I remember my grandmother talking of how they corresponded with their families before the inventions of the telephone and, subsequently, the myriad of ways we cultivate connectivity during these internet-infused days.
My grandfather’s family had moved over a hundred miles away from their place of origin to grow tobacco. Much of their family, especially on my grandfather’s side, was far away. Connectivity was hard, but they were open to it.
I can remember her telling of a time a relative wrote to them about visiting. They didn’t ask. There were no solid plans. They just gave a window of a few weeks in which they were going to be visiting. Then, they showed up. They lived out relationships and connectivity face to face.
If we’re honest, this is a dying capacity. Millennials are paralyzed by a ringing phone, but they’ll respond to a text message in moments. We “connect” on Facebook, where we share our edited highlights, but we’re lacking real, meaningful connections in our lives.
I love that the first thing we see Jesus doing as He begins His ministry is asking some guys to, “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17).
Jesus wasn’t born into the community that would define Him. Jesus created it. He invited those who were marginalized, rejected, and scorned to become followers and friends. They became more than friends. They became followers.
If you look at the life of Jesus and accept that our lives are best lived following His example, you’re going to come to the realization that we need people quickly. You weren’t created to live alone. You were created to live in an eternal community that is centered on Jesus and inclusive of other people.
I don’t know a parent that feels comfortable when their kids are lonely. Sure, we’ve come to value the dynamic that exists between those that are introverted and those who are extraverted. Some of us make friends more natural than others. Some of us have a higher capacity for relationships. But… We all need people in our lives.
We should rightly teach our kids to value and appreciate all other kids, regardless of their color, ethnicity, home life, affluence, or popularity. As a parent, I want my kid to sit next to the kid that has no friends, to play with the kid that’s alone, to have friends that look different, and to look for the value that everyone comes to the table with. This radical inclusion isn’t new. It’s the basis of the Gospel of Jesus that spread from a small Jewish Sect around the world to people like you and me (Galatians 3:26-29).
Why is it, then, that if take a look at our community, the people we do life with, that we’ll find that almost everyone looks like us, acts like us, believes like us, and shares our views?
We can do better.
FRIENDS THAT LOOK DIFFERENT
Take a mental survey right now. How many of your friends are of a different race or ethnicity?
Likely, those who are different don’t make up a large percentage of those friend base that establishes your current community. Most of us have friends that look a lot like us.
Understand, I’m not talking about people you have no face-to-face time with. I’m not talking about those friends from high school that you keep up with on Facebook. I’m talking about the people that you regularly sit across the table from, that you have in your home, and that you really do life with.
Why is this important?
No matter where you’re from, your community doesn’t look like you. A portion of it does, maybe even a large part of it, but your community isn’t perfectly reflected in your mirror.
To love your community, you need to know your community. This isn’t about facts. This is about stories. You need to listen to an African American friend tell you about how they feel when they’re pulled over by a police officer. You need to listen to a Hispanic friend tell you about the stereotypes they’ve experienced.
Why do you need that? Because their stories won’t leave you alone. They will haunt you and challenge your perspectives and beliefs. We need that because prejudice and racism aren’t challenged by facts, they’re challenged face to face.
FRIENDS THAT HOLD DIFFERENT VIEWS
I’ve mentioned before that we live in a very interesting time of connection. Unlike my grandparents, we can selectively choose who is going to be in our lives, what they can say, and who we’ll listen to. It’s so easy to be emboldened to live our a fierce stance, especially online, that doesn’t tolerate any outside perspectives.
The sad truth is that for many of us, it was the challenge that first highlighted truth in our lives. Someone who cared deeply about you challenged you, the way you were living, or the way you believed.
As we’ve become more barricaded inside of our political and theological ideals, we’ve also isolated ourselves from the very thing that has the power to change us. We need to encounter new ideas. We need to experience a challenge. We need this politically. We need this in our churches. We need this in our beliefs about culture and God.
Sometimes a challenge pushes us to understand what we believe and why we believe it more fully. Sometimes it allows us to see our error and offers us an opportunity for repentance.
Who are the people that hold thoughtful but different views in your life? Who are the people challenging your perspectives? Are you listening, really listening, to people who have thoughtful opinions that differ from yours?
FRIENDS THAT LIVE DIFFERENTLY
The way that people live around us has a substantial influence on our lives.
Researchers Christakis and Fowler, studying data from a research project examining heart health, found that if a friend of yours becomes obese, you are 45% more likely to gain weight over the next weight over the next two to four years. Even if a friend of a friend became obese, you became 20% more likely to gain weight.
Do you struggle with managing your money? Maybe you need some friends that do a pretty good job at that.
Are you struggling in your marriage? Maybe you need some friends that have a long history of faithfulness in their marriage. Perhaps you need some friends that have overcome some challenges in their marriage.
Are you wanting to grow as a follower of Jesus? Maybe you need some friends that have a mature relationship with Jesus.
Maybe we need friends that live a little different!
WE CAN DO BETTER
Just like Jesus, maybe we need to invite some people to the table of our lives who are a little different than us.
For many of us, the idealized dream of having a personal community that reflects the nations of the earth and looks like heaven isn’t accessible, not because of our willingness, but because of our local communities.
What we can long for, instead, is a personal community that reflects the community we live in.
To love your community, you must understand it.
To understand our community is to move beyond simple demographics and facts. To really understand, we must move from facts to faces.
Faces speak in stories. They’re not sterile. They’re connected and personal. And… Maybe, that’s what we really need.
We can do better, and maybe that can start with making a new friend.
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What can you do to allow your personal community to reflect better the community in which you live?