Perhaps it is a southern thing, or maybe just an American church thing, but every church I’ve ever been to has a team of “greeters” – people at the church on Sunday mornings with the specific task of saying “hi” to everyone who walks in. Several churches we have gone to have the specific goal of having each person who comes in be greeted three times before they get to their seat.
I’m not going to name names, but Brad and I used to go to a church where people would greet you by asking “How are you?” By the time I said “Good, and you?” they had already turned to greet someone else. So my response turned into “Good, and….oh.” It was as if they didn’t realize they had just asked me a question. In this same church, greeters were always men and only ever shook hands with the men. I don’t know how many times I stuck out my hand to a smiling gentleman only to have him look straight through me as if I weren’t there and then shake Brad’s hand with gusto and move on to the next person. Suffice it to say, we don’t go to that church anymore.
Okay, I’ve got my criticisms out of my system…maybe, we’ll see. What I really want to talk about has to do with this verse:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:16
I think this verse has a lot to do with having real conversations with people. I kind of hesitate to use that word – real – because I heard it a lot in college, as in “We need to be real with people.” Maybe it’s still a useful word, even if slightly overused.
So what does all this have to do with living in community? It would seem that God calls us to share openly with those in our communities both the good and the bad things we are going through. When someone asks us “How are you doing today?” it should be an invitation to a conversation rather than a simple greeting. We need to be open to rejoicing and mourning when other people in our community are in the midst of one or the other. In the past and in some cultures still today, people built deep relationships with the people who lived near them. They watched each other’s kids. They built each other’s houses. They shared tools. They farmed together. They cooked together. They absolutely depended upon each other for survival, and so they were intimately intertwined in each other’s lives.
Personally, I’ve never lived in a community like that, but somehow I miss it. I have this desire deep inside to share life with other people, to talk about things that matter, to smile when I’m happy and cry when I’m sad. I feel like it is a need ingrained in me to be able to drop by a friend’s house without having to make an appoitment a week ahead of time and to have people who feel like they can do that with me. From what I’ve seen and heard from other people, that desire doesn’t just exist in me. I think that these kind of close relationships are a basic human need.
Friends who have been to the middle east describe a wonderful spirit of hospitality. Everyone is invited in for tea. Greetings are just the beginnings of conversations that can last for hours. There is no watching the clock or rushing to the next appointment. You rejoice together. You mourn together.
Obviously the community that Jesus and the New Testament authors described isn’t an easy thing. It isn’t easy to mourn with someone. It isn’t easy to resist the busyness of the world in order to make room for someone who needs a real friend right now. It isn’t easy to let other people know about your worry and pain.
To have community, however, we need to know one another intimately. We need to be able to have those wonderful, joyful conversations and those difficult, painful conversations. I don’t think that God made us to live life alone. We truly, deeply, really need one another.