Your car approaches the turn for the freeway on-ramp. You've been through this entrance hundreds of times. You've seen, from time-to-time, travelers with cardboard signs: Anchorage, Phoenix, Seattle, Boston. You ponder their personhood, story, journey and predicament in the five seconds it takes you to drive by quickly.
But imagine a different traveler with a different destination on their cardboard sign: "Authentic Community!"
How odd and bewildering. Is this person crazy? Does such a place even exist in today's world? If it does, how do we get there and how far do we have to travel?
Those are the questions we as travelers in life are all innately asking, even if only to ourselves. Some folks are more bold to declare their hunger, needs and intention.
Authentic Community is an experience that goes by many other names: belonging, meaningful friendships, familylike fellowship, deeply satisfying relationships; real and transparent connections; safe, affirming and accountable community. Some people spend their whole life hoping someone will pick them up (so-to-speak) and drive them to that longed-for destination.
Most of us have heard of it. Some of us have been there or at least caught a glimpse as we passed through; few of us have actually moved in and settled down permanently.
Some say that it's beyond anyone's reach, or merely a figment of an imagined reality. But I say it is the treasure of Earth, a gathering of imperfect, broken and beautiful people who Heaven names as "saints." They gather themselves around a man named Jesus and a vision of community (life together) called Koinonia (fellowship, partnership, willing contribution, a sharing). While Authentic Community is not to be understood as utopia (that so-called mythical, "perfect," "ideal" community), it is, indeed, beautiful in every way.
As wonderful as it is, Authentic Community is not a conflict-free, pain-free, trouble-free zone of living. It is not a self-protecting, self-preserving "bubble community" of nothing but polished, perfected and promising players sealed-off from a dislocated and hurting world.
In fact, these very real and in-need-of-repair people who are choosing to trade in their old "manikin-esque" life (stilted, staged and stationary as it is) for an abundant, joyful, content life! What they have discovered is compelling and life-changing.
Turns out, the only way to "get there" is to make the journey in the company of others who believe, deeply and sincerely, that JESUS and HONESTY are the only way we will ever arrive!
The apostle Paul had a vision of getting there. He shared about it in a letter to his most beloved church family, the Philippian community. He referred to their life of Koinonia as a "participation in the gospel" (Philippians 1:5). These are the people who had become deeply lodged upon Paul's heart and for whom he held a personal affection and longing which he likens to Jesus' love -- a give-all, want-all, sacrifice-all yearning so that others can be built up in love.
In a world filled with playful distractions and many fulfilling opportunities, I'm still convinced that the church, Christ's hope for the world, is the best game in town!
-- Rev. David Parker is the lead pastor at Central United Protestant Church in Richland. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email email@example.com.