Recently our family spent a weekend in Busselton. The campsite was one of those magical 1970s affairs in which children roam freely in packs pestering grey nomads dozing in camp chairs, taking shortcuts across their grassy patch a little too fast and much too loudly. The kids are forever wet, jumping in and out of the pool incessantly, interrupted only by barefoot trips to the campsite kiosk and competitive watermelon seed spitting.
On the return car journey back to the smog with my sis-law, having enjoyed the lackadaisical neighbourhood vibe together, we fell onto the topic of community. Why is it sometimes part of church life, but so often not? Why is it so hard to foster interdependence in school mum circles, at work, even in our extended families? When did survival of the fittest replace the ‘it takes a village’ war-cry?
I have some thoughts, bear with me.
Hubby spent the weekend with his eyes half open, seeming to fall asleep in any position including pool watch. He was quite impressed when one of the boys who can’t swim appeared in front of him clinging to the edge of the pool having been last spotted playing on land minus floaties. Apparently, he’d been pushed in and had managed to kick to the edge. Hubby calls this swimming prowess. I call it gross negligence, but that is another conversation.
So as you might imagine, I was less relaxed. In part due to my obsession with pool vigilance, but more so due to the presence of a bouncy mound the size of a northern suburbs subdivision. Yes, people, that thing was huge. For anyone not familiar with a ‘bouncy mound’, it’s like a small hill filled with air made from the same stuff as bouncy castles. You climb on and bounce to the moon. It is like the world’s biggest trampoline, and the potential for your four-year-old to be double bounced into the next caravan park by overenthusiastic ten-year-olds is high.
The issue is I have a Mr 6 who is just, how to say it, not terribly co-ordinated. He is the kindest chap in the class but, well, he’s no Usain Bolt. He’s not without his virtues of course – give him a glue gun, and he’ll build you the Eiffel Tower from pop sticks and sequins – but frankly the Gino-Mound had me worried. That and the pool. He might be six but he sinks like a stone so after the first near drowning I decided the time had come to get my white thighs into the water and get this kid swimming.
For the first few attempts, he clung to me. He kicked wildly with each encouragement to let go and push off. He had the frantic face of a drowning victim and wanted to climb my neck. If he’d been any bigger, we’d have gone down together but little by little he learned to kick, torpedo and even managed a few wonky arm strokes. He was chuffed.
Sitting feet-on-rail on the chalet porch later (tents are for heroes) I pondered back to my days as a swimming instructor. We used to teach kids that when approaching a panicked, drowning individual you must skull on your back, feet-first, toward the victim talking constantly. If the victim attempts to grab your feet, kick hard and repel away. Save yourself first, them second. If you approach a drowning person face first, they are likely to climb on top of you to survive, and a double-death is the result.
I think that’s a little bit the same in a community. Each of us feels that if we slow down for the struggling, drowning problem member of the group, we’ll go down with them. Their needs might overwhelm us. Their demands could suffocate. I can’t keep them afloat, we think, as we repel rapidly away. Working as individuals that is probably true.
Fortunately, God doesn’t call us to act alone; he gave us a team. He gave us church, the Body with many parts, a perfect picture of a highly efficient organisation. 1 Corinthians 12 is one of my favourite passages, and I could happily reprint the entire chapter in which Paul exhorts us to see the body the way God does: “But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”
God has positioned us together! We are carefully placed. I’ll limit myself to these beautiful few lines to jog your memory:
“On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.”
God gives us the mud map here on how to live together. We are not asked to save a drowning brother or sister alone, we work in unity, and when one of us is compromised we rally together. In this way we find our strength and none of us need drown alone. Don’t you just wish you could offer a life like that at the school gate? I absolutely believe that community is so appealing to this world that when the church lives it, loudly many will see it and join and find their own unique, God-ordained, pre-planned place in His body. It’s happening already.