“Wow, we Americans are lonely people.”
That’s what I thought to myself recently as I read through the novel Refuge by Dina Nayeri, an Iranian born woman who has lived most of her life in the US and the Netherlands. Refuge is a loosely autobiographical tale about a young woman named Niloo and those in her orbit. The book’s characters all face displacement and loss and therefore struggle to find a life of refuge: that is, lasting home and intimate community.
Niloo laments the isolation of Western life as contrasted with what she experienced during her early years in Iran, reflecting:
“Iranian families . . . are constructed as clans, or packs. Every time one of them sneezes, fifty relatives come running with pots of basmati and plumb chicken. They are many, a bonded unit, and they come running. That’s how it was in Ardestoon, where a lonely lunch meant fifteen relatives under a canopy of trees tearing into lavash bread . . . teasing one another with songs (258-259).
Again: Wow, we Americans are lonely people, whether we realize it or not.
But, in the church we’re not meant to be lonely. We’re God’s family, brothers and sisters in the Lord, meant to live a common life of love and fellowship in the power of Christ’s Spirit.
I’m tempted to assume that as products (and co-creators!) of a culture that has a hyper-emphasis on privacy and individuality we must be disadvantaged as we pursue deep connections with each other. But, perhaps we’re at something of an advantage too. Maybe the relative poverty of community that many of us experience compared to people from more relational cultures could actually make it easier to see how badly we need our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Since our family arrived in Chicagoland to join the Trinity/ Redemption family, we’ve been profoundly grateful for the warm welcome we’ve received. We sense God’s love here. But, how do we pursue more of it, especially when we don’t live in a small village where we are together all day every day? Further, how can our being a community animated by Christ’s love inform and permeate our witness to Christ in our communities?
Hopefully, as Trinity moves forward at a new site and Redemption continues to pursue greater sustainability, we are not building merely human organizations, but rather we are being built by God himself increasingly into “a people who are many, a bonded unit, who come running” when any one is in need, not because we are part of the same local clan, but because we are bound together by the presence of Jesus. May he increase in our midst.
"And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:31-35, ESV).