Cultivating community on the hiking trail

Cultivating Community

Jay Smith, YTI President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

July-August 2018 Inscribed

community | kə-ˈmyü-nə-tē |

1 a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

2 a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

(From the New Oxford American Dictionary)

One of Yellowstone Theological Institute’s essential values is the creation and service of community.

Most of us take “community” for granted. People tend to understand community in a very simplistic fashion: community is the place people live, or a group of people with which we gather because of shared interests—for example, Rotary, Kiwanis, Model Railroad Club, the Intermountain Opera chorus, the chess club, or a local church, synagogue, mosque, or dharma center. There is nothing wrong with these interest groups, but sadly this “simplistic understanding” does not do justice to the power of community.

In the definitions above, the verbs used are very revealing: “living,” “having,” “feeling,” and “sharing.” Each of these verbs carries with it a sense of the personal with an inherent, dynamic energy. If these verbs tell us anything, they tell us that “community” is not synonymous with “existing in close proximity with another,” and it is not simply a group that has a set of shared beliefs.

“Community” is the end product coming from the dynamic act of intentional living with others. Community involves an appreciation for diverse interests, an affinity for shared hopes, and a willingness to share griefs as well as experiences.

Yes, communities have shared common views, but the views that are shared do not actually define the heart of community. In any given “community” there are a variety of core beliefs held by some that are at odds with the core beliefs of others. Homogeneity cannot then be a contributing factor in the making of community.

What Makes True Community Possible?

So then, what makes true community — as a dynamic act of intentional living with others—possible?

Love. Love makes community possible.

Not the namby-pamby popular conception of love, where sexual attraction, and filial emotions are called by the name of “love.” Not the conception of love as something a person unintentionally falls into or out of. Rather, it is the very intentional act of selfless care for the other, regardless of other beliefs, economic condition, or a myriad of other potential disagreements.

The Bible calls this love hesed in the Hebrew, or agape in the Greek. It is a willingness to live in truth with the other, where forgiveness is just as important as appreciation and commendation. That is the bond of love. Community is where poverty and extravagant wealth are understood to be symptoms of the same disease, and that we dedicate the time and effort to level the economic playing field. That is the bond of love. Community celebrates the accomplishments of the frail and the weak as much as it celebrates the accomplishments of the talented and the strong. That is the bond of love.

Without love, no matter how talented, no matter how beautiful the place or economically stable the group is, it is only a shadow of community. The unity in community is found in the selfless love we share with the other—any and every other. Even if only exercised by a few, love gives us the possibility of the community we desire.

The beauty of Yellowstone Theological Institute is that it is in the “community creating” business. Yes, it is a graduate school, where students can earn a Master of Applied Theology or Master of Divinity degree. But without the love that is the bond of community, it is only a school. [Read more about YTI’s mission to cultivate deeper, more meaningful connections to God and one another in Christ here.]

YTI’s property and programs are dedicated to serving Bozeman through education, recreation, the arts, and provision for those who are in need. It is dedicated to creating graduates who can serve similarly, wherever they are called to go, promoting what makes true community possible for the sake of everyone.

Dr. Jay Smith is president and Bridger professor of theology and ethics at Yellowstone Theological Institute. He has taught at Howard Payne University, Baylor University, and the United States Naval Academy. A published author, he and Stanley Grenz co-created The Pocket Dictionary of Ethics (IVP, 2003) and Created for Community Revised Edition (Baker Academic, 2015). A conversation with Jay reveals his passions for literature and adventure. He loves to hike, compose music, and write about Jesus. Jay roots for the Baylor Bears and Howard Payne Yellowjackets.

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