“If you love deeply you're going to get hurt badly. But it's still worth it.” – CS Lewis
One of the things that my wife and I liked about Longmont when we were first moving here last year was that it wasn't a suburb of Denver or Boulder, but a stand-alone community. Whenever possible we choose to spend our money at local businesses and restaurants rather than at chains. Last year we had some friends visiting from California, and we took them out to eat on a Saturday night in downtown Longmont, where we walked around for a while trying to find a place to eat where we wouldn't have to wait an hour for to be seated. At one point this friend of ours asked us, “Don't you guys have any chain restaurants around here? I haven't seen any!” I think people in this area pride themselves on supporting the local community. That's why people here love Oscar Blues and Left Hand Brewing, because they are local businesses that love this community and pour back out into it. 'Community' is an increasingly popular concept all over America – just as it is here in Longmont. Its a good thing to be a local and to be a part of your community – which means knowing and being known, it means relationships and mutual support.
And community is at the heart of Christianity. The whole of the Bible centers not around isolated individuals who know God, but around families and nations – people living out a relationship with God in community. What we learn from the Bible is that community is essential to growing in the knowledge of God and living out your faith. The radically individualistic American culture has tried to take Christianity and make it into a private, personal thing that you can do on your own without any ties to anyone but God – but that's not what it was ever meant to be.
There has been an increasing resurgence of value for community in Christian circles in recent decades – with lots of books being written on the topic and books like Bonhoeffer's “Life Together” becoming popular. But the thing is: when you actually do it, you realize that there's a cost to community. And the reason there's a cost is because real life is messy and people are imperfect. So if you get close to people and you really, actually “do life” with them, and enter into their lives and allow them to enter in to the reality of your life, sooner or later you are going to see their mess and they will see yours. It's a lot easier and cleaner to keep people at arm's-length, and keep relationships superficial. That's what social media is great at: we are able to always put our best face forward and only show people what we want them to see about us. But that's not reality and that's not real community. In fact, neither is simply knowing your neighbors and shopping at the local store and gardening at the community garden.
The word the Bible uses is the über-Christianese word “fellowship”, but the original Greek word for it is super rich: Koinonea, which means 'sharing' or 'having in common' – the root word of 'community'. It says in Acts 2 that the early Christians had all things in common. They were dedicated to fellowship and they met in the temple daily and then met in each other's homes and ate together. This is the life of a community. Knowing and being known. Sharing and partaking. Life together.
And life together can be a rich and fulfilling experience – but the flip-side of that is that there is risk involved. Any time you choose to share your life with someone and get close to them and love them, you make yourself vulnerable – vulnerable to the pain of losing that relationship, vulnerable to the hurt of being betrayed by that person, which, the closer they are to you, the more it hurts. You make yourself vulnerable to their junk affecting your life and messing it up.
If true community has a cost and risk involved, then the question is: is it worth it? Why not just isolate yourself, keep your relationships superficial and your life private? You can still know your neighbors and shop local, but you don't have to get involved in other peoples lives nor will they get close enough to hurt you or cause you grief. The reason is, because the more you love, the greater your capacity for joy. It also increases your vulnerability to be hurt, but you can't get great returns without taking great risk. It's like having a child; there is a great amount of risk involved: your kids could turn out to be terrible people who hate your guts and ruin the world. But if you never take that chance, you'll never experience the depths of joy that kids can bring. Or like marriage: that one's a huge risk statistically! If you get married, there's a huge chance you could go through a painful and expensive divorce. But if you don't get married out of fear of those things, you will miss out on the depths of intimacy and fulfillment and joy that marriage can bring.
So, here's my 2 cents: let's not just like the idea of community – let's actually live life together. You'll be richer for it. Because those other people have something to give to you and to receive from you. There is a cost to community, and it can be substantial! When someone is close, their junk can affect you. But the risk is worth it, because it raises the ceiling on how much joy and growth you can experience.