by Tadhg Lynch
This evening my friend wanted to talk, so I took him to the pub. The pub in Ireland is a great place. Less seedy than the American bar, more homely than the British incarnation of the same name and with an easy tolerance for people who want to disappear into a corner and nurse a pint and a good conversation – the Irish pub has been replicated all over the world with some measure of success. There is something about it which appeals to the soul, something which answers the deep-seated need of every man for companionship and hospitality at a reasonable price – so any Irishman will tell you. This evening, my friend had something on his mind – he wanted to talk about community.
He was worried. Having come to a few of our Christian outreach events, he had come to know the people in the student group pretty well and liked them. He had come to one or two of our community gatherings and was willing to give the people whom he saw there the benefit of the doubt, although they struck him as definitely less sane than the people he knew in the outreach. But the lifestyle and commitments which he saw some of my friends engaging in, were beyond the pale. He could not fathom how Dave would choose to voluntarily pursue a single life. He could not understand why Stacy was giving up a relationship with her boyfriend to focus on the summer program. He tried to persuade me to join another Christian group he had found on the internet, which didn’t “ask so much of its members.” Community was fine he told me, as long as there was no commitment involved.
It’s difficult to explain what committed relationships in community are, to someone who does not share the benefit, or the sacrifice, of them. The nature of a covenant commitment is such, that it only really makes sense to the people who have experienced it. Our modern Western culture today fools us into imagining the opposite. We can admire a football player who scores a brilliant touchdown, without enduring with him the hours on the treadmill that ensured he could run fast enough to collect the pass. The whole culture of “reality TV” is based upon the premise that we can inhabit the life of someone else – for a while – and experience the joys and the sorrows of being them. The cult of celebrity which has grown up around the film and entertainment industry is essentially voyeuristic. It encourages us to view and appreciate the success of others while feeling poorly about the achievements and commitments in our own lives. We do not see the hard work, the sacrifices, and the painful decisions which accompany a life in the spotlight – all we see is the glory.
Community life is the opposite. It is a series of hard decisions which one makes in order to see the greater good come about. It is not particularly glamorous. There is a family in my community here in Dublin who do not go on expensive holidays because they decided to buy a house that was in the same neighbourhood with many other families who belonged to the community. It costs them. A friend decided to rent out his own house so he could move into a household with other single Christian men. He uses the rent he receives from his own house to help pay the rent of the men’s household. Having him share the costs with us makes it possible for a number of single men to live together at a price we can afford. It costs this guy to live with other Christians.
Yes, cost. This summer eight couples from Nazareth Community in Dublin are vacating their homes for three weeks so that young people from several of our communities in Europe, Lebanon, and India can live in them (and probably fiddle with their heating, scratch their floors, and mess up their kitchens). Learning to live, work and evangelize together has a certain price which is taxed in chipped mugs and messy bedrooms. Needless to say, it costs these families.
Saint Paul writes in the first letter to the Corinthians that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 18). Those who have not experienced the sacrifice cannot see the benefit. For them, what we do is foolishness. It looks like arid rules and dry prohibition. The cost, however, is the point. When you relinquish control over something, namely your life, God returns the gift one hundred percent – he promised he would. The call the Lord has on our lives – on each human being – is to seek out that which we would hold onto and offer it for his kingdom. I don’t think the Lord deals in expensive holidays, rented accommodation, or perfect kitchens – I think he deals in pliant hearts. These examples are simply some of the ways we can make our hearts more available and pliant in his hands.
For my friend, the pub wins out over community because it doesn’t cost
him much, only money. He does not have to engage his time, effort, or energy
in sustaining the pub – it will always be there to take his money. The
sacrifice he sees my friends making is the currency in which the Lord deals.
Paul urges the Galatians not to “use your freedom as an opportunity for
self-indulgence, but through love become slaves of one another” (Galatians
5:13). If you only see the slaves – you’ve missed the love.
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