I went to an outdoor worship service the other night. There were about 30 people there who either lived in nearby apartments or wandered in off the streets. I had been told I would see people from all walks of life. And I did. I saw impoverished, broken, marginalized people who were hungry for comfort, hope and community.
The experience got me thinking about the concept of community. I'm asking myself today, what is the role that community plays in loving and caring for others?
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and goats to help people understand the importance of progressing from professing one's faith to living one's faith:
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Jesus goes on to say that those on the King's proverbial right -- those deserving of the Father's inheritance -- have attained this "position" by loving and caring for "the least of these;" that caring for the least of these equals loving God.
At the worship service, I saw people caring for the least of these, trying to offer them hope, feeding their souls, filling their bellies, providing a few other creature comforts, etc. I thought, that is cool. That is what we are supposed to be doing. And that's when it hit me ... community is not pulling people up out of the ditch; it's jumping in there with them.
If we love and care for others with the expectation that "now" perhaps they will better their lives, have we really accepted them on their own turf? Are we playing the part of the benevolent grandma who dries her darlings' tears with her handkerchief, cooing all the while, "There, there dear," and gives them warm cookies and a glass of milk to feel better, all the while maintaining the "distinction" between us and them? Or are we truly placing ourselves in their midst, insisting there is no distinction, living with them as if there is no distinction? Responding to their needs out of a sense of community; but not a sense of community that operates like Robin Hood and has the "haves" giving to the "have nots" while keeping a safe distance, but a community that embraces a responsibility for caring for humanity because, well, because they are us; we are all God's children.
If you go to dictionary.com, the definitions you will see for community include the following:
A social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. A group of men or women leading a common life according to a rule.
In other words, to be in community with another is to see yourself standing inside of their hoola-hoop, not next to their hoola-hoop, offering a helping hand while maintaining some sort of a boundary (lest you catch what they have). Perhaps it even means letting go of this need to "fix" the needy and just loving and caring for them exactly where they are. Now that doesn't mean we don't provide assistance such as rent assistance, job training, education, etc. It just means we don't assign more value to people who, through our involvement, "get their lives together" in the way society's defines getting your life together and less value to those who just can't seem to break out of their human frailty.
Community in this sense is a lot like acceptance; sanctuary. It sounds like this: "Come as you are, don't change a single thing about yourself. I like you."
It looks like this: an affluent woman hugging a poor woman and saying to her, "I'm so glad to see you. You are so precious to me. What's going on in your life?" (without registering in her mind that she is an affluent woman hugging a poor woman)
What is more soothing, after all? A doctor who stares at our chart, never once making eye contact, asking questions about our condition and gives orders in a sterile manner to the nurse who accompanies him; or one who stands before us in the examination room, puts down the clip board, leans in and asks genuinely, "How are you doing?"
An individual associated with this particular outdoor ministry told me she used to live in a large house in Memorial, but eventually came to realize what a barrier to ministry her life situation represented. So you know what she did? She moved into one of the apartment complexes targeted by her ministry. She came among them. She stepped inside their hoola-hoop. Isn't that astounding?
Sounds a lot like Jesus, huh?
Sounds a lot like ... community.