Can you even imagine biking with the same people for miles on end for several days straight as you traverse the country in bright yellow jerseys? What do you think you and your team would talk about? I fondly remember my many conversations with so many of my past teammates. I particularly remember talking to Mike and Jimmy my first and second years (2011 and 2012) with Biking for Babies. We talked about the history of Illinois (thanks Mike!), philosophy, life, likes, dislikes, told stories, and the list goes on and on. In fact, I would make an argument that, at that time in my life, the people I biked with on Biking for Babies probably knew me better than most people I worked with or went to college with. Now consider the fact that I only saw Mike and Jimmy for 7/365 days that year compared to the people I worked with and studied with whom I saw roughly 200+/365 days in a year, and this becomes a significant claim. Fast forward to the present where I am no longer an active missionary of Biking for Babies, but I am the Director of Health and Wellness for the organization. In the past week, I have engaged in 2-hour long phone calls, 1 group video chat, and a healthy amount of text message threads all from current and past Biking for Babies missionaries. Yet, even without a weeklong bike trip together, I would make the same assessment that a lot of these missionaries know more about me than others I see daily in my life. I give these two examples to make a distinct point. One of the most honest descriptions of Biking for Babies I can give is that it is a community.
Before I continue, I want to define community because I say this word as something distinctly different from the experience of social interactions. The simplest way to understand community, or the perfect community, is to recognize that community is our highest calling as God Himself is a community. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist as a communal God, being that love is given and received by all of them perfectly. Therefore, it is no surprise that many living things are social creatures. However, as humans made in the image and likeness of God, we have the ability to transcend social interactions as a pure biological and ecological necessity to live communally with one another. To put this concretely, let us think back to my previous examples. With colleagues at my job, we interact mainly to accomplish a task. To work well together makes all of us better employees and able to accomplish jobs quicker. Therefore, my work conversations rarely stray from the most current study published in a journal, the errors I’m getting in my statistical program, or maybe what our family plans are for the weekend. I would say on the spectrum of social to communal living, that my interactions at work are much closer to the social “biological” necessities at hand and not the transcendent communal living that I experience with Biking for Babies. As you continue to read, take note that this distinction I make between “social” and “communal/community” is on a spectrum as I’m sure many of you are rightly pointing out that my Christian faith should not exist in some parts of my life and not the others. Now I ask you to look at your own life and seriously consider if your Christian faith is perfectly lived in every aspect of your life with every single individual you meet. As I have described, I must confess, that mine is not and I would suspect that this is true for many of you as well. The question I then must ask myself is why is that? I have thought long and diligently about this question and the simple answer I have come up with is this: community is hard.
In my 10 years with Biking for Babies, I can safely say that I am deeply invested in this community as it continues to grow. The beauty of Biking for Babies is that most of the people I interact with are remarkably like me. Many of them are around my age, they are all deeply in love with Christ, and they share many of the same morals and beliefs that I have. From a sociological and even religious sense, social interactions and even communal living becomes easier. This allows our conversations to evolve from sports teams and the weather to our deepest hopes, fears, and desires. In my experience, I know the tipping point from social interactions to community, and that is vulnerability. Here is the terrible truth about being increasingly vulnerable on this side of Heaven – it can hurt. In fact, being vulnerable can allow someone to abuse you physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. Even in a community like Biking for Babies, where it seems no one could possibly ever hurt another, it still happens. I myself have hurt my fellow missionaries and teammates with my words, my thoughts, and my actions. Why does this happen even within our most amazing Christian communities? The answer is all too easy for the Christian – because we are all sinners. We all have scars, we all have faults, and we all have weaknesses. In true community, our vulnerability allows all those things to show and allows us to take advantage and use each other for our own selfish desires. This leads to maybe a most important life question, one that I believe almost encompasses the whole question of God Himself: is community worth it? In terms of this post, the question essentially is: are we actually made to be more than social animals? Are we in fact able to share life experiences and knowledge of ourselves that serves no purpose but to feel connected to one another, where this information could and probably should be used against us to exploit us?
I would sadly say that the society at large and the culture of death has answered this question with a resounding “NO: your interior thoughts and religion are but hobbies that do not need to be discussed in the workplace, in public, or in schools as they will most likely upset others. To know and hear about your most internal struggles requires a response from me which I am not willing to give unless it is for my good or the good of society. Furthermore, if we could find ways for you to alleviate your own suffering, then you could be a better member of society and ask less of the people around you.” To these societal points, society at large probably feels they are correct! I just confessed that I have hurt and damaged my own community; If I, a Christian who claims to be in the image of God and following His will, cannot restrain from taking advantage of people who are in this so-called “community” then it must not be real. Yet, here I stand, 10 years (and still counting) an authentic member of this Biking for Babies community. Because, through all my faults, weaknesses, and sins, I have asked my community for forgiveness and – most importantly – they have given it. When we fall, yes it hurts us and our community members and yes it isn’t easy, but we fall as a community towards Christ. As a community we lean on Him and, when we do, we are able to raise each other up to new heights. When we forgive each other and work with each other through our wrong doings we are living witnesses of the cross and tomb that could not conquer our Lord. Without question, I can say that Biking for Babies has made me a better person and drawn me closer to Christ not because I have NOT failed Biking for Babies, but precisely because when I have failed the organization and people within, they metaphorically looked at me with love through a black eye, that I myself may have given them, and stretch out their hands to help me back up.
When we get to see the hope and reality of communal living on this earth, it is difficult to not want all aspects of our social life to look more like this transcendent community. It is because of God’s grace through Biking for Babies’ community that I feel more able to be vulnerable at work, with my other friends, and even with my family. Because of my experience of community, I am able to hold out a hand to others and say with confidence that, though community won’t always be pretty, it will indeed always be worth it.