Wired for Community

I am a self-made man.

Nobody has ever helped me.  Why just this morning, I cooked two eggs and bacon for breakfast from chickens that I raised and a pig that I butchered myself.  I cooked it in a pan that I made from steel that I forged on my own.  I put on shoes that I sewed together from the skin of that same pig I got the bacon from, and then I laced them up from cotton I grew in my backyard that I harvested and spun into thread.  I walked to the church on pavement that I put down myself and a sidewalk I formed by laying down concrete that I mixed on my own.  I did this because I taught myself everything I know without anyone ever helping me.  Yes, sir, I am a self-made man.

Everything in our lives is connected to the world in a greater way (from dreamstime.com)

We all know that isn’t true.

Nobody could do all those things without help from not just somebody but a whole bunch of somebodies.  How would I have been able to cook my own meals as a baby, let alone as a full-grown man without somebody somewhere helping me?  How often when we give thanks for our meal de we stop to think about the farmer who grew the vegetables on our plate or the rancher who raised the animals that provided the meat.   How often do we think of the people who package our food and the truck drivers who take it to market so we can buy it?  How often do we give thanks for the army of people who make it possible for our lives to keep moving forward every single day?  Probably not often.  Whenever we complain about life, we talk about “those people” who are ruining things for us.  Whether “those people” are Democrats or Republicans, Christians or Muslims, Dodgers fans and Giants fans – there always seems to be a “those people.”  But the truth is, there isn’t “those people.”  There’s just us.

We live in community because we are wired for community. Literally. 

Amy Banks, a doctor and an instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School said, “Neuroscience is confirming that our nervous systems want us to connect with other human beings.”[1]  was a study done on metastatic breast cancer patients back in 1989 where one group was placed in a supportive group environment and the other was given the standard care all patients received and what they found was that those placed in a supportive environment lived twice as long!  Twice! There are tangible benefits of being part of a community. There was a study done with monkeys where they placed two “substitute mothers” in with them.  One was a wire mother and one was a cloth mother.  The wire mother had a bottle to feed the monkeys and the cloth mother did not.  Yet the monkeys preferred spending time with the cloth mother despite the fact that the wire mother had food. Sadly, these monkeys – with no real mother to care for them – developed autistic tendencies just like the Romanian children did. There is more to life than just things like food, water, and air.  As important as those are, living in community is just as important as these studies keep showing us.

That’s because God wired us for community.

If you have your Bibles or a Bible app on your phone, would you please go to 1 Corinthians 12:12-20.  1 Corinthians 12:12-20.  Without community we cannot be the people God created us to be. But more than that, we need community because none of us are completely self-sufficient.  We need others to help us.  Not just with our physical needs, but our emotional and intellectual needs, too.  We provide pieces of the puzzle to life that no one of us has by ourselves.  And that’s how Paul described it in his letter to the church at Corinth.  He talked about us being the body of Christ together and despite our protests otherwise, we cannot ignore that fact.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Volton, Defender of the Universe – The Netflix version

The Body of Christ is like Voltron.

Together we are complete.  Apart, we’re not living up to our potential.  When I was growing up, there was a show on TV about the pilots of five giant robot lions.  These five lions had the ability to join together to form the giant robot named Voltron.  In virtually every episode, there was a bad guy who threatened humanity, and at first they would try to beat him with just the lions.  But ultimately, the only way to win was to form Voltron.  So they banded together and defeated the bad guy. I always wondered why they didn’t just form Voltron right at the beginning of every battle except it would make for a very short show.  But that’s the image that comes to mind for me when I read this passage.  That we are like Voltron.  Together we can do just about anything.  Apart, we are only as good as a hand or an eye or a foot.  Important, but only part of a whole.  Sometimes I wonder if we are the cause of many of our own problems because we choose not to work together, to find the value in each person’s gifts.

One of many different depictions of the Holy Trinity – one of the great mysteries of faith

It makes sense God created us for community.

After all we worship a God who is a community all by himself.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit.  Together but distinct.  We refer to the Holy Trinity as the 3-in-1.  And if we believe that we are formed in God’s image like it says in Genesis, it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe we are made to live in community like God.  God seems to reward being in community.  In our passage from Ecclesiastes, Solomon extols the virtues of supporting one another. Jesus told us that anytime two or three are gathered in his name he is there.  And the writer of Hebrews encourages us to come together regularly to build one another up and support each other in our faith.  But even if you didn’t believe a word of the Bible, the scientific evidence points the same way.  Community is our natural state.

Off the island of Crete

John Donne once penned a famous piece of writing called Meditation XVII.

He wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”[2]  Because we are all connected, when something happens to one of us, in a sense it happens to all of us.  When any of us are diminished, whether it be by death or loss or persecution, it takes away from all we could be.[3]  No man is an island.  We are all part of the main.  Or as we might say in the language of faith, we are all part of the body of Christ.  God made us that way.  All with different gifts, but united in the Spirit.  Watching the news, listening to the radio, reading articles on the Internet or in print, it has become obvious we are less and less willing to live in community.  In some bizarre way we are not willing to compromise.  We are not willing to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes.  Instead, we dig a trench.  We jump in.  And we refuse to budge.  But that is not how we were created.  We were not meant to be divided.  We are meant to find a way to live together in community so that we can make each other better people.  We are meant to find a way to live in community so we can learn and grow from each other.  We were not meant to be as divisive and divided as we have become.  And just as we would not be able to easily just cut off our hand or leg or any body part, we should also treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with honor and love and grace.  Instead of continuing to fracture ourselves based on our own personal likes and dislikes, interpretations and understandings, we should find ways to keep coming back to the table that represents what Christ gave for us all.

God wired humanity a specific way.

All of those impulses, all of those deep desires, all of those longings of the heart – for relationships, for love, for meaning, even for God – are because that’s how God made you. One of the most profound questions in life we all ask is “Who am I?”  And the answer is the person God made you to be.  Like it says in Psalm 139, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” But you are also shaped by your beliefs, your environment, and the people around you and that can change us both positively and negatively. Sometimes those things turn us away from seeing God or distracting us from a meaningful chance to know God.  And when that happens we are less than what God intended for us to be.  The world can be a harsh place.  Not because of God but because of us.  But these cravings of the human spirit were always meant to bring us back to him.  That’s why we linger on them so much.  That’s why we wonder about the meaning of life and if there is a purpose and if there is a God.  Because God created us in such a way that no matter how far away you are from him in your spiritual life, there will always be a door open for you to come back, if you decide to pursue it. If you already have a deep faith in Christ, then I hope you think more about the incredible way God put us together and give thanks to Him for loving us so much that he would think about these things long before we ever did.  And if you have doubts about God and where he is in your life, I hope you will decide to pursue it.  I hope you will take the time to find out if it was God who really made you this way.  I think you’ll be astonished by what you find.

 

[1] All of the examples in this section come from the article: http://www.theunlost.com/relationships/science-confirms-love-is-all-you-need-except-for-food-stuff/

[2] http://www.online-literature.com/donne/409/

[3] http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/for-whom-the-bell-tolls.html

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