Blogging Towards Sunday, June 5
John 17:1-11 | Community
This prayer of Jesus, at the conclusion of John's gospel story of his life and relationships, is for unity among those that he calls his community in his day and in days to come. As I thought about community in the text, in my life and it's changing implications in our urban, multicultural, technologically-flavored city characterized first and foremost by its diversity I wondered at the current definition of COMMUNITY: according to wikipedia it's:
In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing a populated environment. In humancommunities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.
In sociology, the concept of community has led to significant debate, and sociologists are yet to reach agreement on a definition of the term. There were ninety-four discrete definitions of the term by the mid-1950s. Traditionally a "community" has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. The word is often used to refer to a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also refer to the national community or international community.
The word "community" is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, "with/together" + munus, "gift"), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.
Since the advent of the Internet, the concept of community no longer has geographical limitations, as people can now virtually gather in an online community and share common interests regardless of physical location.
I find that the word "church" no longer has much concrete meaning for people when I talk about faith. For many it evokes a limited perspective of morality, a tradition-preserving club, or buildings we drive by without stopping. Faith Community or Community of Faith, seem to be words that speak more to our current context. I'm struck by the idea of community as a group of people together, with each other sharing a common gift. It's the togetherness that's a gift. As well as a gift of commonality that brings togetherness.
So how is the church a community then? I think of life here in Oakland where church can often be experienced as a social club, a place where we expect one thing and settle for another, where we continue traditions without necessarily knowing why, where we meet people that we wouldn't meet elsewhere. It's that final thing that strikes me. A community of faith is one where we encounter one another because of the gift that we have encountered in knowing Jesus of Nazareth, because of our common experience of the divine through his story, presence and a relationship with him. In an age where we are divided from one another in new ways: by technology that keeps us connected while it can simultaneously isolate us, a growing division between flats and hills schools and property values, a radical transformation of the ethnic boundaries and characteristics of Oakland, an emerging affirmation that we have to all impact our city for good rather than waiting for some bureaucracy to do it - it's quite revolutionary to experience church as a community of people together gathered by the gift of grace. That's what church is meant to be - the community of followers of Jesus - a living group of people from the hills to the flats and in between, brought together with their differences, not simply to change the world, but to challenge the world.