Radical Thoughts, Real Community


Sunday night, my church shared a Thanksgiving feast together. And while some may believe Lutherans have cornered the market on potluck dinners, my Pentecostal church did a fine job.

So I went off my diet for a day. Sometimes you have to savor the moment with friends.

When I think about one area of our lives as Christians where our walk doesn’t match our talk, it’s in building real community. The word community lingers on the lips of so many  Christians today, but when I look around I don’t see much community. At least not real community that bursts ungodly societal constraints.

In talking with a friend from church, Don, we both commented on how dependent we have become on technology in our lives. Don mentioned that one finely placed electromagnetic pulse over the United States, crippling most of our electronics, would have a destabilizing effect on our society. In many ways, we have made ourselves so dependent on our cell phones, computers, cable TV, and even the simple electronics that run a stoplight, that to lose them for an extended length of time would wreak utter chaos.

I believe Don is correct. When I lived out in California, an intersection lost a stoplight for a few minutes and someone who didn’t like the snarl that occurred got out a gun and started shooting. With people wound so tightly by our modern society, should we be surprised?

Even if society should fail to collapse without our tech gadgets, those electronics have changed us in profound ways. Call me a neo-Luddite, but I believe that many of those devices have already had a destabilizing effect on our society, especially when it comes to experiencing genuine community.

The items we buy, especially advanced machinery and electronics, may make our lives simpler, but they also make us self-sufficient to the exclusion of others. We live in an age dominated by the idea that we do not need each other. Our machines have made it possible for us to exist apart from other people. Many would consider this a positive, but when it comes down to how God made us, it’s clear that the very foundations of community are specters of their former selves.

The result? We have become a disconnected and depressed people.

One of the radical truths of the Gospel we can’t escape is that Jesus is NOT so much a personal Savior as He is a a Savior of a people, a people He is drawing to Himself. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will not be you alone in a room with Jesus, but with the whole host of believers from all time. If we are being fitted to heaven by our time on this blue orb, then that fitting must be thought of in terms of community.

Yet we do little this side of eternity to live in community.

Our problem stems from our inability–to use a much overused phrase–to think outside the box. I remember many years ago how my old neighborhood experienced a power outage that blackened TVs, silenced video games (Atari 2600s back then), and stilled the bits and bytes of computers (Commodore 64 and Apple IIe).  Right after supper, the electronics stilled, the soft voice of that beautiful summer night  called to people. The next thing I knew neighbors were chatting in each other’s yards, kids were playing impromptu games of Kick the Can and softball, and the neighborhood came alive. But when the power kicked on an hour or so later, the neighborhood took on the feel of a tomb. People had trudged back to their electronic distractions, each homeowner shutting on the door on his or her personal fortress.

We’re still locked up today. Perhaps more so.

But the Bible is a story of God and the community He is creating. The Gospel exists for people and is meant to be shared between people, to be celebrated in community. Christ’s clarion call in the Great Commission is Christ’s call bids us, his people, to go out and bring in more people to the Church. We exclude no one. The widow, orphan, and immigrant are to be welcomed in our midst. Jew and Gentile, all are welcome. What Christ is building has no limits and no boundaries, save for our own unwillingness to participate in the work.

This is why we Christians MUST rethink how we view the Gospel and the Kingdom. Every effort we make, the very way we live, must be oriented toward outreach. Even when we play, we don’t play alone, but with others. It’s our mandate.

Do we see how this is at complete odds with our societal constructs? We talk about relevancy in the Church, but the truth is that most of how we are to live cannot be shoehorned into society and culture. Instead, they must conform to the ideals of Christ. This means we Christians must learn to think like Christians and not like the world.

Well, no duh, right? We all know this.

Do we?

Think about a common activity we enjoy today: listening to music on our iPods. We Christians should ask ourselves how this solitary activity connects us in community to other people. Truth is, it accomplishes quite the opposite effect. Worse, it disempowers the listener, forcing him or her into a consumer mode. The music is disconnected from the hearer and from the community. Something is ultimately lost in the process.

So what is the truly Christian response, the one that works toward community and sharing among people?

What would happen if instead of reaching for the iPod, we make music ourselves? And what if we make it in community, getting together with others to play and sing? Just hanging out together and jammingSuch a move makes us less dependent on consuming and more dependent on each other. Not only this, but we encourage others to use their gifts. We provide an example to the young and to each other. The musical talents we share uplift the community that forms around our music.

When we keep community in mind, we form relationships that build networks of dependency that shatter our self-reliance and return us to God’s ideal interaction. He walked with Adam in the garden because He is a relational God. How then do we approach all of life with this mindset?

