Sometimes, when the world looks like it’s falling apart, our first impulse is to pull away from it. We feel as if we’re exiles in a world filled with people from another planet. We see people rioting, ignoring basic common sense and forgetting how to interact with one another at a most basic courteous human level. We need to appeal to the “Better angels of our human nature” as Abraham Lincoln once stated when trying to find a way for a war-torn nation to reunite.
Our experience of exile is not unique; it can also be found in the Jewish Babylonian exile experience in the Judeo-christian bible. God asked the Jews to respond in a particular way to their exile and it’s in this Jewish response we can learn how to respond to our own contemporary situation. Remember the Jews experienced a tremendous loss of everything after their defeat by the Babylonians. Their kingdom was destroyed, and they were carted off to live in a foreign land. I bet their first impulse was not very different from our own. They most likely just wanted to pull back, become disengaged, and protect themselves. God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, gives them a different mandate (Jeremiah 29:4-7):
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have set you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
This is a powerful lesson to consider when reflecting on how to build healthy communities regarless if you’re religious or not. The Jewish people saw themseves as living icons of the divine presence in a fallen world. God gave them a law they believed made them a holy people set apart for God’s purposes allowing him to dwell among them in a transformative way. Through the prophet Jeremiah God tells the exiles he wants them to be set apart but exist within a foreign city as leaven and light making it a better place for everyone. God tells them, “I want you to live there, flourish there, and prosper but not simply for your own benefit, for the benefit of the city as well. By being active agents of prosperity and goodness, you too will flourish.” Basically, God is saying by being the presence of the living God these exiles will cause this foreign city to be a special place. When the city flourishes, they will be blessed, and everyone will know the God of the Jews is a powerful God. This self understanding of the ancient Jews drove them to be something transformative in the communities they ocupied. It’s this vision of being a positive force in your community that I want you to think about.
Over the next few posts I want to help you develop into a powerful icon of what is good and beneficial for your community. There is an interesting paradox surrounding the focus on service to others and volunteering in a community setting. The more we focus on service to others the less we focus on our own fears and problems. We find meaning and purpose in our service to others and this meaning and purpose gives us a huge psychological boost. Serving our community is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
So how can we become an icon of what is good and beneficial for our community? In this series of articles, I will explore the following topics: 1) Becoming other focused through gratitude 2) Maximizing relationships in your community 3) Why compromise isn’t a bad word, and 4) How we forgive one another and restore our relationships.
I look forward to engaging you in this journey. Remember, if the communities we live in don’t flourish, we can’t either. However, to fix what’s wrong in our communities really starts with one or two people willingly engaging one another and envisioning a better future. Let me help equip you to do that very thing.
(This series was originally posted on the website A Race to Healing)