I recently helped my son and his family move from an apartment to a condo in Chicago. I knew that members of his church were going to help, but on the day of the move I was unprepared for what I saw. Here it was, 9 am on a Saturday morning and 20 people showed up! All it took was an announcement at a previous Sunday service.
Passing boxes and pieces of furniture along a human chain, it took only an hour to empty out their 1200 square foot apartment. After driving over to the new address, the human chain was re-formed from the truck into the long hallway, material was unloaded, and passed along to their destined rooms.
I've been intrigued by the idea of Christian community as described in Acts 2:44-46, perhaps even a bit obsessed. I had been trying to figure out why community is so hard to ignite and maintain in the church. To be honest, I had nearly given up hope that such a life is even possible in modern society...until I saw a quarter of the church turn out for a move of one of their members! What is remarkable was that this level of mutual helpfulness is a common occurrence in their congregation. At mile-posts on the road of life, they are there for each other.
Coincidentally, I have been reading the book Peculiar People by Rodney Clapp. It is a book about the church as culture in a post-Christian society. One quote in particular captures the essence of what I have been looking for: "Reclaiming Christianity as culture enables us to move from de-contextualized propositions to....inhabitable truths."
Much of our difficulty as the Church or as individual believers is that the gospel we share is a de-contextualized proposition: "Jesus is the Answer!" we proclaim. "What was the question?" would be the response of many. They might add, "so how does what you proclaim make a difference in your life? You go to work, go home, roll-down the garage door, watch hours of TV, surf the Internet, and live in relative isolation.....just like the rest of us!"
Modern society, culture, and the church (as organization) leaves little space for friendship. Our relationships for the most part derive from utility. We maintain just enough relationship, just enough cordiality to get what we want: a task completed, some help, or a commitment to service. Once the task or service is complete, so is the friendship. If we are not intentional, then we will follow that path by default. Unfortunately that is not the path of true friendship, the friendship Christ offers to us, enables through us, and what ultimately the world will recognize as something different.
If we desire a better life, a life that is truly life, a life of following Christ, what are we to do? Rodney Clapp suggests we begin where we are. In our job, in our neighborhood, in our church. He suggests making space for friendship and relationship. To deliberately slow down in favor of a deeper relationship, even if tasks don't get done quite as fast as we would like. Once we are aware of how the world with its task-oriented, get-as-many-things-done-as-fast-as-possible-at-all-costs attitude poisons us, we are in a position to reclaim true friendship and community.