A resident member of the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace, Israel Fouché, reflects on ideas around “community”.
What is one word that can conjure up a deep feeling of longing and simultaneously feelings of dread? A word that encompasses a unifying ideal yet the very thing that we often find ourselves feeling indifferent about.
It is a buzzword that seems to be thrown around way too often and is everywhere nowadays. Community. From your local community, your church community, to your Facebook community. At the time I am writing this I am even a member of a religious community on retreat at a Benedictine monastery, another religious community. It is something I can’t seem to run away from as a Christian.
Community is more than just a buzzword. It is in a very real way a unifying ideal that, no matter what you believe about it, you know you want.
The world we live in is getting more and more connected, yet people are feeling more lonely than ever. Being lonely is a major issue our society is facing. Some studies have shown that loneliness increases mortality risk by 26 per cent putting it on par with obesity and substance abuse.
We know what we are longing for, yet why is this very thing that is spoken about and idolised so much the very thing as a society we are struggling to deal with.
From my own experience, I have found that in the past I wanted my ideal of community without the process required to attain it. Community takes work. It takes intentionality. It’s a slow process, but the problem is that slow isn’t really that popular these days. In a world of online shopping same-day delivery, instant messaging and fast food; slow seems outdated.
It is our communal laziness and failure to see the value of community that stops us from genuinely pursuing it. Sometimes though our apathy towards it isn’t laziness but a genuine pain we experience from past hurts. And instead of opening up to others to allow healing, we isolate ourselves in an attempt to fight off this vain ideal and we formulate our own alternative communal models yet we never pursue them.
In a world that is telling you to be self-focused, the idea of pursuing something that requires you to turn to other people and become “other-centred” seems foreign and out of place. Being other-centred isn’t easy. It takes mindfulness and can only come from a genuine overflow of the heart. It requires you to show up. It requires you to commit to other people and sometimes it means rearranging your life. Community gives you the responsibility to look outwards. But at the end of the day, you find something that is worth paying a price for.
Community is where we are challenged to be more like Jesus. It’s easy to be the most patient, loving and selfless person when you have only yourself to deal with, however, it is within a community that you are refined as a follower of Christ.
The Book of Hebrews has this to say about it: “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.”
It is a command from our Lord to love one another, but sometimes we can swing so far towards other-mindedness that we lose sight that the same command for me to love another is the command for me to be loved by another. Community is the place where this happens.
Community is an ideal, yes, but we cannot allow it to become such an ideal that our dream of the destination cripples us with fear to embark on the very journey that leads to that destination.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
The intentionality that is needed to form good community might take some perseverance, but not nearly as much perseverance as waiting and hoping for our ideals to show up at our front door alongside our same day deliveries.