Saturday, January 11, 2014

Christian Community: Part 1

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines community as "a unified group of individuals." When Brandon and I were asked to write and present a talk on Christian community for a Catholic retreat for college students, the first thing I did was search good ol' Google for the definition.

Community is a word I use rather frequently, especially during the time I worked in Student Activities and was tasked with "building community among students" right on my job description. "A unified group of individuals" is just about as broad as you can get. There's probably no personal trait or belief that I don't share with many someone-elses in this world. So what is Christian community and why does it matter? Over the next few posts I'll be sharing with you our reflections on community, the impact they've had on our lives, and how we attempt to treat our marriage as one of the most important examples of Christian community.

First of all, God put us together on this earth for a reason. Think about it—He could have put us each on our very own planet if He wanted, filled with plenty of resources, feeling constantly showered with love, with the purpose to serve and praise and love Him for our entire lives. But He didn't. Instead we are here on this earth, born out of love between two other humans into a family, and even though this community is far from perfect, a community of people is exactly what it is. We are surrounded by other human beings pretty much anywhere we choose to wander. 

God put us here together for a reason. Humans, and especially Christians, are called to life in community. We are to transform society through our vocations and the way we live our daily lives. How do we know? Well, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he extrapolates on the definition of community:

For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12: 4-18)

Paul reminds us that we are all given gifts by the Holy Spirit and deems these gifts useless if we don’t share them with others: the purpose of community. Think of some of the groups of people you’ve been involved with throughout your life. Whether they are your family, the school you attended, or a parish you were a member of, you might say that you’ve been shaped and perhaps even defined by them. Whether good or bad, you are constantly influenced by those around you.  Think about the gifts and talents you have both shared and received with the other members of those groups. These reciprocities are both a way of loving your neighbor and also the basis of Christian community.

In each of our lives, we have had people within our own families and friends model what it looks like to use their gifts within a community. My mom always stressed how important the gift of family is and modeled this to us frequently. I can remember numerous occasions when my sister and I were reprimanded for not looking out for one another more. We’re only 2 years apart and therefore found it easy to have mutual friends who would come over and we’d all play together, especially between the ages of 6-10. There was one friend who would instigate arguments between my sister and I, at times telling us that she liked one of us better than the other. When my mom found out about it, she’d always respond that as sisters we had no choice but to be one another’s BFF. “Other friends will come and go,” she said, “but your sister will be in your life forever.” Although eyes were rolled in response at the time, I totally get it now. Relationships are important, but especially those with family who just aren’t going anywhere!

My family was intentional about using the gifts each of us was given to also build and maintain our relationships. There were many things that we did as a family. For example, both of my parents coached my sisters and I in volleyball, with more than 15 years between them. We’d all go to games together, joined by my grandparents who rarely missed any sporting event, sacrament, or theatre production. They both fostered our interests and shared their gifts of generosity and encouragement with us.

We were shown that not only is it important to use your own God-given talents, but also to encourage others in their callings. My dad is a talented singer and actor and I can remember many, many rehearsals I attended with him—not because I was in the show, but because I wanted to watch! It is an amazing feeling to be truly proud of your dad and I was lucky enough to experience it at young age. Also, my mom was willing to sacrifice time with him at home so that he could pursue his passion. These experiences shaped how I view relationships in community and taught me how important and necessary it is to both foster and cherish the people in our lives.

Now, before you think that I’m being completely Susie Sunshine and ignoring the fact that living in community with others is so hard, I have to say—living community can be so hard! While I cherish these relationships, they have sometimes been difficult to maintain. If only you asked my dad how tense our relationship was in high school...

By asking for God’s grace, however, we are able to face the challenges daily living in community presents. It is only through this grace that we can find mercy, forgiveness, and patience, all of which are necessary when interacting closely with others. It is then that we are also able to enjoy the rewards.

I dug way back in the archives for this gem...
Brandon’s family experienced the gift of generosity and the rewards of community when he was a senior in high school. One morning he was called out of class over the PA system and then told that he should go home immediately—it was an emergency. When he pulled up to the farm his family lived on, the barn was on fire. The same barn that held all of their cows, the cows from which they made a living milking. They lost many of their cows, had to sell the others because there was no place to house the ones who had been saved, and had a huge, burned down mess in their yard. It was devastating, to say the least. Afterwards many members of the community approached Brandon’s dad saying, “Let us help you. People really want to help you right now.” And so they had help cleaning up their farm, selling their cows, meals brought to them, etc.

When Brandon has told this story, he always recalls seeing a genuine spirit of generosity and selfless giving in the people who came to help, just wanting to show his dad that they were there for him in a time of great need.  How incredible is it that when one member of a community is suffering, many other members can, and will, do whatever they can to help out!

But God has so constructed the body
as to give greater honor to a part that is without it,
so that there may be no division in the body,
but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it;
if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Corinth 12)

            The friends and neighbors that helped his family not only showed their concern, but took action to help ease their suffering. God uses each part of His body of Christ to aid and balance out the other parts. Showing Christian love to others, because we were loved by Him first, gives God honor and glory and raises these communities to a higher calling.

What does vocation have to do with community and how do we try to infuse this into our marriage? Click on over to read Christian Community:Part 2.

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