Why do our families eat alone? What if the rarity was to eat just by ourselves? Should we not have others eating in our homes on a regular basis? Wasn’t this one of the unusual hallmarks of the early Church? I believe we Christians must start opening our homes on a regular basis so that few of our meals are eaten just with our own nuclear family. What better way to talk with others about what God is doing in our lives than in this kind of atmosphere?

How would this kind of thinking change our culture?

What if Christians were at the forefront of the slow food movement, taking time to prepare good food made without extreme processing, and always share that food with a group? What if we set aside our evenings for being with other people around a table of homemade food? How would that transform our understanding of community?

Even if we were to go out to eat at a restaurant, why not pay the way of some people we don’t know well so they might join us and begin to share in our community?

What would it mean for the Christian community to live in such a way that we share what we have rather than buying redundant copies of everything we believe we need? Would we be able to work fewer hours and devote more time to the Gospel and to others?

Consider what might happen if we begin to forgo purchasing more junk for ourselves so that we might consider the needs of others. Watch this video to see how one church thought better of building a new building and decided to put that money to a more Christ-centered use. Then consider how saying no to extravagance might change the lives of others. What if we lived that way every day?

Think about what might happen to us and those around us if we turned off the TV. What would we do with that free time that would place us in the lives of other people?

What might come about if truly esteemed others better than ourselves?

If we begin to ask how we might be more others-centered, I suspect that we’ll eventually change how we live and, ultimately, change the world for Christ. It doesn’t take much more than making a few decisions differently each day. If we do that long enough, our lives are transformed. Hospitality doesn’t become so frightening to us anymore. People aren’t left on the vine to wither. The Gospel goes out into new venues. Others see that Christians really care, rather than just talking about caring.

Radical thoughts lead to real community.

Readers, what are some of your suggestions for taking the worldly way of looking at a situation and turning it into a godly means by which we encourage interaction with others and build community?

26 thoughts on “Radical Thoughts, Real Community

  1. Wolfgang Amadeus

    Benevolence, Charity, Fraternity, Love, and Sorority (sp). These items are many of the trademarks of christian theosophy as well as religeous disicipline.

    As Christians, we tend to not go out of the comfort zone, unless its in a Chruch Culture area. Instead- we would rather do what is easy. Give at the door- on the street- to the local Gospel Mission. That is easy and enough many of us say. How many however, take the missionary who has nothing- from another country, and feed them a good dinner once a week? How many of us, ask someone, in need to come to our home, and stay awhile, eat and perhaps even bathe, and get a warm, clean change of clothes? How many of us- imitate our Lord on the Passover- and wash the travelers feet? Probably not many. Belive me- its not just one particular sect either that behaves in this mode. Churchs-major churches that seem to think that they are teaching their followers to do this- when actually- they don’t.

    We are a people of minimalism. We do what will pass, and then go back to whatever thing we are trying to do.

    Ipods. I am a musician. I don’t own an Ipod. In fact, I don’t own a lot of fancy electronic gadgets- that even includes video games. Never had one- don’t desire it. I do have the cutting edge of digital pianos- literally. Its not a keyboard either- its a baby grand. I also own a regular piano too.

    Now- knowing a little from where I am coming from- I can go on.

    People in the normal “English” world, live in nuclear families for the most part. They are happy that way. Many don’t have a desire to mingle beyond their front stoop. Some don’t even have yards, since most of the children don’t go outside anyway. Just big, huge houses that cost over $500K. They also have all the Tech goodies, and are well educated, upper middle class techie type. Both parents work, and the kiddies – unless their teenagers in sports, go to the daycare. Perfect life. Some even go to church on Sunday. Amazing. They all leap into their Mercedes Benz Suv, or Lexus subcompact, and head down the road. The kiddies watch squarebob spongepants, and Mum listens to her Ipod playing the latest in Christian Pop. Papa, has his bluetooth on- talking business no doubt. Reverence? Where is it?
    Your average Christian family. After church- its off to Brunch at the local Restaurant that caters to this class, and then its back home to the video games, ipod music, and Papa on the Internet. Some Shabbat.

    Now, granted, this is a very blanket observation. From where I come from- this is the majority. Church for them was an opportunity to be seen, and then see.

    There were those also-who took the Shabbet seriously. They went to Church, practiced reverence, and then went home and lived it. I knew a few of that nature. What is interesting- that one couple, come all the way from Washington state to visit us. They are the only ones that do. Interesting eh? The other so called Christians- who were always exhibiting it- still live the plastic life that they want everyone to see.

