OUR "TRAIN STATION" CULTURE
Slowing Down to "Smell" the People
I love trains, planes and automobiles; but I hate train stations, airports and highways. I love the idea of traveling, of "going somewhere," and of speed; but I hate the congestion, confusion and hurrying that result when traveling people converge. It used to be possible to avoid those times and places. But today, it seems our entire culture has become one big train station. What's tragic is that our churches seem to have followed suit.
We are all in such a hurry. We've been that way since World War II. We seem to think that if we increase the number of our activities we will find happiness. It hasn't happened. If anything, we are the most miserable people in history. Psychologists say that people in the Middle Ages were far happier than we are today. Think about that: they had to deal with feudal lords that were constantly involving them in their feuds; poverty and diseases, like the black plague, that existed on a grand scale; and very few comforts in life. Yet, they were happier. One reason: their lives were simpler. Another reason: they lived in a tight-knit community. Third reason: they knew their purpose in life. Fourth reason: they were focused on spiritual things rather than material.
We can do a lot to make our lives simpler and less materialistic; we can even discover our purpose and try to fulfill it. But the thing that seems to be the hardest to get our arms around is "community." Everything today seems designed to destroy our sense of belonging. I'm not talking about memberships in clubs and organizations, which I consider to be artificial attempts at community. I'm talking about authentic community, and by that I mean a group of people to which we belong in order to have meaningful, enduring relationships. How can we find that when we are rushing to get to our next appointment?
Did you know that Jesus didn't own a watch? How did He get along? Did you know that the Swiss invented the watch and little else? Being obsessed with time is of very little value. You can't be concerned with people and building community if you're overly concerned with how you spend each minute, because you will consider time spent getting to know someone as a waste of time. Yet, that's how Jesus spent most of His time. Shouldn't we follow His example?
Authentic community doesn't happen by church boards planning it out. For the most part, it just happens. People that are related in some way - by family or friendship or location or job - decide to start spending time together. It takes a decision. But it doesn't take a lot of planning. You decide you're going to start getting together at such-and-such a place and such-and-such a time on a regular basis. It's really that simple.
But our society has become such that it is almost impossible for anyone to do anything on a regular basis. We have designed lifestyles where the parents of children don't live together; where people live and work in different towns; where our children go to school and we go to church across town; etc. Nothing in our lives is simple anymore, nothing is easy. But the simplest, easiest thing in the world is community, because it is born out of our natural relationships. But nothing in our lives today is natural. Everything is artificial and complicated.
No wonder we're so unhappy.
I have several communities to which I belong. One is my Bible study group that meets on Wednesday mornings. It is not made up of people just from my denomination: it is made up of friends - people who love God from many denominations, and even some from the Jewish faith. We started out as people working within the advertising community, but it has expanded from that. The key to the whole thing is the leader. Ours is a true servant-leader. We meet at his house; he and his wife get up and make pancakes and coffee; we have breakfast as everyone is piling in; we laugh and talk. Then we meet for an hour; we keep it simple: all we do is read a chapter in the Bible silently, then go around the room letting each person share what was most meaningful to them. It is the most enjoyable time in my week. It is my community.
A second community I belong to also meets on Wednesdays in the evening: it is the recovery ministry at my church. It is made up of people coming out of all types of addictions, habits, hang-ups and hurts. These are real, authentic people because they have to be: their recovery depends on it. Again, we have a meal together, then we worship, someone teaches or gives their testimony, we have small share groups for an hour, and then we have a dessert time. This is a larger commitment of time than my Bible study group (usually 3-4 hours). Like my Bible study group, these are people I know I can turn to for help. We are investing in each others' lives, and I know it is paying off, not only by the changes in my life, but also by the relationships we're building. It, too, is my community.
I have a third community that meets on Sunday mornings: it's my boys' discipleship group. They are third graders. It is a different type of community. I'm not only getting to know the boys, but also the parents, so they're a part of my community as well. As a matter of fact, several of the boys and their dads recently helped me move. That is a great community-building activity. The boys are already starting to see the value of community and of themselves, as the community affirms them. It, too, is my community.
I have other communities in my life: my family, other friends, my business associates. Everyone has these types of relationships. But unless we are being open and honest with the people in our lives, unless we are taking time to get to know each other, unless we are spending meaningful moments together in relationship, it's not community. And without community, we're just living in a train station.
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