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I have a rocky relationship with this place I live, born of years of frustration, this place I sometimes call the 9th circuit of hell. There’s a lot of grief here and bad memories, poverty, addiction, injustice, abused kids, suicide, despair. Those things are everywhere, right? Perhaps they are just more up close and personal in a small town and layers of bad memories have now tainted my eyes.

Some surveys, some statistics now mark us as the second most secular county in the nation. That means “unaffiliated,” the number of people per capita claiming to have no connection to Christianity, no affiliation with the church.

Yesterday I got to go hand out some hugs and encouragement to the way unaffiliated, to those really outside the social tribe. They cheered me up immensely, they totally ministered to my soul. One thing I appreciate so much about people on the fringes, they’re real, they’re honest, they’re beyond the realm of seeking people favor and outside of quests for social status and power. They could actually teach some Christians a thing or two about how we are called to be in the world. They have certainly taught me.

To be affiliated means, “officially attached or connected.” It means to adopt or accept as a member, to be related too, to be rooted with.

This really is a land of rugged individualists, those walls of separation are firmly erected, and there are an astounding number of unrooted people, unaffilated, outside of faith and outside of the church, too.

The cure for so much of what ails us here is actually the Lord, I totally, unequivocally believe that. But a big part of having the Lord is also about becoming affiliated with others, rooted in a tribe, like a local church or a family of believers. We are designed to be affiliated, to be living in community, somewhat attached to others.

Nobody should ever have to go through bankruptcy, unemployment, divorce, addiction, grief, health challenges, what ever life throws your way, no one should ever have to face it alone, and yet that is the very dynamic we set up here, by proudly encouraging the notion of being unaffiliated.

My prayers this year, my decade long prayers for our whole community, is all about affiliation. Please Lord, bring us into community, help people to see the need for your  church, help people see the need for You, the real You, the One that genuinely loves people. Not the superficial, cultural Christianity of selling books and social favor, but Jesus Christ as He really is and His powerful heart for His people.