    On to what happens with the lack of power.

    Now- I am going to discern from the “English” way of life, to a more extended family concept. If you look closely at groups who practice more European based separetist (sp) Christian discipline, the Hutterites, the Mennonites, the Amish, to some extent the LDS, as well as the Seventh Day Adventist, you will find that life is definitly more centred around their religeous belief system, the raising and education of their children- both religeously and communally wise, the fact that the whole family works together- each has a job- up to the oldest, down to the youngest who is able to work, and also play together, is an example of what we have lost as we modernized and left the original Puritan and Quaker communities. Since the Puritans have divided- and became Congregationalists and Presbyterians, their belief system has changed. The concept of community just isn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong- I like both Congregationalists and Presbyterians- almost became one in fact. They are just more mainstream now-then say two hundred plus years ago. Quakers, haven’t changed much. There are two Quaker communities near where I live- and we also have Mennonites too. The one thing is- they are community oriented- some even willing to work with the outside community as well as their own.

    And-there are others who choose to remain within their own communities-such as the Hutterites, Amish and others like that.

    It was my understanding that the Early Christians- were very communal, they spent time together, shared together, worked together, went on missions together, etcetera and etal. My question is- where have we gone astray?

    My answer is- we have weakend and succumbed to Mammon. Our society- for the last one hundred and fifty years, has dedicated itself to making more and more money. Its become an obsession. Its due to the fact, that we have gotten away from the simplicity of the instructions that our Heavenly Father put forth- we have fallen for the Evil ones temptation. Our eyes glow and get bigger as we stand on the cliff and see the New Jerusalem, and the Evil One tells us, that we can have it all if we come to him. Many have done exactly that. And that is why, I belive things are the way they are.
    Our children are corrupted by the Games and the things they see on the Tellie and Hear on their Ipods. They don’t go out and play in the Heavenly Fathers garden under the Sun anymore. No- they sit in the dark, and play these games- so that they will be ahead of the pack when their time comes to succumb to the temptation of Mammon. I sit and look everyday at the Big Farms vanishing around me. The old folks children- are off in the city making big bucks- they have no interest in doing honorable work, and tilling the land. Its not lucrative enough. So, Mum and Pa, sell it to the local Contractor offering them big bucks- so they can go and retire someone where nicer, quieter, and hopefully more peacefull. This is happening. Slowly but surely, more people are moving into the homes built on these lands. Slowly but surely, we won’t have any farmland left- to grow our own food-because this generation, would rather make the big bucks instead of work the family farm. Too much hard work, for too little pay they think. Again, and example of temptation at work.

    Sadly what is replacing it now, is a big shopping strip right through town. What was once a peaceful little farm community- with horses and cows right in town, is going to turn into a big shopping strip, full of gangs, and other such things that are relative to that thought. We have a large Christian College in town, in fact, I live almost next door to it, do you think, that a parent is going to want to send their child to a college in the middle of a gangland?

    I expect, in less than twenty years- that will indeed be the case.

    And why? Again, new technology backed by the Evil one to lead us astray. Yes, even the computer is an example. Kids don’t even need to learn the things we had to. They can get Pens that are computerated to “help” them do all their school work now. They have calculators, handheld spelling /translators, so they don’t need an old fashioned dictionary or Thesaurus, their text books are on Laptops, their school work is done on computers now, its a brave new world my friend. They don’t even have to learn to write…

    As a music teacher, I not only keep a music dictionary by my piano- but I also keep a regular dictionary there too- for I have found that many children lack the vocabulary that we had in the fourth, fifth and sixth forms. My job as a Teacher, has expanded beyond just teaching music. It involves many things now- because the children, just don’t get the education that we recieved. What they do get- they get all the training necessary to work a computer,finish projects, and present them.

    The best part- there is very little play time for these kids amongst their peers. Its filled completely by their parents or the school.

    So- no wonder, kids just don’t play outside. They don’t know the meaning of the word for the most part. They know organized play, play dates, but to just go outside and amuse themsevles..forget it.

    I am afraid it will take more than just the power to go out in order to get people to interact with each other again. It would take a whole collapse of society as we know it, in order for us to have and live the concept of community that once was ours.

