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What a Nation in Crisis Needs is Authentic Community

The kickoff of the college football season has always excited me.

I love a packed stadium with 50,000 or even 100,000 fans pulsating with excitement, announcers yelling, fans screaming.

There’s nothing like game day. For three to four hours, fans come together to cheer their favorite teams and forget about pressures, politics and the world’s problems for a while.

What’s amazing is that in the thrill of a game – perfect strangers begin to high-five neighbors, even hugging people they don’t know.

Anthropologists call this “communitas.” It’s beyond what we would call community, which is experienced through common places, seeing friends and generally going about life.

While some people taste the life of authentic connection beyond their houses, many people sadly don’t experience true community.

But “communitas” goes beyond conventional community. It’s inspired fellowship, the deep connection born out of an adventure, an ordeal, a challenge or a mission. It’s being “in the zone” together whether in music, sports or work.

I’ve experienced “communitas” at concerts, while sharing an exceptional meal with people I love, and while swinging a hammer with a work crew in Haiti.

I believe that people crave not just community, but “communitas.” It’s why we participate in local organizations, parades and service projects. We want to be part of something greater, something beyond ourselves.

Those who experience “communitas” take risks. They linger long enough for extended conversation. They’re not afraid to reach out to embrace someone different from themselves.

In my area, “communitas” happens as we support local entrepreneurs and celebrate the variety of pioneers, misfits, vagabonds and creatives who call our neighborhood home. We’re in search of not just ordinary life, but real and beautiful life.

But I wonder, how much do we really dip into that space where class, race, age differences and division dissolve?

Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He came to bring life – abundant, blessed, authentic life.

But somehow the community that professes his name got reduced to shouldn’t, oughtn’t, mustn’t and don’t. Just more rules and more religion.

The true story is so far from that. Jesus welcomed the stranger. He treated women on level ground. Those who had messed up found a friend in him.

His brand of holiness didn’t push people away. People flocked to him. Everyone was equal at the foot of his cross. Everyone needed grace.

Some who follow Jesus have twisted his message to justify white supremacy. Imagine that. Some have read his words, and the other words of the Bible, to support violence and even nuclear war. Some have forgotten his mandate to love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and carry your cross.

The essence of “communitas” is radical equality. All the things that divide us – what you drive, what you wear, how much money you make, the color of your skin – don’t matter in the face of the ordeal or the adventure. None of that matters when a need or crisis compels us to get up and do something.

I love my country, but let’s face it: We are in a crisis.

Neo-nazism is on the upswing in America. The threat of a nuclear strike and the possibility of millions of men, women and children being killed indiscriminately hasn’t been this high for decades.

We have yet to realize the dream, God’s dream, of a united human race: one without the dividing wall of hostility.

Near my home, I love to run down Jefferson Avenue, past the quincenera shops, Mexican grocery stores and thrift stores. I love to see the wheelchair-bound elderly woman, friends sitting at Small Brew Pub and school kids. I run past homeless persons and wealthy persons leaving the spa.

In recent weeks, a funny urge has welled up as I run. When I pass people by, I have wanted to greet people not with a “hello” but instead as “brother” or “sister” – “hermano” or “hermana.”

How would life be different if we first thought of one another as “hermanos” and “hermanas,” then began to use the language of family – in churches, neighborhoods, city councils and corporations?

The great challenge and dream of our day – indeed, of every generation – is to become brother and sister to one another. Not just community, but “communitas.”

Brent McDougal is senior pastor of Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas. A version of this article first appeared on Cliff Temple’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @BrentMcDougal.