The notion of community is foundational in the Christian faith. It's easy to see why. God's essence is love and love is relational; it needs others to happen. Those others are the community, our neighbors.
Who are our neighbors? The folks next door? On our block? Our hometown? Jesus answered that very question with the well-known parable of the good Samaritan. Everyone is our neighbor, even strangers especially strangers. Our community is, in fact, the world!
We are in community with one another; every person is to be the object of our love. Every person is a stranger, whom we are to welcome.
Two aspects of community are particularly interesting. One is that you don't have to be a Christian to embrace the concept of community as an ideal way of living, one where each person is respected and honored, where each person both receives from the community and gives back to the community. Community is, for Christians, an image of the Kin-dom of God, but others may have different names for it. (Note: I use the term Kin-dom intentionally because it nicely emphasizes community as family kin while also avoiding male-centric words and thus being more inclusive.)
The other interesting aspect of community is that it's not a utopian, pie-in-the-sky, unachievable idea. It's a very livable idea. And it's far closer, far more accessible to us than we might ever think.
To show us this is the very reason that God came as one of us. Jesus told us, "the Kin-dom of God is within you." In other words, we already carry within us the possibility of perfect community, and the peace that comes with it. Yet, we find that hard to grasp; that's why we pray "thy Kin-dom come." We seem to be able to grasp at least some of the meaning of "Kin-dom" at a macro level, but less so at the level of day-to-day living in this world.
A recent brouhaha offers us a very real example of what the Kin-dom, daily lived, might look like. A member of the cast of the TV show Duck Dynasty made some public comments about homosexuality and race.
Many, even most, people found the remarks offensive while others, fans of the show, defended the cast member. The major media, loving as it does division and drama, quickly made the debate into a confrontation of free speech vs. political correctness.
The debate continued to dominate the news cycles for weeks, polarizing more people day by day.
Assuming you've been following the controversy at least a bit, how have you reacted? Taking one side or the other? What kind of language have you used when talking about it with others? Are you conflicted? If you answered "yes" to any of these, you're not alone.
Faith is partly about living in the present, which, after all, is all we can do now. How do we live out our faith?
In the middle of the Duck Dynasty controversy, if you wanted to bring the Kin-dom just one baby step closer, what would you do?
Allow me to suggest some possibilities. First, do you honor and respect, in thought and deed, those whose views are the opposite of yours?
Second, are you being inclusive, both in your heart and in your words? Third, do you seek unity over division? Fourth, have you been true to what's in your heart, or have you just played along to get along?
These are hallmarks of love and peace and the Kin-dom: Love, a wide embrace, unity, and authenticity.
To practice these at every opportunity, no matter how small, is to live in faith, knowing that you are doing your part to bring the Kin-dom a bit closer, rather than ducking the question.
Rev. John Ransom is a non-denominational minister of peace and justice. He is the author of a prayer book and an upcoming book on global social justice. He lives in Readsboro with his spouse, Michael, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.EmergingSpirit.info.