I come from a religious world that did not include church programming or youth ministries or special outreach efforts. I realize that may be hard to imagine.
Maybe you’re wondering what we did do, exactly.
We sang, a lot. We sang hymns – hours of singing actually every week. A capella, four-part harmony was the given. And, I miss that.
We got together with church people in each other’s homes almost every week. Hospitality was the unspoken norm, and everyone did it, and no one talked about it as a spiritual gift.
We ate a lot. Food was home-cooked and plentiful. Sunday morning breakfasts were the best, especially went guests were there. We rarely gathered without a “lunch” of some sort. We even had a sit-down lunch at church on Sundays between services.
And, this community shaped me.
We lived and ate and created music together. We grew up alongside each other, playing on each other’s farms and sitting around big tables and equally comfortable in each other’s homes as our own. We could travel to other congregations in other states and be welcomed, given a room, fed, and cared for – and, we would open our doors and welcome new faces in the same way. And so, while I can’t agree with its teachings about Jesus or with its legalism, I appreciate parts of the lifestyle.
It’s a heritage I’m grateful for. And, it’s a heritage that’s left me with a large hole called Community.
Community is what settles in around us and forms an intricate network of which we are part. No one has to tell us with script-y writing on signs that “you belong here” – because we already know we do. We have a place and a function.
Community is feeling at home without being at home. And, it’s doing the home things – like eating and working and creating and parenting and playing – with people who belong to you and you to them and all to God.
Bridge-builders are called to be in community and to be creators of community.
And, this is what I’ve learned about community, as I’ve struggled to fill that hole:
- Community isn’t just about friendships, as friendships tend to be one-on-one. Community, on the other hand, is a family in all its beauty and its mess. Having a few close friends is not the same as being in community.
- Community isn’t only about working toward a common goal or accomplishing things together. I’ve worked alongside individuals, even seen them every day, and never felt like I was in community with them.
- Community isn’t only about attending the same church or carrying out its programs. I’ve worshiped beside others, visited with them each Sunday, served with them, and never felt like I was in community with them.
Why? Because community means far more. For this reason, I suppose I feel more comfortable on Seneca St with refugees from Africa who instinctively know that hole and have filled it with village-life and a collectivist culture.
Community carries a sense of belonging and vulnerability and reciprocity. Belonging because we fit, and vulnerability because relationships are allowed beyond the front door and asked to stay awhile, and reciprocity because everyone serves each other.
As bridge-builders, we must seek to not only build relationships with people but to bring them into community.
The opposite is what we’ve come to call “hoarding people.” By this I mean, building a relationship with someone but needing to stay that person’s only friend and special savior, and thus failing to connect that individual with the larger community. Instead, bridge-builders are community-minded.
But, how is community built? Truth is, community can be fabricated and built on false principles. Belonging can be forced by conformity. Vulnerability can mean being exposed and shamed. Reciprocity can mean living without healthy boundaries or identity.
True community is formed when people who love Jesus are compelled to gather up pieces and outsiders and drifters and wrap it all up in a Love that is sacrificial and redemptive. True community is based on the Gospel, and it brings healing, not harm, to its people. It teaches the depths of love and encourages God-given purpose in each other.
Community then becomes a picture of God’s ideal, a design that glorifies His concepts of relationships and service and love.
And, it becomes a holy magnet for island-souls with gaping holes in their hearts.
Here is another post I wrote on this topic in February of 2016:
Darkness is one of her greatest fears. The other night, as soon as we started to put on coats to go out to eat, I could see the worry forming in her eyes.
“Pick me up,” she begged in a near panic. She’s slayed numerous monsters and fears since she first arrived on my front porch almost a year ago. But, this dread of darkness lingers. So, I picked her up, and while we walked to the van, I talked about the stars and how they are stronger than the darkness.
Light always wins, I say.
She’s heard it before, maybe she even understands it at some level in her young mind, but it hasn’t yet released her fears. Darkness is still there, still menacing and hiding some scary person just around the corner; and, it’s true – darkness covers many things.
But darkness never covers light.
Then, later on in the week, my ESOL class was discussing the Hindu festival of Diwali, often called the Festival of Lights. We are reading Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth, a novel about an Indian girl who moves to Iowa City, Iowa. As I researched Diwali in preparation for class, I was in awe at the pictures I found online – the displays of light, the designs, the gathering of so many little lamps in what was the “darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika” (Wikipedia).
Most of all, I loved this line about Diwali, from Wikipedia: “The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.”
When I read those words and saw the pictures of Diwali, my heart nodded in agreement. I wanted to slip into the pictures, stand beside the people, reach my hands out, and start lighting up the night. Maybe partly for my little girl – an act of a mama bear defending her cub who needs to see the truth about darkness: light always wins.
I wanted to join the beautiful uprising, as it seemed, against the powers of darkness that bully her and all of us.
Because light is infinitely powerful. At the start of it all, God’s words released it into being. What came out in language materialized into particles, when His unheard voice called out, “Light.”
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. Genesis 1:1-4
He saw it was good, and He separated it from the darkness. And still today, it’s a wonder to see the contrast of light pushing back the black of night, a darkness-dividing act with echoes of creation.
But, maybe what moved me most about Diwali this week is this: it’s like a community of lights, raised up with shared hope and inspiration. How powerful and beautiful is the display of many lights, as a unified resistance to the darkness. Tiny flame after tiny flame flickering together as they mock the menacing ways of the dark.
It’s like a holy rebellion of hope-seekers and glory-chasers. It’s a rebellion led by those of us who carry His light in our souls.
It’s a rebellion I want to join. And you?
Maybe we don’t have eyes to see the heavenly designs we form, as we sit in coffee shops, drive down freeways, teach classes, and lead meetings. But, friends, we are children of the Light, and together we form Christ-honoring pictures more stunning than the most intricate Diwali designs.
So, fellow Light-lovers, shine on today. Reach out hands in love, flavor words with grace, stand against the injustices, and always bow before His majesty. Choose harmony instead of hate, humility instead of posturing, beauty instead of destruction. Embrace peace, art, music, friendship, family, community, and every light-filled, life-giving expression of God’s heart.
For, these earthly expressions of divine light proclaim that evil will never succeed in its oppressive mission.Darkness can’t defeat us; it can only enhance the Light within us. Click To Tweet
After all, “light always wins,” as I keep telling my girl. Darkness always loses its ground at the presence of light, whether it’s constellations of stars or congregations of souls.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
This month’s series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like certain individuals who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it’s not a series about our story; it’s a series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story.
If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it’s because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it’s because that’s how we were rescued – by God, through average people.