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A Plea for Authentic Community

I probably don't need to tell you that social media has been ablaze with reasons why Millennials are not attending church (see here and here).  And there have been multitudes of Facebook and Twitter arguments about who is right and wrong about divided issues.  Peeling the layers behind the heated discussions that have been filling our Twitter feeds and Facebook walls over the past few weeks reveals a deeper issue that I believe is the key to the success (or failure) of those who consider ourselves to be Christ followers to effectively communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ.  More specifically, for United Methodists to live out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The issue at stake is community, the connectedness of people to one another and to God.  Today, our society is so connected (via technology) that we have become disconnected, even isolated when it comes to authentic, face to face connection with one another.  What we gain is the ability to communicate with one another whenever, or wherever we are around the world.  But, what we lose is so much more.  At it's core, we lose communion with one another; the connection we were created to enjoy with God and with one another.  You've seen the Facebook rants one way or another on a hot and divided issue, then the comments that follow.  It's hard to find many comments that are Christ-like in tone, and the virtual conversation spirals out of control until the final decision is made to hit the ultimate Facebook slap button - "unfriend".  But, what does this accomplish?  Does this mean you are no longer friends in the real world?

Think about the above conversation occurring over a meal at the dining room table, or at your favorite restaurant with your friends.  Yes, the conversation may become heated and yes, there may be inappropriate outbursts.  However, there is a physical and social connection present that allows one to see the emotion, the passion, and even the drive behind what is being said.  Even more importantly, you become vulnerable.  There is no power button, and it is more difficult to just get up and walk away.  You can't just "unfriend" and no longer hear or see that person.  You have to physically get up out of your seat, grab your jacket, and walk out the door.  That event will then (hopefully) lead you to process your thoughts and actions (either positively or negatively).

Many studies have been conducted within the area of addiction and connectedness, which really has something to do with what I am talking about here.  Johann Hari gives a TED Talk (here)  where he goes against the grain of all that we've been taught about addiction being primarily biochemical in nature.  His premise (along with several other researchers) is that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection.  Addiction takes many forms, to include addiction to the device we hold in our hand and check frantically to see if someone has "liked" or "shared" our latest Facebook post.  Think about why we do that... We desire to be connected.  But what happens when we find that instead of liking our post, someone comments with a zinger that sends us into left field, wondering where we went wrong or why they didn't agree with us.

What the world needs is not another reason to believe this or that, or even a reason to jump on this side or that side, to "like" this post or that post.  What the world needs now, more than ever from the gathered community of faithful followers of Jesus Christ is the open invitation to join with us in communion with God through Jesus Christ.  With all our imperfections and failures.  With all our failed dreams and lost hopes.  With our addictions and pridefulness.  I've heard it said that people need to belong before they believe.  If this is true, and I believe it is, then we (the Church) need to be making our number one priority the way we live out our connection with God and with one another.  I am thankful to be a part of a faith tradition that celebrates an open table when it comes to sharing in the sacrament of Holy Communion.  If you desire to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ, or desire to deepen your faith, then you are invited.  That's it.  No memberships, no pledge cards, no hassles.  Just come, as you are to the table of God's love and be nourished as the bread of life fills you with grace and mercy to live into community as God's beloved child.

But living into community has its responsibilities as well.  When we decide to respond to God's grace knocking at the door of our heart, we begin a journey of learning how to be humble, kind, self-less, and a servant to all.  Instead of getting the best seat in the house, we give it up to another so that we then take the least preferable seat.  This is the evidence of God's grace at work on our hearts and lives.  It is this grace that calls us, even propels us forward to engage in acts of justice and mercy as we seek to live under the law of love (Galatians 5:14) and not the law of being right.

Friend, let us be authentic in seeking out community with one another.  Let us not seek to be right so much as to be loving and kind, even if we are right.  Seeking God's presence in authentic community where we can agree to disagree, yet remain sisters and brothers in Christ is so much more valuable than any "like" on Facebook.

Because of Christ,
    Aaron

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