by Suzy Taylor Oakley
If you read either of my blogs long enough, you’ll see me talking about community a lot.
The specifics vary, but the underlying sentiment remains the same: God created us for community.
The power of community manifests in good ways and bad. Some recent examples from my life:
The blogger, writer and “create content” groups I’m involved in – groups known for accountability, encouragement, information and camaraderie.
Our running community.
My small group from church – we meet on Sunday evenings. It’s different from a Sunday morning church service … more intimate, family-like, all up in your business (but in a good way). And totally confidential. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable. We laugh, cry, hug, pray, study God’s word, and eat, not necessarily in that order.
A Confederate flag rally outside our county courthouse.
Let me take those things in reverse order.
On a recent Saturday, my husband and I were downtown in Batesville, Ark. (our hometown), when we saw a bunch of Confederate flags being toted down Main Street. The flag bearers were headed for a rally at the county courthouse a block away.
Before we knew it, Bruce was being interviewed by a documentarian, a black man named Gino who had driven up from Savannah, Ga., after hearing about the rally on Facebook. (He’s traveling around the South to these rallies and plans to make a documentary film about them.) Gino allowed me to Periscope his interview with Bruce, and he chatted with me for a couple of minutes on camera. Pretty soon the three of us were heading down the street to the rally.
Being brave or stupid – I’m not sure which – I ended up in the middle of the crowd, iPhone camera rolling. My intent was to ask a question I’ve had for quite some time: What does the Confederate flag represent to you?
Only one person would go on record to answer that question.
I won’t go into a lot of detail because I plan to do that in the next few days on my own blog, after I’ve had time to post the video to YouTube and sort out my thoughts.
But here’s the thought I have today, as I write about community:
I may take issue with the prominence that the Confederate flag has gained in recent weeks (especially because the murders in South Carolina seem to have been the impetus, and the new proliferation of the flags seems to be an act of defiance, of disunity), but those who rally around a flag of any kind – a Confederate flag, a U.S. flag, a Nazi swastika, whatever – are a visible manifestation of the power of community. Likeminded people coming together for a cause they believe in.
Whether you agree with them or not, whether their cause is just or not, you can’t deny the power of solidarity.
My small group (my church calls them “community groups”) met the next evening. It was our first time all together since the start of summer. We had nearly 30 people in the room, many of them new to the church. We did all of the aforementioned activities – except crying – as we mingled in our host’s beautiful home.
Some of us had to sit on the floor, there were so many of us. It was a holy mess of people!
The thing I love about community groups is that we can come together as a holy mess, accept each other, love on each other and have the kind of relationships that offer the tiniest glimpses of our heavenly Father’s love for us. Each one of us is flawed, but we recognize that and it’s part of what makes us a cohesive unit.
In the past year, our group has experienced deaths, births, weddings, job losses/gains, cancer treatments, surgeries, chronic illnesses and everything in between. The sum of our parts is a mosaic, and the picture wouldn’t be complete without any one of its broken pieces. The cement that binds us together is our love for Jesus and one another.
Photo by Travis Hon/First Community Bank. Used with permisison.
My workplace. I love my co-workers, although most of the time I don’t come right out and tell them. We’ve been together throughout all of the aforementioned life events, and we’re there for each other through good times and bad. My workplace is also known for giving back to the community at large, in ways big and small, financially and physically. We show up, and our neighbors notice. I’m proud of where I work.
When I refer to “our running community,” I’m not just talking about the White River Roadrunners in my hometown. Bruce and I have run with people from all over the country. We’ve run in Tennessee, in Iowa, California, Virginia, all over Arkansas, with all sorts of people … including Arkansas Women Blogger chicks. Runners are a special breed (yes, I know, I’m biased), and we have our own brand of sweat-stained camaraderie. It’s as sweet as anything I’ve experienced anywhere.
The photo above was taken Sept. 12, 2013 – five days before I had heart surgery and the last time I was able to run for several weeks. Talk about solidarity, a community coming together to embrace one of its own …
And then there is this group – the Arkansas Women Bloggers network. It sets the standard for all the other blogger/writer networks I’m involved in. Through ARWB and my other groups on social media (and one in my hometown), I’ve become braver, more social, more social-media savvy, more marketing savvy, more optimistic, more ambitious, more inspired, more creative and more productive. And that’s just for starters.
All those things I mentioned about my church group? We “content creators” do every one of ’em. And then we write about it, photograph it, Periscope it, Instagram it and every other thing we can think of to share the love.
I’ve met many Women Bloggers in person – and not just the Arkies – thanks to our annual conferences, and some of the groups overlap on social media, but most of them I know only from cyberspace. That’s OK; in those groups we have our own special brand of camaraderie, and I learn something different from each group and each individual. I wouldn’t trade any of it for a million bucks. (Probably.)
Life in community is so much sweeter than life in solitary confinement. I know; I’ve done it both ways.
So, if you’re hanging around the fringes of this group or any other that’s willing to welcome you but you’re afraid to take the leap, take the leap. Your decision has the potential to grow you in astonishing ways.
And if you fall, we’ll catch you. We have wide-open arms.
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Travis Hon/First Community Bank