Community is what big cities wish they had—a unified body of individuals, people with a common life.
Community is the great advantage of small cities—like Ojai where I serve! People in community recognize each other and help each other in ways that urban areas do not even imagine.
It doesn’t matter where I go in the Ojai Valley—a summer concert in Libby Park, a restaurant, a grocery store, the Ojai Music Festival, a sports event—I know people. We share powerful webs of connection through relatives, work associates, neighbors and community groups.
My most surprising example of community was when my wife’s grandmother died. We drove from Chicago across four states and stayed with my wife’s parents. The phone rang and cars pulled into the driveway, people seeking to offer comfort. Every time we left the house for the funeral home, the church or the grocery store, people would sneak into the house. They left home-cooked dishes of food on the table and all the counters. This is community.
When people lose community, it darkens life. When the ancient Jews were exiled to Iraq (ancient Babylon), one wrote, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps…. How can we sing?” (Psalm 37:1-2, 4).
Jeremiah was back in Jerusalem, but he wrote to God’s people to cultivate community where they lived:
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
As we seek the peace and prosperity of the Ojai Valley, we strengthen community on every level, both personally and for all of us.
Unlike the ancient Jews, our only risk of exile is the exile we force on ourselves. There is a weakening of our community when we abandon each other. When I buy a book online, I’m sending money out of the community to New York, Seattle, or somewhere else. If I buy at Bart’s Books, the store has more money to hire one of our friends or neighbors. If moviegoers went to 10-20 percent more movies out of Ojai, that could jeopardize the Ojai Playhouse. If moviegoers went to 10-20 percent more movies in Ojai, the Playhouse would have funds for more employees and capital improvements. We all help each other.
Churches face the same dynamic. Churches in larger cities have more resources in some areas. It has been my joy, however, to observe Christ-followers in the Ojai Valley share many parts of their week together. Not only do people sing and pray together on Sunday. They encourage each other at work. They visit with each other at sports events. And when someone needs a shoulder to lean on, there is a friend very close by.
Strengthen your web of community connections. Live local!
Sound off:How do you strengthen your community by choosing to LIVE LOCAL? What is one routine that you could change?