Several years ago (July-August 1999), the magazine Fast Company ran a brief sidebar article that suggested people needed to create for themselves “an anti-bummer squad”–a team of friends and mentors—who would help in low times: “When you’re feeling uncreative, call the people on your anti-bummer squad and take them out to dinner. They’ll tell you how wonderful you are and how much they love you.’”
My first reaction was to groan! It just sounded like a bunch of shallow psychobabble. But, I had second thoughts: isn’t that what friends, real friends, do for each other? We get the chance to remind each other that, no matter what happens, no matter how much of a mess we make of our lives, no matter how badly we blow it, God still loves us, God forgives us and offers us a new start. We get the chance to reassure each other that we are all made in the image of God and held in God’s love.
We’re better together. We need each other, which is, by the way, why the church gathers week by week. We show up for ourselves and each other and for God, too. We tell stories about the world, God, and ourselves. We sing, pray, share fellowship around food and drink, and offer ourselves to care for one another and the world. We call-out the best from each other, listen to each other, and encourage each other.
I think the earliest human communities were created when the sun went down, the shadows lengthened and people didn’t want to sit in the darkness by themselves, surrounded by the unknown. They would come together around a campfire, and huddle up close to each other as a defense against the cold. Somebody would sing a song and the others would join in. Somebody else would tell a story and the rest would listen. They would talk about their challenges and their blessings. They’d sit in silence for a while, staring at the fire. Someone would pass around a loaf of bread and a skin of wine. Someone else would offer a prayer of thanks. Being in the circle around the light, knowing that their neighbors were with them, and learning who they were from the stories they heard—these things made a community and made life worth living. Something like that is still what we need.
Wendell Berry, in his novel, Jayber Crow, describes the little church in Port William, KY, that Jayber, the town barber, served as janitor:
The people didn’t really want to be saints of self-deprivation and hatred of the world. They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all it had given them, but they still liked it. What they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another’s help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude.