The owner of the coffee shop I escape to when I have a writing deadline told me she wants it to be the “community’s living room.” And I think it is. There are heart surgeons, business people, judges, medical students, teachers, kids from local schools, college students, parents, pastors, and writers who frequent it. Although I’m new to the area, I’ve already come to recognize many of the patrons. The people who work there are friendly and welcoming. The coffee and food are good. The atmosphere is cozy and alluring. It’s a go-to place in our community.
Sarah sometimes wonders if she only believes in Jesus because she’s surrounded by family and friends who also do. She asked, “Am I a Christian because it’s true or because I live in a Christian bubble?”
Jasper Fu drives two hours a day for Uber, an app-based taxi service. He doesn’t do it for the money, since he already has a fulltime job. He says he does it because it’s a good way to “talk to people.” Chinese culture encourages quiet restraint, so it can seem inappropriate to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. It’s different when you’re picking them up in your car. Jasper says, “Under no other circumstance can I find a stranger to talk with me for like 10 to 20 minutes.”
I’m lonely,” wrote Augusten Burroughs in one of his edgy memoirs. “And I’m lonely in some horribly deep way and for a flash of an instant, I can see just how lonely, and how deep this feeling runs.” I’ve seen Burroughs’ quote shared multiple times on social media. Clearly, he’s expressed a feeling many of us share.
Ahead of me, two rows of cars waited for the traffic light to turn from red to green. Beside us, in the turn lane, a third line of vehicles awaited a green arrow so they could turn left.
I spent my birthday this year at a conference with my husband and some friends. At the end of the conference, I enjoyed taking some time to talk with an acquaintance that is a year younger than I am. As we chatted, he said, “The older I get, the more I realize I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish by now.” Then he wistfully remarked, “I may never accomplish it.”
The sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic seems like a woeful tale of inevitability. But the truth remains that the demise of the massive ship could have been prevented had its crew listened to others. Ships in the area had tried to warn the Titanic that they were steaming into a field of ice, but the radio operator was so overwhelmed with work that he disregarded these messages and famously wired back, “Shut up, shut up. I am busy . . .” (a comical response had it not been for its catastrophic consequences).
A young man had been fleeing from the law, and his concerned father tried desperately to reach him. When his son finally called from a city far away, the dad convinced him to turn himself in and even took a flight to retrieve him. As he later described the trip to friends, the loving father said with unmistakable warmth, “He’s my son!”
In 2011, a Brazilian fisherman came across a struggling penguin. The tiny creature’s feathers were soaked with oil and it desperately needed food. So the man took the sickly bird home and cared for it. Once it was healthy, he released it and the bird swam happily away.
In 2013, a jet crashed in San Francisco, resulting in three tragic deaths. One young woman died not from injuries caused by the crash, but from being run over by a rescue vehicle that rushed to the scene. City authorities conducted an investigation and determined that the death was accidental and that the driver would not face criminal charges. But the board of the airline involved took a very different approach to this tragedy: They called a public press conference and bowed low in apology. Even though they may not have been individually responsible for the girl’s death, they felt they shared responsibility as the leaders of the company.
I’ve written before about a raucous nightclub that opened across the street from my family’s home in Uganda—causing us to move out before we had a new place to live. The unexpected and challenging experience—moving from the stable house and community we had lived in for seven consecutive years—led to a state of ongoing transition. We ultimately ended up settling in a community where we knew no one, and had to start over from scratch.
Many of the local churches in our city still exist with the same spirit of segregation that has plagued my country for so long. Aware of this evil, a group of pastors and leaders across ethnic divides meet monthly for breakfast. We pray and eat. We talk about economic realities and political structures. We talk about our local history (decades ago a neighborhood with thriving black-owned businesses was razed to the ground). The most powerful thing, however, is when one of us is bold and vulnerable enough to share our own story, our pains and fears, our hopes and our longings. In that moment we draw others close. We allow other people to share our burdens, to share our life.
Until the latter part of the 20th century, most doctors believed there was nothing better for one’s health than cleanliness. But new research reveals that our bodies require some level of messiness, especially to build up our immune systems and fight off disease. Researchers believe that allergies are so common nowadays because our lives are too clean, and our immune systems can’t decipher between dangerous germs and harmless ones.
I’m the point person for the visitation team at my church. This means that I visit people in the hospital, at their homes, and in hospice. I also solicit volunteers to go out and visit others and provide encouragement, spiritual conversations, and prayer. Being ill can be a lonely path for many—especially the elderly. Yet younger people can also contract serious illnesses and experience difficulties.
The word fellowship conjures up some rather strange associations in my mind. When I hear it spoken, I immediately think of coffee and donuts, along with the basement meeting spaces in churches where those coffee and donuts are served. Most strangely, I also think about the 2001 movie The Fellowship of the Ring. So somehow my concept of Christian community has become inextricably tied to a tale of men, dwarves, and elves dealing with “one ring to rule them all.”