I had the opportunity to “guest preach” at our church last weekend. In this super strange time where it seems many people are more interested in personal “liberties” or preferences, I had a whole bunch to say about the need for all of us to live with the common good at the center. I kept threatening to keep it to a 5 word sermon – “Jesus said, What the f%#!” – but in the end I really did have a lot to say.
For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read, the audio of the sermon can be heard here…
For those of you who prefer to read rather than listen….Community With a Capital C…
What is community?
In it’s simplest form, community is defined as a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. If you go a little deeper, community can also be defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. We all are members of several communities over the span of a lifetime both in person and online – neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, workplaces. The purpose of a community may differ, but the common ingredient is people.
Human beings are inherently social with a need for other people. We all need community. Even those who are naturally introverted – myself included – need community. Activist Ruby Sales touched on the interdependent nature of humans and relationships…”It is in community and in relationship with others that we locate a self we can never find being isolated. It is in community and in relationship with each other that we come to know the consciousness and the spirit of god that is in each of us.”
This is community beyond being a noun used to classify a group of people. This is the act of being IN community. This is community as a verb. Being IN community is something we do, something we choose to do. It’s active and purposeful. It’s Community with a capital C.
Community done right – with care, love, and mindfulness toward the common good – is built to sustain us.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Nextdoor app and website. I love it for updates on things like coyote activity and roadwork in and around my neighborhood. I hate it when the comments sections on a post inevitably warp into negativity. There have been several times when I have almost deleted the app from my phone or at least disabled the email notifications. One day recently, I was reminded why I keep hesitating to turn off those email notifications as I read a post that restored some hope in a world that can so often right now feel hopeless and illustrated what Community with a capital C can look like.
The post read like this…”Thank you kind neighbor. A couple of evenings ago, someone left an envelope in our mailbox addressed to our 2020 high school graduate. In it was a wonderful note of congratulations and encouragement to continue with more education. This was definitely a difficult senior year for high school students, but my daughter and her classmates made the best of it. The note was accompanied by a monetary gift and both were very unexpected but also very much appreciated. Thank you to whoever has the big heart and made my daughter smile deeply.”
This is what can happen when one person takes the time to look outside of themselves and notice a place where they can do something to support or sustain another person. Small acts of kindness such as this can be the starting point for transforming neighbors into Community.
Sometimes the building of Community is more intentional. I received at text message this week from my friend Amanda that contained one picture and two words – holy moly! The picture was of her two oldest children and my two kids – all of them 3 and under, in the bathtub at Amanda’s house. Holy moly, indeed!
If you didn’t know anything about the kids in the picture, you could look at it and think “That’s a sweet picture. But I bet now that those kids are teenagers it embarrasses the heck out of them!” On a surface level, you’d be right. But when I look at the picture, I am reminded of the building and nurturing of an intentional Community.
I met Amanda, and a handful of other amazing women, at a “new mom” group when our first born children were newborns. Out of the bleary-eyed exhaustion of first time mothering a Community was built. At first it was purely a matter of survival. But over time, we built a Community with a capital C. We showed up for one another over and over again in ways both simple and profound. We did life alongside one another with purpose and intention. As life has happened in the 15 years since we first all met, the intensity of that purpose and intention has dimmed with both time and some physical distance. But the blessing of that Community left indelible fingerprints on my soul.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 talks about the interdependent nature and benefit of being in community. This passage from the Old Testament extolls the benefits of living in community. Life is better when lived with other people. Labor is easier. Some tasks are just too difficult, even for a strong, independent person to do alone. If one person has trouble there are other people to call for help. Like a three-stranded cord, we are stronger together.
We need each other. Humans were designed to live in community, but any community is stronger and healthier when the members of it are actively working toward the common good. Community begins to fall apart when its members are passive or make choices that are fully independent rather than interdependent in nature. Sometimes it is just plain hard or inconvenient to do the work of the common good. We are fragile and fallible beings which means sometimes we make choices that are great for us, but possibly lousy for others.
Working toward the common good is part of our call to community as Christians. In Galatians 5:26, Paul wrote, “Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other…” Arrogance, anger, jealousy – three attitudes that have the ability to tear any relationship or group apart. Paul goes on to say that we should help each other along the way “with a spirit of gentleness”. We need to do the work to be the best spouse, parent, neighbor, friend we can possibly be—not just for other people, but for God.
Put another way, every moment we are breathing and being in this world, we have the opportunity to choose how to be with purpose. We can be both true to our own values and beliefs and make choices that support the common good. Sometimes the choices are between bad and worse – basically every decision being made right now about when and if to reopen the buildings of schools and churches is a choice between bad and worse. It is in how we respond to those choices that we have the opportunity live into Community with a capital C. It is in how we respond to those choices that we have the opportunity to act with care, love, and mindfulness toward the common good. It is in how we respond to those choices that we show the world who we are and what we stand for.
