time. I thought immediately of how true this way whether we own a home or a vehicle. We want to keep it in good shape. Items are painted or polished and sometimes we are very protective of our personal property. Maybe our community would be in better shape if everyone thought of it as the larger home in which we live.
Picking up a piece of trash and throwing it into the closest trash bin is not a big deal. Cleaning up the weeds in our yard or along the alley isn’t huge if we don’t let it get out of hand in the first place. Much of what the city council does is keep our larger home a good place to put our smaller homes. One council person mentioned the city wouldn’t have to pass so many ordinances for upkeep and safety if everyone took responsibility for their property and their actions.
I think it all goes back again to that notion of pride in who and what we are and it has to be a personal pride. When I was growing up one of the things my folks usually said to me as I went out the door was, “Now remember who you are. You’ve been given a good name, a name to be proud of and it is up to you to keep it that way.” The same worked when I was teaching at the high school. Whenever we took kids out of town on athletic trips or other trips the students were always reminded that Dawson County High School had a good reputation and we wanted to keep it that way. When a letter from a motel owner appeared in the local paper congratulating our kids on their behavior and inviting us back again we swelled with pride. A good name is worth polishing once in awhile.
As I drive around town in the summertime I see volunteers mowing lawns and tending to flowers at local churches. It is a community of common faith. We want to be proud of where we worship. We believe God created the beauty we see around us and we are called to keep that creation in good order.
For centuries human beings have gathered in community. A workplace, a school district, a church congregation, a community is a place where people with common goals come together to live and work together. There are many little communities within the larger one of a town or city, and we all have been given a community to live in and care for and like a family we want to be proud of where we come from and we want our community to have a good name and that takes some work for all of us.