My Camp Golden Valley Community. After almost 20 years, they’re like another set of relatives.
Both my brothers have told me more than once, “Community for the sake of community is not enough.” (Strangely, we have these kinds of conversations.) I get what they mean, but I think they’re wrong.
What they mean is that a community must have a higher purpose. It has to be about more than people getting together just to enjoy each other’s company. They want communities to have a positive, measurable impact on the world. I have heard a similar critique of churches before (even spoken these words myself). “The church isn’t just a social club.”
Here’s the thing. When it comes to community my brothers (and most Americans under the age of 60) don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t know because their experience of community is so incredibly limited.
This is what I mean.
- Today, families are smaller and spread over great distances. People no longer grow up surrounded by large networks of extended family.
- Our educational and career ambitions keep many of us on the move every few years. We’re a nation of transients. Deep, long-term friendships are exceedingly rare.
- Information and entertainment is mostly electronic. Many of us spend more time staring at screens than we do looking at other human faces.
- We too often identify ourselves by what we produce or consume (our jobs or our brands or our teams) instead of the personal qualities and God-given gifts which we come to know about ourselves through real interactions with family, friends, and even enemies.
There is a story in the Christian Bible where Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He answers by quoting well-known passages from the Hebrew Bible. He tells his audience that above all, they must love God and love their neighbors.*
There’s a long history of debate about what it means exactly to love God. I won’t go into all that except to say that according to the first letter from John, the main way we show our love for God is by loving one another.†
And of course there’s that famous passage from Paul (you’ve heard it at a wedding or two I’m sure).
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.♥
Maybe you don’t believe in God or Jesus or care much about what’s written in the Bible. Even if that’s true, can you come up with a higher purpose than loving one another? Is there a more worthy pursuit for our lives? Would you feel fulfilled if you reached the apex of your chosen career but did not know what it was like to love and be loved?
I should clarify something here. When it comes to love, I’m not talking about an idea. I’m talking about an activity. Real love happens when people:
- Spend time together (in both work and play)
- Break down barriers to include (true love is not possessive or exclusive)
- Understand, accept, appreciate, and enjoy one another
- Generously provide for each other (materially, emotionally)
- Trust enough to communicate honestly
- Forgive, empower, and encourage one another
This can happen between partners in a marriage. Siblings, parents, and children may find it in family. A few of us are lucky enough to experience this even today in long-term friendships. But the only way we can truly love our neighbors is in community.
Real community is that place where the actions of love–not just the fuzzy ideas of love–get lived out by actual people. Real community is a high purpose in and of itself. In fact, it is the highest purpose. Jesus knew this. He worked and sacrificed and even died in his effort to establish real community, what he called the Kingdom of God.
Real community does not happen by itself. That is more than clear today in America. But we need it just as much now as we ever have.
So, I’d like to know: have you experienced real community? Or even something close? If so, with whom? What did it look like? How did it come about? Was it someplace others can visit and see? You can share your answers in comments below or send them in an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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*Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31 (similar wording can also be found in Luke 10:25-28). Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18.
†1 John 4:19-21 (and similar verses in 1 John 4).
♥ 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (but read the whole chapter)