Every week in your community there are groups of people who gather together to learn. In my neighbourhood there is a group called Monday Morning Mommas and a women’s Thursday book reading group. The library promotes small groups and there are others who faithfully read Oprah’s best recommendations. Healthy communities know that learning together makes a difference.
Book studies and discussion groups are remarkable because they do something vital in the life of a community. There is something special that happens when people come together to listen, share, hope and reflect. When we read and share in fresh ideas, we step into a new story that did not exist in us before. When we share our imagination and build a dream together, we create a new reality. We hone in on good and life-giving ideas, and find partners that we can work with to make those ideas come grow. This is what reading together does for us: it alerts us to life happening all around, and welcomes us to join in.
Gatherings like this happen all the time, but they are often uncelebrated and unseen. Book studies and small groups happen in simple places: in living rooms, homes, cafes, churches and libraries. They are unassuming because they seem so, well, ordinary. How can something big, amazing, and life changing happen in a living room? Can regular people with their ordinary messy lives truly find what they are looking for over a cup of coffee with their neighbours and friends? I think so.
My wife Kelly and I enjoy hosting book study groups in our home. Depending on what we’re up to, we read, watch a video, pray, eat, share stories, laugh, wrestle with new ideas, and care for each other. We do not know where most conversations will go, but we almost always leave full and enriched.
I love books, but here is what I’ve discovered: we learn and grow best not from a book, but from being around others. We were created to learn in community, in conversation, and through friendships. We form habits and values when we spend time with others. When we practice new ideas and test them out, we change the way we live. Sometimes the change happens gradually, but when we look back we realize that we value something new today that we did not value before.
The good things in life; faith, family, and neighbourhood often grow when we learn and share together around tables and in living rooms. Author C. Christopher Smith wrote, “The practices of reading and conversation are vital for the process of transforming our social imagination… what stories are feeding and shaping that imagination?”
As you continue to get to know and care for your neighbours, may you discover the joy and hope that comes from learning together with others. The best dreams often emerge from the most ordinary places.