Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On Community

“Community” brings to my mind an image of people gathered at the Memorial Day celebration in a small town. Diverse people who all know each other. They are all there to watch their kids march in the parade, to show their grandkids the fire trucks, to listen to the speeches and remember the soldiers who didn’t come back. As they wait they talk about things that concern them all – the price of gas, the school levy, the business that failed, the new business that’s starting up, the latest scandal, the newest baby.

Community makes me think of the noun commune, of the verb commune and of "communion." In every case people have something in common. They have given up some of themselves and have shared what they had with the others. In community, people share food, recipes, help, advice, knowledge or any number of other things, including childcare and chicken pox.

Community has dried up in many places in the past 50 or 60 years. People wall themselves in and jealously guard their privacy and their stuff. They don’t know the names of their neighbors. Everyone is a stranger. Every stranger is viewed with suspicion and fear. People don’t share things in common. There is no common ground, no common cause and no common grace.

Real community is always good because it is based on love. Love your neighbor as yourself. Care for him as you would want him to care for you. Share, build up, help out, look after and care about the other person. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

All of these are biblical values stemming from Divine commandments. In a secularized world of naturalism, materialism and Darwinism, community is crippled. Witness the savagery and disparity in Socialism, Communism, and Free Market Capitalism. As economic systems they all work to some degree – but as community they all fail because there is no cause bigger than an individual. We are denizens of the jungle where the fittest survive by making the weak a prey. It’s a dog eat dog world.

In this world we are taught that we have absolute autonomy. The world is all about the individual. I don’t have to answer to any god and all the people around me are competitors for the world’s scarce resources. Selfishness, violence, apathy, hopelessness and lawsuits are the order of the day. Buy good locks and a gun. Don’t get involved.

When disaster strikes, people still band together as a community. There are communities of people helping others who have the same addictions, disabilities or illnesses. There are communities of colleagues in schools and workplaces. There are even neighborhood communities. It is a natural thing – built into our consciences.

From my perspective, the very best place for community is the Church. For one thing, the values that promote real community are biblical. For another, in a local church you find a group of people who have more in common than the average neighbors – they have the same world-view and religious beliefs. Finally, the church is built on communion – a fellowship of God with people and people with each other because of what God has done for them.
(1John 1:3-7) "that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin."
(This was originally written for Frank Mills in response to his inquiry, "What does community mean to you?" and published on his Urban Paradoxes web site.)

No comments: