"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Paul to the persecuted at Philippi (2:5-11)

18 February 2012

Finishing Sentences, Thoughts on Community

I used to live in a little, admittedly run down, steel town. Not a big place; you could walk from end to end of town in about an hour, if you were casual about it. About the same size as the quaint little town I grew up near, but this time the town was anything but quaint. When the mills closed, unemployment and drugs came to town and urban renewal, as much as it may be talked about, was usually defeated by a communal low self esteem.

There have been a few new projects, lately, though. And refreshing the landscape does creep along at a pace of sorts. The most recent addition was a small but essential grocery store, near the seminary, where most residents could walk to shop if they were so inclined. I think it will be an important addition to the town. But for now its new and interesting and everyone is coming out to see it. Its bright and clean (let's hope it stays that way) and seems to be well run. Employees are all new hires and the day to day ennui of work has not set in. And the town is enthralled.

The place was crowded, but I still got through quickly, its that small. But on the way, people stopped to chat. A lady with three kids, a grandmother... there was also the guy that looked like he ought to be a neighborhood hoodlum, who was cheerful giving me directions to the right entrance. And there was the local man who informed me that he just came by to chat with people because he didn't have anything else going on.

There was a time, I told him, that people did do that. And perhaps the world is a little poorer because they don't anymore.

In the end, I got a glimps of what the town must have been like in their grandparents', maybe even parents' time. Less jaded and more small town, ready to chat, and maybe needing a bit of an ear. And maybe, if the folks doing the renewal projects there are successful, they'll have that back someday.

Then today, I went on up the road to the next town to hear a friend preach. A friend with whom I'd gone to seminary, who asked me to read a lesson, just because I was there, and who commented on my pronounciation of a Hebrew name, just because she was in my Hebrew classes. As she preached, I could hear our common phrases, learned in class, and could complete her sentences in my head. I settled into the familiar story, the theological rhythms, and thoroughly enjoyed her sermon. There wasn't much new for me in it, but quite to the contrary, it was the familiar, even old, that I enjoyed.

And I realized on my way out that it was the shared vocabulary of our community, seminary in this case, that gave us a casual friendship and a common comfort with the Scripture.

I guess, that's the foundation of community, a shared story, a history together, a common vocabulary and rhythm of life. That's why those little steel towns struggled so when their way of life was taken from them. And that's why, if they'll reconnect with one another when they have such slight opportunities as a new grocery store they have hope of redeveloping the community. I guess that's why the guy who just came to the store to talk to people was such a blessing.


  1. If the new store puts in a little coffee bar (with do-nuts) and a few tables out front, it may do more for community than any “planned” effort.

    When you get old and meet new people your own age, you often can get along just fine because you share a community of/in time. Lottsa communities. Maybe "communities" grease the movement of society.

    Thanks for your observations.

  2. Yeah, Dave... I've been pondering the workings of in-group language this week, and it will probably emerge in the Lenten series before long. Either Sunday or the next, depending on the cold I'm tryint to shake. That said, going to bed! One less hour to sleep off these germs.