Posts Tagged ‘Living in community’

Living in community — whether in a family, in a church fellowship, with coworkers, or within society at large — is not always easy for me.  I find that in some ways I tend to be a loner and would much rather go off by myself to pursue my own agenda.

Building and maintaining meaningful relationships is hard work, whether it’s within the community of marriage and family or in developing friendships with people outside our immediate circle.

My tendency is to want to bolt and escape when the going gets tough, especially when friction arises in my marriage.  My walls come up, my defenses harden, and my natural impulse is to pack my bags and flee to the ends of the earth.

This impulse to flee to the ends of the earth seems to be a trait in my family.  Generations in our family have been marked by absent fathers, shattered marriages, half brothers and sisters, and family roots and branches that spread far and wide — England, Ireland, China, Africa, the West Indies, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Part of me wants the freedom to roam the world, free from responsibilities that tie me down, and free from relationships that demand too much of me.

But at the same time, part of me strives to break the pattern of broken marriages, absent fathers, and dysfunctional families and seeks instead to build and maintain solid communities — a loving marriage, caring family, a vital church fellowship, and an active, productive civic involvement.

And it is in the fall and winter each year that skeins of migrating geese rekindle in me this desire to strengthen and build the communities in my life.

For as I watch the geese crisscross the skies of Southern California in their V-formation flight pattern during their winter retreats each year, I’m always reminded of something I once read about the scientific reasons why they fly that way:

As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following.  By flying in a “V” formation, the whole skein adds at least 71% more flying range than possible if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone . . . and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south for the winter.

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What do we say when we honk from behind?

When a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection.  They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies.  Only then do they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their group.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Those thoughts and observations have remained with me over the years, lying dormant for a while, only to be reawakened by the sight of the geese flying overhead or congregating in the wetlands, lakes, and reservoirs around Southern California.

On each occasion I marvel at the way God created these wild fowls and instilled in them this sense of caring and community.

And inevitably I’m reminded of how God desires us to have that sense of community and caring, too, especially those who seek to follow Christ as members of His body, the Church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul tells us that as Christians we are diverse individuals with many spiritual gifts and ways to serve each other and Christ, yet there is unity in this diversity because we are all bound together in the love and Spirit of our Savior:

Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all.  There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving.  There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are his.  The Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church. — I Cor. 12: 4-7 (Living Bible)

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together.  So it is with the “body” of Christ.  Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ.  Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free.  But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body.  We have been baptized into Christ’s body by one Spirit, and have all been given the same Holy Spirit. — verses 12-13

God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that might otherwise seem less important.  This makes for happiness among the parts, so that the parts have the same care for each other that they do for themselves.  If one suffers, all parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. — verses 24-26

Paul was writing to a group of believers who, like me, had started to forget what real love is all about.  He reminded them — and continues to remind us today — that all our abilities, talents, and spiritual gifts amount to nothing if we don’t love each other.  Without selfless love, we have nothing:

If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise.

If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do?

Even if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love.

If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others it would be of no value whatever.

Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.  Love does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable or touchy.  It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.  It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  If you love someone, you will be loyal to that person no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him.

All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever. – 1 Cor. 13:1-8

Yes, there are many times that, in my anger, haughtiness, and selfishness, I want to turn my back on the people in my life.  Yet, again and again, the Spirit of Christ constrains me, convicts me of my sinfulness, then covers me with His grace and forgiveness, and sends me back into my communities to fellowship, love, and serve the other members of the body.

And sometimes He simply uses a gaggle of geese to do it.


Prayer: Father God, may your grace and love indwell us, enabling us to be patient and kind to one another.  Forgive us for our selfishness, rudeness, irritability, and grudges.  Teach us to forgive others as you have forgiven us, and may we be instruments of peace, healing, and harmony in our communities of brokenness as we pray and serve in the redeeming name of Jesus our savior.  Amen.

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