Humor. I exchanged jokes with a Russian friend while my family and I lived in Khabarovsk, a city of over a half million in the Russian Far East. I told an American joke. Leonid told a Russian one. Each time we’d laugh to be polite but we really didn’t get it.
In time, Leonid and I learned to laugh together.
By experiencing life together. Living in the Russian culture, I began to understand why Leonid’s original jokes were funny. The humor emerged out of daily life.
Humor connects us. It helps us deal with the next common trait.
Hurt. In Russia, I cringed late at night as a husband ranted in the apartment above us. When his wife whimpered as he slugged her, I felt the helpless impotence of a foreigner.
The hurt in our Russian city was closer to the surface than I’ve experienced in America but hurting hearts beat everywhere.
Recognizing we hurt …
Expressing our hurts to one another …
… help draw us into authentic community.
But a deeper hunger can be felt in our world, a hunger for spiritual food.
Scripture says about God, “He has also set eternity in the human heart …” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b).
We experience universal signs of this spiritual hunger when …
… a church’s bell peals on Sunday morning.
… a midday call to prayer sounds throughout an Arabic city.
… a giant stone Buddha sits on an Asian mountainside.
… flowers float as an offering to the sea gods.
We may walk down different paths but our search remains the same, to satisfy our spiritual hunger.
Our hunger for God draws us into community.
Hope. Without hope we quit; we die.
The farmer plants in hope of a harvest.
The businessman invests in hope of a return.
The researcher experiments in hope of a discovery.
The cancer patient seeks medical help in hope of a cure.
The author writes in hope of finding readers.
A desperate person steps inside a temple, a mosque, a synagogue, or a church in hope of finding God.
Kill hope and …
… the farmer no longer plants.
… the businessman no longer invests.
… the researcher no longer experiments.
… the cancer patient no longer seeks medical help.
… the author no longer writes.
… the desperate person dies.
What is true of cultures is true of communities centered in Jesus Christ. To be healthy, viable communities, we need all four traits.
Humor. Solomon writes, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 NIV).
When the prophets write about God’s judgment, they note the absence of mirth (see Jeremiah 25:10).
Okay, okay. I’m stretching the point here. Just because people laugh doesn’t mean God is present (although He always is … present that is).
But here’s the thing. If you feel humor’s absence in a faith community, chances are you’ll miss God too.
Hurt. In authentic community, we don’t hide our hurts.
People are disappointed, doubtful, fearful, worried, and failing to live up to expectations. That’s true inside and outside of any faith community. If imperfections aren’t permissible, chances are authentic relationships aren’t either.
Scripture deals with the reality of human failure. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other …” (James 5:16a NIV).
We sin but …
We don’t hide it.
We confess it.
Jon Acuff posted “Why I’m happy the disciples were a mess,” an article about the fear and doubt of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus still loved them, warts and all. That’s great news for the rest of us.
Hunger. We can have a great job, a beautiful family, a nice home, a decent health plan, a robust bank account, and spend our vacations on remote islands in the Pacific.
We hunger for something more. We hunger for God.
A healthy faith community focuses on that hunger as the central reason for any gathering. We want to know God, to go deeper with Him and with one another.
Hope. I want to return to the idea of a cancer patient in search of a cure. Knowing she’s sick, the patient meets with her doctor. She hopes he can name the disease and offer a cure.
He names it then suggests she see a specialist.
She sees the specialist with the hope he’ll offer encouraging words. “We have a treatment.”
She takes the treatment in hope of feeling better one day.
She may go downhill but she expected the downturn. She can endure it because she’s been told, “You may at first feel nauseous, may even lose your appetite as well as your hair.”
She experiences and endures it all. Why? She hopes one day to be better.
Then she gets the news. “We see no signs of cancer. We still need to monitor your recovery but things went better than expected.”
She doesn’t mind the fact the doctors use the words “in remission” rather than “You’re cured.” All she knows is that her prayers have been answered.
In community, we need that kind of hope—the hope that one day we’ll be better individually and corporately. With hope, we can endure some rough times, maybe even laugh about them. Without it, we die.
I’m curious. Which of the four traits are present in your faith community? Which one needs more work in your life?
Jill Carattini writes “The Invitation to Three” about community at Slice of Infinity.
Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes
Two men. Two eternal destinies.
One common hope.
My novel can be found at:
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