Sunday, February 26, 2006

Twenty Years and Out

I missed the reunion this year.

It was our last one.

Twenty Februarys ago, a group of around 20 eager young ministers gathered at the invitation of a couple of older mentors to talk about preaching.

Because we chose to get honest with each other, we ended up creating an amazing support system that has endured for two decades.

I hate it that I missed the last gathering.

My life has changed so much since the first meeting of that special group of men. More on that later.

Over the years we found that we could count on each other no matter what. That sort of friendship, shared with such a large group, is really amazing.

Divorce, death, grave illness, marriage, loss of employment, changes in careers and positions, new denominations, restructuring of faith and worldview, stress, success, joy, endurance. . .I could go on and on.

Life is like this.

Life is better when you are part of a group.

We created community that first year.

We worked at maintaining it.

We weren't perfect.

We let each other down from time to time.

But we always knew that we were a part of something very unusual and sustaining.

When needed, we held each other accountable. Yet, we didn't judge one another.

Smaller, sub-groups within the larger whole became very close and lots of great things were accomplished as a result.

It is the way of community.

In the beginning I know our egos were a bit inflated. We operated under the silly illusion that being asked to be part of the group made us something special.

What we soon discovered was the fact that we were just ordinary guys with predictable issues, opportunities, struggles and needs.

We helped each other out.

As the years played out, we came to realize that our group, as currently organized, had served its purpose. Toward the end it became harder and harder for everyone to make the reunions.

I know that was true for me. My current work and life don't leave much room for extras or optional events. Over the past several years scheduling conflicts could not be managed or overcome. I missed a number of the gatherings.

But, I did not forget the group. And, I had lots of evidence that the guys did not forget me.

Last year--a year when another Dallas group member and I hosted the group meeting--thanks to some good leadership and honest communication, we decided to mark an ending to our formal group.

The last gathering took place on Thursday and Friday last week.

Communities are like this.

When missions are accomplished or when life changes over time, relationships and groups need to change as well.

Rather than be sad or nostalgic, I can't help but smile at my buddies and so many of our memories. Like the time a Harley Davidson, Hell's Angels group offered to intervene on behalf of one of our members with his church board!

What a group!

I will miss seeing my friends, but I know they will all be there for me and one another, should need arise, because of all that we discovered together.

Thanks, guys. . .er, Bucks! It was a great, great run!


Anonymous said...

Could you talk a bit more about the importance of community building? Specifically, how the work of building a community has changed over the years (for you personally, or for our country)?

I am thinking about the early church, and the world that was walked by Jesus. It seems to me that life was much more naturally "communal" than it is today, when the urban/modern way of life places so much more importance on the individual and on creating "communities" that are so temporary/transient.

I have been a part of several small tribes (graduation classes, work places, neighborhoods, etc.), but none of them have seemed to last. Even my family is fractured.

Paul said...

Larry, I have heard for years about the group you talk about. It must have been a wonderful experience. Praise God that you all had the vision to get together and stay together all these years. No doubt life transformation took place because of that community of Godly men.

Larry James said...

Anonymous, thanks for your post. Your question could consume pages, but the brief reply may be best.

Everything seems to cut against the formation of community in our culture: religion is all about a "personal relationship with God," our economic system can be dog-eat-dog, the spirit of America is rugged individualism, we pride ourselves in being able to maintain independence and "go it alone." The examples are endless.

But we are empty and shallow. Our division in mind, spirit and reality hurts us all. Race, class, education, philosophy, politics all conspire to keep us apart. Media has not helped and in some ways the Internet isolates us.

However, in the face of admited need strange and wonderful things can happen. The Internet can become a tool for gathering people. Our challenges can begin to form the stuff that organizes us into groups with new found power and purpose. Facing our problems and our inadequacies can cause us to admit a need for others. Rallying around common needs and common dreams, sometimes literally a block at a time, can be transformative. We see this in the city more and more often.

We just cannot give up. The poor have much to teach us all at this point. With little but each other, poor folks are still affecting change in tough neighborhoods by coming together and sticking together.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Larry. I appreciate your thoughtful reply, and hope my follow-up question does not indicate how dense I can be:

So, do we build community to overcome our individual shallowness and emptiness?

I like your perspective on the "personal relationship with God." I have never really felt very close to that idea, and really feel much closer to God in a group than when I am praying alone. In fact, it's been pretty hard to "pray" in that way lately.

Isn't that why Christ built the earthly church?

Larry James said...

Anonymous, you are not dense at all! Thanks for posting.

I think that we do need each other to overcome shallowness and even more to provide purpose, power and connection. And yes, the church is to be about all of that.

We see it so clearly among poor people who have few options in isolation. We can learn from the poor, so much, so much.