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.