We are family

Since I was a boy, 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, the 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, 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. We’re blessed to live in a place where community is valued and pursued.

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 Oak Cliff dwellers crave not just community, but communitas. It’s why we participate in Y Guides and the Mardi Gras parade. We want to be part of something greater, something beyond ourselves. We support local entrepreneurs and celebrate the variety of pioneers, misfits, vagabonds and creatives who call this place 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.” He came to bring life. Abundant, blessed, authentic life. But somehow His community got reduced to shouldn’t, ought, mustn’t, and don’t. Just more rules and more religion.

The true story is so far from that. He 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. They flocked to him. Everyone was equal at the foot of his cross. Everyone needed grace.

The essence of communitas is radical equality. All the things that divide us — what you drive, what you wear, how much money you make — don’t matter in the face of the ordeal or the adventure.

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 say not hello but instead brother or sister. Hermano. Hermana.

This is the great challenge of our day: to become brother and sister to one another. Not just community, but communitas.

Brent McDougal  is pastor of Cliff Temple Baptist Church. The Worship section is a regular feature underwritten by Advocate Publishing and by the neighborhood business people and churches listed on these pages. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.