The people who live on the Japanese Island of Okinawa have a word to describe their way of life - ikigai.
Ikigai, also defined as one’s purpose in life, is a strong communal dynamic facilitated by sharing, assisting, and enjoying one another as friends. To Okinawans, community is the foundation for life and happiness. In addition to their communal dynamic, Okinawans are known for their long life spans. Okinawans have a 40% greater chance of living to 100 than other Japanese people. Could this be in part because of ikigai?
When Christianity was in its infancy, the Church or Ekklesia, was comprised of small gatherings of believers coming together to support, uplift, and encourage one another to grow and become more like Christ. The early Christians understood that in order to survive and thrive, they needed to be connected to one another in community. Ekklesia during the times of Ancient Rome was small gatherings at homes, called Agapé Feasts, where people would gather around a table to share a meal, sing, and discuss what God was doing in their lives. Look what it says in Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
The Agapé Table gatherings were small communities of love, acceptance, sharing, and safety - all vital to the human experience. Through these small gatherings the communities of early Roman Christians thrived and grew.
In both examples, the early Church and the centenarians of Okinawa, we can see the power of community demonstrated on many levels. Community can provide love and acceptance. Community can provide safety and care. And a community can provide the means for passing down culture to the next generation.
Community is effective in shaping individuals physically, emotionally, spiritually, and ideologically. Because community is so effective, it comes with a level of responsibility to use the power of community for good. We’ve seen over the years the negative outcomes that stem from communities of people bent on the wrong ideologies and beliefs. So much so that we have seen nations crumble and people groups threatened because there is power in numbers and unified thought. It begs to question why someone would go through with being a part of a community that would cause harm or damage society as we know? All for the reasons that the benefits of community are still experienced, even when it's not noble in nature. We only see the truth until the damage is done.
We have witnessed through the creation of the internet and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that community is no longer predicated on location and proximity. Being communal in the year 2022 is no longer confined to a group of people living in the same place or area as a physical community such as Okinawa or the early Church’s Agapé Tables. The word community has now expanded to include more than just geographical location and proximity, but of interest, goals, and like-mindedness. The present day 21st century has brought a broader meaning and emphasis to the word, but also opportunities for connection and belonging.
Now that you know the power of community and the benefits that it bestows on those that choose to be connected, what will you choose? Will you choose a community of life and positivity? Or a community that may feel good for the moment, but only yield negative results? Reader, I challenge you to find people that are for the greater good and that truly have your best interest in mind.