I hope you don't mind, but I've really got to get something out in the open, and this seems like just the place to do it. Okay, here it is:
I am still a huge fan of Rock and Pop music from the late 70's and early 80's .
Yup. I admit it. Van Halen, The Clash, Billy Squier, The Go Go's, Foreigner, Scorpions, Rush, The Police, Styx, old U2, and- even early Rick Springfield (oh, the humanity!). You name it, I probably like it. (And yes, I agree- that's most likely the first time Rush and The Go Go's were used in the same sentence.)
In 1980, the band Styx released "Paradise Theatre", arguably their last really great album. On it was a catchy little song called "Too Much Time on My Hands". (Come on children of the 80's, do you remember?) It was sort of a tongue-in-cheek song about the ups and downs of having no real purpose. Behind the synthesizer-bass, Tommy Shaw sang about a guy who's outlook changes from depression to optimism- all because he found a place where people would listen to him.
I would have to agree that our perspective on life can change just because we have a place to go where we feel like we fit and people know us (cue the music from "Cheers"). But by the end of the song, the guy admits that the people around him are there primarily because he's buying them drinks. Sooner or later he knows he'll be right back where he started (The last line in the final verse is, "Is it any wonder I'm null and void?") Still, while everybody is with him, he feels like he belongs. And even if he has to buy it and it's temporary, he wants that feeling.
What we're talking about here is community, and when it is built (intentionally or instinctively) on love, acceptance and grace, it is a very beautiful thing. I'm not sure there is really any way to accurately quantify the effects of true community. And when that atmosphere of grace, love and acceptance is Christ-centered (the original and purest example) and the group is open, there are no limits to what God can do in someone's life, or how the community can grow. Of course, this kind of openness and acceptance takes some effort. Sometimes people really don't know how to go about it. And sometimes people just don't want to work that hard. But we all still want that feeling of belonging.
Because of this, people will sometimes attempt to build a form of community around other things. There are several examples, but for the sake of space here, I'd like to mention just one: The common enemy. This can effectively bring a group of people together, even when they can't seem to agree on or be organized around anything else. Don't believe me? Just read our history. After enduring a decade of the Great Depression, a common enemy unified and organized a large enough majority of the U.S. population in World War II that a byproduct was the healing of our nation's economy. If that's too far back to seem relevant to you, just think about how many flags you saw flying and how many people you saw hugging each other during the weeks that followed the attack on the World Trade Center.
This is not a commentary on any particular war, or even on war in general. This moment in history however, does illustrate a point I want to make. Today as I drove my kids to school, I didn't see as many flags out front as I did a couple of years ago, and I didn't notice many people spontaneously hugging each other. Do people not care any more? Of course they do. But national pride must be rooted in the nation, not in an act of terrorism. My point is simply this: A "common enemy" is only a temporary reminder of the value of our community; it is not a sustainable purpose for it.
Here's the problem as I see it: A group that finds community in a common enemy will be united only as long as they have an enemy. It's conditional community. And this is true for ANY community- a country, an activist group, a union, a fraternity, a church.
There are certainly times when we are called to make a stand as believers. But if you find yourself in such a situation, I would like to suggest that you ask yourself a simple question: "Does this group find its purpose in what it is for, or what it is against?" If the answer is "against", please be careful in how you proceed (no matter how positive the "against" is painted). When you decide to join a group that has defined itself by standing against an enemy, you may discover that you need to find new enemies in order to continue to have purpose. Eventually, finding new enemies may quietly become the purpose
"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. " -2Timothy 2:23
I can remember a week of church camp that illustrates this point perfectly.
I was working as a lifeguard and groundskeeper (for those of you who know me, try not to fixate on the lifeguard part- I don't want you to pass out from laughter). The camp dean had decided that he didn't want to overwork his volunteers, so he gave each adult only one job to do. This worked out to about an hour and a half to two hours each day for most of his staff. For most, the remaining hours were spent under the large picnic shelter, drinking tea and talking. For the first day or so the adults seemed glad to have the time off. But by Wednesday, they began to "notice" things.
It began when one of the ladies was certain that she had discovered fleas in the playground sand and called the group together to discuss whether this might pose a potential health risk to the campers. A closer inspection by the camp staff revealed the bugs to be gnats, which are annoying, but harmless. This however, prompted some of the adults to question whether the camp staff (a common enemy) might be telling the truth about the bugs. By the time the insects were confirmed to be gnats, we had a full-scale problem on our hands.
On my way into the shop while cutting the grass one afternoon, I crossed paths with one of the guys. He was carrying a power drill and a long extension chord and headed for the girls dorm (no, it wasn't a horror movie). He informed me that the "group" had discovered that the ceramic soap dishes mounted to each shower stall did not drain properly, and the standing water might pose any number of threats to the campers. He was going over to drill holes in each of the soap dishes. I have to confess- I think I just stared at him for a minute, in stunned disbelief. Then, as seriously as I could muster, I asked him if he had considered what might happen if he drilled a hole through the finish on each soap dish, allowing the water to soak into the ceramic on the inside. "Instead of drilling out each soap dish and causing them to disintegrate," I asked, "perhaps we could just send someone through to wipe them dry each day?" I got to take the drill back to the shop.
But as I was coming out, another small group of men emerged from the trail leading to the creek, carrying the chainsaw. "We went down to clear a couple of trees that were an eyesore across the creek, but we dropped the (running) chainsaw in, so we weren't able to finish the job." I quietly accepted the dead chainsaw and walked back to the shop, humming an old 80's rock song by the group Styx (Cue synthesizer bass) -perhaps you know the one I'm thinking of...
In Him We Live,
p.s. - To not include a section of scripture that I think perfectly outlines what real community looks like would be sort of ironic, considering what I just wrote about. But it also just seemed better to let it have a separate space- like a mini "part 2" of what is above. It doesn't need any explanation, so I will let it speak for itself:
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." -Acts 2:42-47