In his best-selling book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes a small Pennsylvania town in the 1950’s called Roseto, which had the mysterious quality of being a place where people tended not to die, except from old age. How had this town so significantly mitigated the effects of disease? Gladwell recounts the investigation and conclusions of two medical doctors determined to uncover the town’s secret:
What [the doctors] slowly realized was that the secret of Roseto wasn't diet or exercise or genes or [geography]. It had to be the Roseto itself. As [the doctors] walked around the town, they began to realize why. They looked at how the Rosetans visited each other, stopping to chat with each other in Italian on the street, or cooking for each other in their backyards. They learned about the extended family clans that underlay the town's social structure. They saw how many homes had three generations living under one roof, and how much respect grandparents commanded. They went to Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and saw the unifying and calming effect of the church. They counted twenty-two separate civic organizations in a town of just under 2000 people. They picked up on the particular egalitarian ethos of the town, that discouraged the wealthy from flaunting their success and helped the unsuccessful obscure their failures.
[The doctors then] had to convince the medical establishment to think about health… in an entirely new way: they had to get them to realize that you couldn't understand why someone was healthy if all you did was think about their individual choices or actions in isolation. You had to look beyond the individual… You had to appreciate the idea that community — the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with — has a profound effect on who we are.
You can read the full chapter here.
Unsurprisingly, the Bible calls us to this kind of familial community. In Matthew 12:50, Jesus says all who do the will of God are His brothers and sisters. Our relationship with God is not intended to be lived out in isolation; our relationship with God is intended to be lived out in relationship with one another, in homes, around tables, for God’s glory and our good.