Karen and I were celebrating our 24th anniversary when I remarked, “You know, next year is our 25th anniversary. That’s a milestone. So I want to take you out to dinner somewhere special. You name it and we’ll go there.”
That’s a dangerous thing to tell your wives, men. I was thinking a restaurant somewhere in the Houston area. She answered, “OK. I choose Rome.” We had a love of Italy and I had made a promise so we started making plans.
We found a special place called The Library and reserved a table months in advance. The night finally arrived and it was a great celebration. After our meal we started meandering through the streets when we turned a corner and there it was: Piazza Novana.
It is one of the great piazzas in Italy. Ornate fountains, baroque buildings, street artists and performers make this the place to hang out. That night the piazza was full of people watching a live musical on a huge stage erected at one end. Piazzas are full of life.
Throughout Rome there are many smaller piazzas. They are the heart of the section of the city they are located in. Paths cross in the piazza. People meet in the piazzas. Piazzas are designed to encourage community.
It’s quite a contrast to our way of life. We drive home and put our car in the garage…if it will fit. The garage door closes and we enter the house. We might possibly have everyone in the family at the table at the same time, only to later go to their own separate rooms where each person has their own access to Wi-Fi, computers, and maybe a TV.
In America we live in a culture of individualism rather than a culture of community. How can that change? Looking at how Jesus created community will help.
Jesus created community around a common purpose.* Jesus began his ministry with these words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word “repent” is not as “churchy” as it sounds. It literally means to “change your mind” or “change the direction you are going.”
This summer we left the Hertz Rental garage in Florence with our GPS ready to go. We turned right out onto the one-way street looking forward to enjoying a drive in the country on our way to a winery. But as soon as we hit the streets we realized the GPS was not working. More than once we determined we were heading in the wrong direction and turned the car around. You could say we “repented.”
That was Jesus’ purpose. And his followers had the same purpose: to help people turn and find their way into his kingdom.
Jesus also created community around common beliefs. Beliefs are important. Behaviors are based on beliefs. So Jesus taught what life in the kingdom was life. He knew what people believed would be seen in their behaviors. One example is Jesus taught that the marginalized had a place at his table. Some didn’t believe that and so only the approved ones would be invited to a literal table meal. In contrast, Jesus invited “tax collectors and sinners” to sit with him at many table meals. His community formed with people who believed what he believed. Community can be found with people who have common beliefs.
And then Jesus created community around a common place. The common place for Jesus was Galilee. Jesus’ ministry began and ended there. Most of his ministry was spent traversing Galilee with people who lived in that region.
That’s how community is developed. People have to be together in a common place. Facebook won’t create it. Twitter can’t. FaceTime is better than no time. But it takes being in a common place for people to have the opportunity to look each other in the eyes and go deep into each other’s lives.
Who knows what could happen if we repent from our way of individualism and turn to Jesus’ way of community? We might find it. Even if we can’t find a piazza.
*These community ingredients inspired by Randy Frazee’s book The Connecting Church
Question: Where do you find community today?