Finding community right among us

Published 11:19 am Friday, June 8, 2018

by Charles Qualls

Koinonia. With a successful spelling of that word, young Karthik Nemmani won a contested battle and took home the victory at this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.

As that story unfolded recently on my television news, I stopped what I was doing. Merely hearing the word koinonia (pronounced “koy-no-NEE-uh”) caught my ear. You see, it’s a Greek word you don’t come across very often. It means something like “intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community,” according to one news outlet.

That’s a pretty decent description, I suppose. You wouldn’t be surprised to know that it’s mostly a church word, this koinonia. For me, though, the concept is so vital to our lives.

Sociologists view our current culture as being in one of the most isolating eras we’ve had. So much of what we do can unwittingly push us toward being alone. The very things that bring speed and convenience to our lives can also cause us to spend more time by ourselves than we’ve been used to.

Families don’t live near nor with each other like they used to. Folks spread out all over the country, a mobility driven by the economy, transportation and jobs. Retail shopping happens more and more online (I lament at times,) with things coming to us rather than us going out to get things.

When I was a kid, grocery shopping took a while. That was because inevitably my folks ran into a few people in the store aisles and they chatted. They laughed, discussed, caught up. It was community.

People choose to play video games online rather than go out to eat. They choose to stay home and watch a movie rather than going to a theater to see the same. They choose to stay home and binge-watch their latest Netflix passion rather than going to church on Sunday.

One chain restaurant with a location nearby has curbside pickup. This means one could silently order, pay and tip from their computer. Then, simply pull up to a designated parking lot where food is handed in through their window before they drive off back to their home.

Are all these developments convenient? Absolutely. Are they also isolating? Could be.

A couple more interesting questions arise. Is there a cultural bubble, related to all this, that’s about to burst? Should we care? Dr. Andy Root is a professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Theological Seminary. He believes that a change among us is imminent. He observes that for generations we have lived with increasing isolation. Add in that so many foundational elements in our lives have proven to be fragile in the last few generations, and it starts to feel like something’s got to give.

Think about that. The 401k’s and pensions collapsed in the Great Recession, along with entire companies and individual jobs. The last couple of generations have watched their parents divorce at what feels like an unprecedented rate. The great technological wonders of the last 20 years are mostly computer-driven.  They all have a reboot function or, more drastically, a reset button.

People have had to adjust to a world where little can be counted upon, and much needs to just be restarted periodically.

All this growing isolation and temporary nature has led Root, and others, to believe we are on the cusp of a great cultural correction. Notice the recent popularity of craftsmen and “mid-century modern” home styles. HGTV and the DIY network television shows are hotter than ever, as we are becoming fascinated with the notion of rejuvenating old homes rather than building new ones.

This might be because we have a longing deep within us for something — anything — that has been around for a while. My church, and many in our community like it, has been around a long time. Ours since 1871. While there’s no one style or personality that’s for everyone, we do have at least one compelling element to offer:  Koinonia.

I can’t speak for all the churches. But, I would hope we try each Sunday to live up to the notion that’s on our sign: “All are welcome.” In a world that feels fragile and unreliable, since the 19th century we’ve offered sacred community to one another. A safe place where you can come with your questions, your yearnings and your eternal needs. Couldn’t you use a little koinonia in your life?

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.