A Message from Executive Director, Chris Purnell: Community

Chris May 2015I expect a lot from community, which means that I’m always disappointed by it. My wife, my kids, my neighbors, my comrades in justice—I want them to enrich me. This search for personal fulfillment while other people stand around me is not community. It’s faux-mmunity.

And so, when community inevitably disappoints and gets hard, my gut reaction is to retreat into my Fortress of Solitude, Superman-style. Confession: I like me a lot. I like my interests, my taste in food, movies, books, and my way of doing stuff. I dig all of it. All of the time. Why would I want to rupture that love-fest of me by doing the hard parts of community?

Of course, both of these represent two bad ways of doing community: using community as a tool for personal fulfillment or not entering into community at all.

And then, there’s Jesus. Jesus’ community of riff-raff and cast-asides raised eyebrows and caused a ruckus in his day. In Matthew 9, he eats with folks that “religious” people shunned. Sinners, the poor, people with questionable moral character. And it never seems like he’s doing it out of pious duty. Jesus belly-laughs as he pals around Palestine.

But he didn’t enter into this community to find personal fulfillment and he didn’t ditch it when it got hard either. In fact, he was eventually humiliated and murdered for it. As the Word tells us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He did this so that we could have community with God the Father, but also so that we could have true community with each other. This community is not based on reciprocity or birds-of-a-feather, but the Cross.

This is why Paul says that we should, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16). Christ’s death and resurrection leveled the human playing-field and made our entire ancient boundary-line system pure piffle. Lower-class, lower-middle class, middle-middle class—all of it is carp when compared to the community created by the Cross.

Am I walking this? Am I lingering over literal and figurative zesty tacos with people whose narrative is markedly different from mine? At the Clinic, we long to walk with our clients and enter humbly into their stories. We seek, albeit imperfectly and with hitches in our steps, community and friendship. From circumstantially poor white folks to generationally poor black folks to beleaguered Burmese refugees to victimized Latinos or any vice-versa of the previous: this is our community that Christ has called us to.  

Community is true when it is gritty and glorious; sacrificial and satisfying; when it is a fellowship of “differents” gathered around a shared vision of justice, a shared Savior. But we must come expecting to be poured out, to sacrifice. If I seek fulfillment in community, I will leave empty. If I seek to be emptied for the community, I will find fulfillment.

Jesus lived—and died—this powerful paradox. For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). This joy was the creation of a new community, a new humanity, centered on him and not on the mossy walls of difference we’ve built.

May you pour yourself out in sacrifice for your community of “differents.” This will reflect the leveling love and justice of Jesus; it will also, ultimately, bring you sweet joy.

Until Justice and Peace embrace,

Chris Purnell e-sig Black 2015

Chris Purnell