Community: Jesus is the bus driver

I’ve been invited to share some thoughts about the idea of affirming community the Sunday between Christmas and New Years.

Since I’m writing these thoughts down anyway to collect and organize them, I thought I’d do it here.  Several of you do this amazing job of helping me to focus and think things through…  In this case this is doubly true. 

Community is not something uniquely Christian.   I won’t even argue that Christians are somehow capeable of deeper community, really.

I do believe that there is an additional dismention to the Christ-centered communities I belong to.  There is this whole other thing.   The best I can do with describing it is like the difference between a 2-d and a 3-d movie.   Christ in the center of a community gives the community a breadth it wouldn’t otherwise experience.  Communities that do not have Christ in the center of them can run just as deep, (think up and down on the screen) but there is something more when Christ is present.

And Christ is present!  Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is there. 

We are hard-wired for community.  We all resonate with that scene in “Castaway”, when Tom Hanks talks to the volleyball.  We know that we would do it, too.  We all connect with the main character in “I am Legend” who is so lonely that he creates a whole fake cast of characters to interact with via manequins.

Biblically, God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone.  Arguably, the real sin that Adam comitted in the fall was choosing community with Eve over community with God.  (A brief piece of evidence: in the Epistles, Paul goes out of his way to specify that Eve was decieved by the serpent but that Adam wasn’t decieved by the serpant.   My thanks to my friend Garret for pointing this tidbit out.)

When Jesus gathers the first of his apostles he does so in pairs.  They are brothers.  They already existed in community with each other.  Together, two sets of brothers join Jesus. 

So much has been said about the community that was formed by the early church that I hesitate to add more.  I’ve got nothing new to say.

In our every day lives, we see the importance of community.

Gangs, premarital sex, adultery, pornography, cults… all these are ultimately about our desperate need for community.

And it’s a strange thing.  Because there are many things that appear hard-wired to do that Jesus says we shouldn’t do anymore.  We shouldn’t lust, and we shouldn’t hate, for example.  It wouldn’t seem anymore far-fetched or over the top for Jesus to say that we shouldn’t exist in community.

But he does the opposite of that: he blesses community.   But typical to Jesus way of doing things, he does it with a twist.

The world’s communities define themselves by who is not included.  Churches have ignored Jesus example and done this so much: defined themselves by who is not in attendance.

And other times we have spent so much time and energy emphasizing the uniquely personal aspects of our relationship with Jesus, other times we have become so Americanized and bought the lies of independence and self-reliance.

The church has broken the family community down into individual units.  It seems like assembly line mentality has infected God’s house.

“Adults, you go in this room”  “Kids, you’re over here”  “Oops, you’re to old to be in this room, you need to go over there.”

There are all kinds of practical reasons it makes good sense to put all the people in the same stages of life in the same place… some times.

But if Jesus is in all of us, does it make sense to do this as much as we do?  We rationalize “This person is a gifted teacher, the ___ year-olds will learn so much more under him than under their own parents.”

This mentality robs the families of the bonding experience they’d have had, and it robs the parents of what they would have learned.

Or we say “It’s so much easier and more comfortable to be with all the people our same age.”  And we end up with college groups and middle aged groups and teen groups and senior citizens groups.  And we don’t recognize that we’ve succeeded in making an idol out of our comfort.

By segregating based on age and gender we rob people of the insight they need so desperately.  Seriously: do any of us really need input from people who are exactly like us?  This might be safe and easy and comfortable.  But I’m unsure that it makes us better people.  Iron sharpening iron is not safe, easy or comfortable.  Sparks fly.  If people aren’t careful they get hurt. 

I had this image.  It was a bus station.  People who want community, they are getting on the busses.  Jesus is the bus driver, for some of them.  He appears when ever two or three gather in his name.  Others are driven by other people.  Good people and bad people.  Well-intentioned and down right evil. 

Some of them just drive around aimlessly.  Others drive straight  into walls.  Some get to their destinations through dumb luck.  But only Jesus had the GPS.

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jeffsdeepthoughts

The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Community: Jesus is the bus driver”

  1. I’d like to make a little plug for not segregating between single and married, too. I think sometimes single people avoid couples because they don’t like feeling like the third wheel, but I think that couples also often avoid singles because they don’t know what to do with them. We can learn from each other, and we risk missing and withholding blessing when we avoid a group of people just because we feel unsure about them . . .

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  2. Hi Jeff,
    I think it is unusual, and very appropriate that you bring up the issue of leadership, while affirming community. I think one of the tendencies of communities is to view the fact that they are like-minded as affirmation that they are right–and every one else is wrong. As you point out, encouraging the diversity of the group can counter this group-think, but realistically the communities that we are in are often pretty homogenous to start with–even if we don’t segregate things too much. We are naturally attracted to people who see the world in a similar way. To avoid running into walls the community needs to take care with their leaders, and closely watch them to make sure their fruit really is good.
    While I agree that splitting up by age / gender / or other categories limits what we can learn, I think an even more fundamental attribute of a healthy community is its willingness to include those that have a different take on things. These people might be exactly like us from a demographic standpoint, but can they speak what is on their minds without the rest of the group “circling the wagons”?
    One final, superficial note. I always wince with the “two or three” reference. I am way too literal, but the sarcastic angel that sits on my left shoulder always whispers into my ear: “What? Are some pairs not cool enough to rate Christ’s presence?” A friend suggests that a this translation reflects a miss-understanding of the intent of the Greek. She suggests the better translation, that captures the intent would be: “where two or more are gathered together.”

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