As I was reading this article, I couldn’t help compare my life with these folks who are living in community while yearning to follow Jesus simply and whole-heartedly. Of course, I assumed, we would have nothing in common. After all, my wife, kids, and I live alone in a relatively small parsonage in a very small town in Oklahoma. We aren’t living on the mean streets of Philadelphia like Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way, or even the mean streets of Billings, Montana down from the pawn shop and beet factory. We probably have the same four varieties of salad dressing in our fridge, which is a sure sign, the article suggests, that simplicity has not yet been achieved.
Yet in the middle of these differences, I noticed something. Our small town offers community in a way that the Billings group struggled to achieve. While they were hoping to help their neighbors and wishing for kids to come by and shoot hoops, we have been blessed by a dynamic, interactive, living, breathing community that is drawn to Christ and the Church.
There are days when kids shoot hoops on the basketball goal on our garage. Saturday afternoon, while I was taking my Christmas Lights down (yes, yes), a young boy whose family we helped during Christmas walked by. He looked up at the roof and said, “Hey, Matt.” The next day, a little boy from the other side of the street rode his bicycle in front of the house. His wave was made even more special because his bike was donated at Christmas by a generous and anonymous stranger through the Church. I had the privilege to deliver it so his grandmother could give him a gift. Often, I’m able to stop my truck, roll down the window, and ask kids, “Has your mom found a new job yet? Ya’ll doing alright?” A trip to the post office is never just a trip to the post office. It’s an opportunity to comfort those who’ve recently lost loved ones. It’s an opportunity to ask about Jim, the brother-in-law in the hospital. It’s an experience of true community.
We may not be new monastics, but in the middle of life as a itinerant United Methodist pastoral family, we’ve experienced real community in the middle of real life – inside and outside the walls of the church building. We’ve had to think hard about what it means to live in a particular place at a particular time, while being about a particular mission for a particular God. We’re asking many of the same questions as our new monastic brothers and sisters about what it means to follow Jesus simply and whole-heartedly. Often, like them, we get it all wrong. Yet there are times, like our more monastic-minded friends, that the Kingdom peeks through the clouds of everyday life and illuminates everything around us. In whatever form you experience it, that’s a life worth living.