    You know what is interesting- people long for the fifties, the sixties, the seventies-they look back at the good things from those eras. My generation looked at the fifties. Why- life was less chaotic. Technology was just beginning. You could still get a reasonable job with a High School degree, and raise a family, buy a house, and a car, and send Junior to State college. Now- that generation is retired, older, and enjoying their golden years. They still talk of those years with fondness. What came after that? War, a Burst in Technology, Global World Markets, basic insanity. People stopped going to church- that was the late sixties, and on. Is that when the problems really accelerated? Perhaps. Church wasn’t the priority in most peoples lives. Many states dropped the blue sunday laws- the laws that kept business closed, and therefore made it easy for a Man, or a Women, or even a Family to participate in Church as well as their gatherings. When technology took over, and money became the priority for everyone, the blue Laws vanished. Now, its acceptable to work seven days a week, until you drop. Some places insist on Mandatory overtime. They don’t care. Literally.

    Where is the evil one in this?

    He’s there. Where ever there is greed- he is there.

    Radical Thoughts, real community. You say its radical to want to have what we had back in the fifities, forties, thirties,twenties, ‘teens and turn of the century? No, it isn’t radical, its just not going to happen unless you live in a community that lives that way. Yes, the pendulum does swing- but right now- its still swinging away-the wrong way. Real community? Again- its out there if that is what you want. Just realize, it is now a historical thing- to live the life that America was founded on. Yes- that was Community. Today, community is something that has to be nurtured- and that takes everyone.

    I currently live in a very strong, religeous community. It is something however, that is valued, and developed- nurtured even. Its not something that happened by accident.

    Oh well.. to each his own. Forgive my blanket statements- they are just the observations of one person. I know, that out there, there are communities that are small, and do have lively communal lives. I pray, that those continue- for that is what is wonderful about this country.


    • Wolfgang

      My wife grew up Evangelical Friends, the Evangelical offshoot of the Quakers. As she says of the social Gospel branch of the Quakers that didn’t go the Evangelical route, “They took the Divine Light, and we took Jesus Christ.” I think that says it all.

      I had two pictures for this post. The other was an Amish barnraising, so you can see how tracking on this with you.

      The odd thing about where we are is that what is most natural is for us to congregate in groups. To live isolated lives is not normal at all, yet it is what we have grown accustomed to.

      • Wolfgang Amadeus


        It sounds like your wife had a very interesting childhood. 🙂 What she says- does say all.

        Barnraising is a prime example- as well as quilting bees, harvest time, as well as planting time, when the Amish would work together with each other. Even individually, their extended family groups worked together-all had a job. Personally, I think that is wonderful in this day and age. I also think it is interesting that you and I are tracking on certain issues.

        Man is a social child. We need to be with others- tribally if you must. Somewhere we lost it. And this loss is what really hurts. It isn’t normal to live separate from ones family (tribe), yet, as you have said- it is what we have grown accustomed to. There are still families out there- who live on homesteaded farms-several generations worth, but those are becoming fewer as the day goes.

        Great article Dan!

        And your wife sounds like she is a really kind person.


  2. I would suggest that we get rid of the video games and actually do the activities together in the “real” world. Don’t play first-person shooters, play paint ball. Don’t play Madden, Tiger Woods, NBA, etc., but get together and play football, basketball, baseball, etc. I also love and share your idea of eating more meals together.

    By the way, have you ever read David Wells’ No Place For Truth?

    • Don,

      I totally agree on the sports game thing. It blows my mind that people are spending all their free time in stuff like Second Life, casually tossing their “First Life” away.

      I’ve read a lot of David Wells, but not so much anymore. He’s great at analyzing the problems, but his solutions don’t really address those problems at the core, only at the periphery. I got tired of reading his commentary on social breakdown, yet find nothing in his solutions that addresses the real issues here. He’s never attacked the way we work in this country, yet our work lives throw so many things out of whack. If anything, Wells is a firm supporter of the status quo and his ideals for American Christianity have an oddly 1950s retro feel. What he fails to see is that things were falling apart already in the 1950s, so why try to reproduce that era today? We need better answers.

      So while I like Wells’s astute observations, his solutions are band-aids for deeper issues.

      • Thanks for sharing your observations on Wells. His first book is all observation and analyzing, at which I believe he did a great job. His solutions begin in his second book which I haven’t read yet, but plan to read. I was hoping for some great answers.

        • Don,

          Wells does have some great answers. He wants to return to that Olde Time Religion, and I think that’s admirable. Better Bible teaching, deeper discipleship, more rigorous Christian thinking, developing a true Christian worldview–all those are highly admirable and much the same thing I want to see. I believe those are solid answers to genuine problems.

          The problem is that all of them are one step in a very complex knot that comprises modern living. You’ve got to unravel the knot first before you can make many of those solutions stick.

          For instance, busyness is killing the Church, but Wells doesn’t address that; he simply adds more things to do. No matter how admirable and important those things are, they aren’t going to work unless we do something about the underlying busyness problem. Telling busy people to do even more will only have them rebel against your idea, no matter how great it might be.

          But a lot of guys like Wells actually endorse many of the functions that make our lives overly busy at the core. In the end, he winds up sawing off the limb he’s sitting on.

          Don’t take my word for it, though. Read Wells’s books and drop me a private e-mail if you wish to discuss what you’ve read.

          • I am right with you on the issue of busyness and the church continuing to make the problem worse by adding more and more good things. Busyness is one of the key problems destroying any chance we might have at true community. If he doesn’t address that, yet continues to add things to our “to do” list, than we have a problem.

  3. Dee

    A few days ago I was planning the menu for an upcoming dinner and that lead me to mull over the idea of the feasting that will take place in heaven. And I was thinking that all that heavenly food might be fattening, too. But then I remembered that we will have new bodies!

    Don’t care much what shape the new body will be as long as I can still touch my toes and ride a bike. I will be very happy about the no more sickness, no more dying part.

    Isn’t it a glorious thought one can mention great food and new bodies all in one breath without the thought that the one must certainly cancel out the other?

    Why would the Bible describe feasting if the food and company were not to be enjoyed? I intend to savor every morsel and bit of conversation. I want to linger around the table long after the last dessert is polished off (do you think heaven could ever run out of pumpkin pie piled high with real whipped cream?). I want to overstay my welcome and just hang out with the host, gathering around the piano singing everyone’s favorites. Now that sounds like a party to me!

    • Dee,

      I still savor stuff. I just savor smaller portions of it and cut out junk foods.

      I’ve been on this low-glycemic diet for 12 days now and I’ve lost 15 pounds! And I was snacking on a chocolate bar as I wrote these comments, so it’s not like I’m pursuing some new ascetic ideal. I’m just being wiser about a few things.

      In high school, I was going about 187 pounds. I bulked up through weightlifting and was a solid 200 at 22. When I got married at 33, I was 212. I’m back to 212 again. That’s a fairly normal weight for me, as I was around that weight for probably 17 years, with a low down to 197 for a couple years when I was avidly bicycling.

      I’d like to be back down to around 200. I think that’s very possible given the way I’m shedding more than a pound a day.

  4. David Riggins

    So, after being sugar free for a while, did the german chocolate cake give you a buzz?

    As you have probably figured, I sometimes have thought that a well-directed EMP wouldn’t be a bad thing. But that’s just my nihilistic tendancies coming through. We have indeed become highly enamoured of our electronic gadgets, and definately overuse them as replacements for human interaction. I am at a loss as to how to reverse this trend, and to tell the truth, only the Church, mature and dynamic, could give a good reason for Community. Unfortunately, the Church is not mature, and while dynamic in places, is often so for the wrong reasons.

    When the Church hangs up its collective cell phone, and disconnects its collective TV, and walks away from its collective computer screen, then perhaps we will see the Spirit move. Until then, we are merely distracted from our task, and when we are distracted, we can’t hear the whisper of God on the breeze.

    • David,

      Actually, the chocolate cake at the Thanksgiving feast DID give me a buzz! I was a bit surprised.

      Today, I had to run to the grocery store to get a few things, and coming back home I was surprised how I wasn’t hungry at all though it was nearly lunch. I still ate a banana when I got home (because the diet strictly enforces a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack), but I wasn’t famished when I ate it. This diet does a good job of evening out your blood sugar levels so your body isn’t begging for food when you come down off your glucose high. So far, I’m impressed.

      • Wolfgang Amadeus

        Dan- are you doing South Beach? Just curious. My Doc recommended the Mediterrainian Diet- strict one at that. When I do it- it works- its just getting the where withal to do it and stick to it!

        Blessings, and happy Birthday!

    • David,

      It blows my mind how many people in the American Church know every fact there is to know about a dozen different TV shows.

      Seriously, who has time to watch TV? And if you watch TV all the time, how are you fulfilling the Great Commission?

      Are those stupid questions to be asking? I don’t think so.

  5. This is a wonderful article to read and know many things about the Radical Thoughts and Real Community. I fell that the Christian community is one of the best community in this world that they share every thing with love and truthfulness by believing.

  6. Sithembiso Sangweni

    I read the first column comment, it is very true. Machinery and electronics has disconnected our society. Recently here in South Africa we been experiencing the LOAD SHEDDING (ELECTRICITY SHORTAGE), what I’ve observed was that during the dark 3 hours most people will come together and have a chatt about something, of which we’ve been missing in R.S.A as a result of eletronic devices.

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