Best-selling author Paul Miller led a seminar in Montrose last weekend. In his book, "A Loving Life," he writes that “creating an inclusive community is the holy grail of modern culture.
But actually doing it is extremely difficult. The very qualities that create a tight-knit community work against including outsiders.” In many ways this tribalism is the bane of our society. Many in our society want to ban anyone who does not subscribe to the norms of their own tribe.
While we all bemoan the polarization of our world with its lack of meaningful, enduring connections, what practical things must we do to combat it? This is not only a modern challenge.
Jesus encountered the same tendency to exclude those unlike ourselves. In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus said: “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
In other words, our God is pleased when we welcome those who do not look like us and cannot do anything to benefit us.
As Christians, Paul Miller contends that we don’t find community, we create it through selfless love. We pursue the best interests of all those with whom we interact.
The Apostle Paul urges us “in humility consider others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
This creates community. By choosing to put the needs of others ahead of our own, we are bound together. That priority system is winsome. Others are touched by the generosity of our spirits and want to voluntarily enter into the same spirit themselves. Though we are not giving to get, we often find that those to whom we have given start looking for ways to meet our needs in gratitude for our free self-offering in their behalf.
Paul Miller comments that all married couples desire intimacy. But “the quest for intimacy may be a veiled request for feeling good. Intimacy and community come from love, not the other way around. So instead of pursuing intimacy, we should pursue love. Only then do we discover intimacy.”
Love is seeking what is best for the other person in a relationship. When we put someone else’s needs and interests ahead of our own, we are in a sense dying to self. In that dying, we find a new quality of life, a shared life. We have entered into their life, not merely insisting that they enter into ours.
A Loving Life is a study of the biblical book of Ruth, which lays out this template of love creating community. Ruth is a young widow who forsakes her homeland, family, and ancestral gods to serve her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, and Naomi’s God, Jehovah. Ruth becomes a destitute foreigner in Bethlehem, a woman without prospects for her future. Her loving service to Naomi becomes a local news item.
To feed herself and Naomi, Ruth collects barley dropped in a field by harvesters. Such gleaning was the right of the poorest of the poor in Israel. A landowner, Boaz, is touched by her selfless love and sets out to protect her from sexual abuse (as a single foreign woman). He encourages his fieldhands to drop extra barley for her to collect. He invites her, an alien, to eat with his harvesters.
Ultimately Boaz, as a distant relative of Naomi, redeems Naomi’s property for her and marries Ruth. Ruth’s care for Naomi unleashes a chain reaction, creating a community of love, care, and provision for them both.
Love presses forward into troubled situations, accepting the risks of loving, of giving of ourselves to others. Rejection and injury are real possibilities. However, success results in binding people together in a commitment to their mutual well-being. True community does not depend on homogeneity. It depends on a shared commitment to seeking the best for other community members.
Jesus knew that community arises when we love our enemies and pray for those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44). Loving our enemies means caring for their well-being even when they disregard ours. Praying for them brings their needs before the sovereign God who can intervene in their behalf.
Loving engagement is the secret to creating the connections our hearts yearn for. Are we content being detached critics, prideful in the “superiority” of our ideas? Or are we willing to understand the needs of those around us and then to reach out to meet those needs at real personal cost to ourselves? Our quest for inclusive community depends on our answer to these questions.
Doug Kiesewetter is a serial start-up business and social entrepreneur, having launched 13 for-profit ventures and many non-profits over the past four decades. He is currently CEO of a Montrose-based solar manufacturer and chairman of Waterstone, a public Christian foundation in Colorado Springs. Doug is a member of Cedar Creek Church. He and his wife Deborah have two adult children and four grandchildren.