Community with a capital C, is more important than ever at this exact moment in time. As we live with the reality and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme racial injustices and outbreaks of violence across our nation, the easy way out is a response that is independent rather than interdependent. I believe that, we have an obligation to not take the easy way out. Living in Community with a capital C is agreeing to a constant level of interdependence. It is acknowledging that we need each other more than we might like to admit. It is learning how to sit with discomfort, how to listen more than we speak, how to admit when we are wrong, and knowing when it is time to act. It is knowing our own worth and gifts well enough to see where we fit into the larger communal body and valuing the worth and gifts of every other member of the community.
Community with a capital C also holds space for the constant possibility that the current way of doing things, is not the only way to do things. That flexibility is a key component to the sustainability of a healthy community. Community with a capital C recognizes that terrible and beautiful things will happen – and that part of the human experience is to keep coming back and drawing the circle of the community wider.
Community with a capital C calls us to pick up the broken pieces and make something new. It also calls us to show up as the most authentic version of ourselves every single day. And for me personally, Community with a capital C is where I find hope. Not a hope that is fleeting or blind to the realities of life, but a hope that keeps me turning toward what is possible and turning toward people to walk alongside me.
One of the great gifts of life in this time of COVID-19 has been the “living room” concerts by so many artists across genres. If I made a list of things I am missing during this time of isolation, in person time with family and friends would be first and close a second would be live music and theatre. The “living room” concerts are helping to fill a void for me, and occasionally helping to fill my heart.
As part of one of these living room concerts recently, two songs from the 1972 children’s album Free to Be…You and Me were updated for 2020 and streamed as part of the Stars in the House series that brings together actors and musicians from the Broadway community to raise funds for a variety of causes. On the day that I saw the new video of Free to Be…You and Me performed by Sara Barellies, I posted the the video to Facebook with the caption, “This made my child of the ‘70s heart SO happy”
The original album was spearheaded by Marlo Thomas after she went searching for a book of bedtime stories for her baby niece, only to find books that reinforced outmoded gender roles and ignored the possibilities that girls and boys could grow up to be whatever they wanted to be. She gathered some of her talented friends from the entertainment world (including Mel Brooks, Diana Ross and Alan Alda) and the album that would transform many a childhood was born.
The title song is still the best on the whole album, a rallying cry for children to live in a world where they can be whomever or whatever they want while also leaving space and grace for being in community. The lyrics are a call to Community with a capital C…”There’s a land that I see where the children are free, And I say it ain’t far to this land from where we are, Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free, Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live…” The 2020 version updated the lyrics, changing “children” to “people” – it may have started out life as a children’s song, but it’s message crosses generations.
The first time I watched the new video filled with images of high school seniors who lost so much of what they had planned for in 2020, I noted that even in the midst of great challenge there were still signs of hope and possibility in the faces of these teenagers. The second time I watched the video, I remembered sitting in my 2nd grade classroom with the Free to Be…You and Me album as the background track for life in community of the classroom. Then I remembered the frequent words of wisdom from Ms. Franquero to our little community of 2nd graders from a diversity of racial, ethnic and social backgrounds….things like, “You do you.” or “Mind your own business, but make sure you always take care of your friends.”
These are the fingerprints left on my heart by a 2nd grade teacher who incorporated the values of love, compassion, kindness, self worth and common good into the life of our classroom community. And to this day, these are values that are core to who I am and how I try to live my life into Community with a capital C.
Dawn and Cory are doing me the great favor of singing Free to Be…You and Me during our offering time today. As you listen to the song – think about what being in Community with a capital C has meant for you, think about the indelible fingerprints left on your heart made through life in Community, think about the opportunities you may have passed on to live with care, love and mindfulness toward the common good because you took the easier way out, think about the places in your community where you are finding hope in these challenging times, and think about the places where you can bring hope or help as you live into Community with a capital C.
As people who are seeking to live the way Jesus lived, we are called to live in Community with a capital C. We are called to live with open hearts, to listen more than we speak, to admit when we are wrong, and to know when it is time to act. Our individual work is in knowing our own worth and gifts well enough to see where we fit into the larger communal body and in valuing the worth and gifts of every other member of the community. God calls us to keep showing up and to keep doing the challenging yet amazing work of living in Community with a capital C.
Please pray with me now, in this time and in these separate spaces, a benediction offered by United Methodist Bishop Woodie White at the 1996 General Conference…this is a call to Community with a capital C.
“And now, may the Lord torment you. May the Lord keep before you the faces of the hungry, the rejected, and the despised. May the Lord afflict you with pain for the hurt, the wounded, the oppressed, the abused, the victims of violence. May God grace you with agony, a burning thirst for justice and righteousness. May the Lord give you courage and strength and compassion to make your community a better community, to make your church a better church. And may you do your best to make it so, and after you have done your best, may the Lord grant you peace. Amen.“
PS – The version of Free To Be You And Me that our music team sang during the worship service was ah-mazing. Also, ah-mazing is the Sara Bareilles version. If you have never heard the song, I encourage you to take a listen! https://music.apple.com/us/album/free-to-be-you-and-me/1520482348?i=1520482556
Be well my friends!