Community, Or How a Sitcom Teaches Me about Community

God always seems to find me when I completely lack the ability to seek him. Recently, he is hardly more than a strange cosmic neighbor that I never see. I know he’s there, I know he’s looking out his heavenly window into my life, but I avoid him when I hear him rattling around outside, pulling in the garbage cans, in order to prevent any awkward stilted conversation where I’m talking about the weather that he created with a thought. Some days, I’m better at opening my front door when I hear him stirring, or even going over and knocking on his door, but on days when it’s dark, I still hide. I’m not by myself – I hide with Hulu, Netflix, and the dozens of television characters I know and love.

And yet, the Almighty weasels his way into my escapist entertainment, making me think and wonder about ultimate truths while laughing at hilarious hi-jinks. It’s annoying, but I’m getting used to it, as it’s happening more and more. I guess my neighbor wants to talk to me.

He often grabs me through one of my favorite sitcoms, Community. In its second season, it’s flown under the radar, grabbing viewers here and there with unmatched themed episodes. The title says it all; at Greendale Community College – a setting inherently ripe with comedy – individuals become a community by accident. The group is diverse in age, gender, ethnicity, religion, and life situation, but they are bound together because they are in the same Spanish class and they find out they need people who are on their side. It’s not easy, for sure. Each episode finds the group of seven trying to figure out how to protect each other while confronting their differences, but that makes the show funny – and life-giving.

Recently, I’ve been wrestling with this idea of community. What is it, how do I get it, do I even want it? At my most cynical and honest, I’d say that community is too hard to achieve. It requires risk and pain, loss and vulnerability. That’s once you get past the awkward coffee dates and “So, where ya from?” conversations. For an introvert such as myself who enjoys solitary activities such as jigsaw puzzles and books, community is a scary concept.

But we are created to live in community, which I know in two ways. One is the ache in my gut when I sit alone at a coffee shop, surrounded by people listening to a banjo play softly in the corner. The other is the peace that stirs in my chest during a laughing fit with my best girlfriends, usually involving some embarrassing and unmentionable secret. I know that community makes life blessed and fulfilled, even if the road community takes is filled with occasional Papua New Guinean potholes, ones that rock your entire existence at a moment’s notice.

A recent episode of Community demonstrated this tension and this beauty. Abed, pop culture fanatic and aspiring filmmaker, is asked by Shirley, devoted Christian mother, to make a viral video about Jesus in order to make the Son of God “cool.” Abed decides to go his own direction and becomes a Christ-like figure himself, speaking in vague platitudes to his “disciples,” the students who begin following him with doe eyes. Shirley is alarmed at this change in her friend and offended at his seeming blasphemy. It’s a fascinating look at charismatic leaders and meta-films, but the real punch of the episode comes at the end.

Abed realizes his mistakes, and Shirley sticks up for him, making herself the villain. To repay her kindness, Abed surprises Shirley with the type of video she had originally asked for. As they watch in a darkened classroom, Abed looks at Shirley and says, “You humble me.” She nods at him and says, “You humble me too.” They clasp hands and watch the video of their friend Troy rapping the Beatitudes.

It was a breathtaking moment stuck smack dab in the middle of a comedy sitcom, where earlier in the show they were watching auto-tuned fart videos. I realized that everyone longs for community, but true community is rare. It is a place where someone is unafraid to humble you and does it not out of anger or selfishness, but instead out of love. It always hurts to be humbled, but when it’s done out of love, you know the other person hurts too. They still do it because it’s what’s best for you and your future self.

I am humbled when I make a mistake at work, and my student employee sweetly comes to show me where I was incorrect. Or when I talk and make judges about someone who is going through experiences I have not, and then have friends who point out my bias and gently remind me that I do not know everything. My reaction to that humbling is a choice. Do I create community, or do I leave it behind to save myself? I can either protect my own pride and save my own reputation, or I can choose to clasp the hand of my friend and say, “You humble me.”

I hope that as I am humbled daily by those I keep around me, I recognize how God is bringing me down to a place where I know that I am a screw-up. But so is everyone else, and we’re all messed up together. I can’t speak for him completely, but I think that may be why God gave us each other. He knew that we couldn’t truly relate to him, so he surrounded us with people who make the same stupid mistakes we do, over and over again. The beauty is in humility, getting up from the ground, brushing off our pants, and trying again, with someone by your side saying, “I will humble you, but you can do it. Try again.”

True community – always painful, always humbling, but so incredibly necessary to survive in this world. Without those people, we fly too close to the sun, our wings melt, and we fall back to the earth. With those people, they catch us on our way down, help us mend our wings, and warn us to not fly so close next time. And when we do, they’re there to help us again.

In the words of Jeff Winger, “You’ve become something unstoppable. I hereby pronounce you a community.” A community. There’s nothing scarier and nothing better.

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