Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Investing in Community

Sometimes I worry about our insular, independent culture. We have a huge focus on self-sufficiency, privacy, and personal space. Each of us is a bit of an island, and that can make us feel isolated and unsupported. We keep both our joys and our sorrows to ourselves so as not to impose our feelings or our business on other people. We think of interaction as a bother or an invasion—either to ourselves or to the other person. We create a small list of loved ones whom we allow ourselves to "trouble" with our personal business and our private feelings, and we carefully hide our personal thoughts and feelings from everyone else. I don't like this, and I don't think it's what Jesus wanted for us.

Lots of people talk about their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but have we forgotten the second great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself? If we thought that "love God" means to simply avoid making Him angry, then it would make sense to interpret "love your neighbor" as simply endeavoring to do no harm to anyone. But if we truly believe that the commandment to love God means that we should have a personal relationship with Him in which we share our joy and our pain, our hopes and our fears, then why would we think we should keep our neighbors at a distance? Should we not also love our neighbors through personal relationships? Should we not volunteer to help them when we see them in need or ask for their support when we are struggling ourselves? Should we not band together in the knowledge that two are more powerful than one?

It seems to me that Paul had a very good reason for writing so eloquently about how we Christians are all members of one body. We are meant to work together and to be responsible and responsive to one another. We think too much in terms of "me and mine" when we could be stronger and healthier if we more often thought in terms of "us" and "ours". Why do we not not more often pool our resources with others—our money, our possessions, our space, our time, our thoughts and feelings? I'm not necessarily advocating radical socialism here. But I see it as a strength—not a weakness—that I am planning for my mother to move in with me and that I am increasingly more willing to confide my personal thoughts and feelings to more and more people. I want my children to be welcome in other people's homes. I want to give to those who find themselves without something they need without them feeling like they owe me. I want my home to be filled with people and joy. I want a large circle of friends that I can share my dreams and my struggles with. I want to be myself openly as much as possible, and I want to see the true essence of the people around me.

Why should we hide what God has given us? Why should we see each other as anything less but brothers and sisters? Are we not all creations of the same God? Are we not all offered redemption through the same Christ? Are we not all imperfect beings who need all the help we can get, including from each other? Do we not all have something good to offer to those around us? It's time for us to become more proactive about using our gifts and less standoffish about sharing our pain or our "private" business. After all, God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. He designed us to function with others, to help each other through community. When we work together for the good of all, we are inevitably at our best.

Being a good Christian is not about being locked away like a hermit studying holy things. After all, Christianity is not an intellectual exercise or a collection of beliefs—it is a way of life, and our life is given meaning through our interactions with God and each other. We need our neighbors so that we have someone to serve and someone to share the good news with as much as we need them to help us when we are not strong enough to bear our burdens alone. All of this interaction is right and good. Christians are supposed to invest in their communities. It's a challenging thing to do, because getting involved and opening up takes energy and it makes us vulnerable to others. But it is an investment worth making, for I believe that countless blessings will come upon those who accept the challenge.

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