What Is Community and Why Do We Need It?
We all live within a community. We have neighbors and neighborhoods, a larger social structure, common policies, government, and a country of which we are a part. We have families, friends, co-laborers, and others with shared interests or affinities with whom we do life.
But, is community not more than simply live alongside one another?
Within all of us is a need to connect with one another more deeply, to support and be supported, to encourage and be encouraged, to engage conversation and learn through debate.
In Part 1 of this blog post, I spoke of our shift from an agrarian "depend on your neighbor" society to our modern post-industrial/technological society. Since we've made this shift in a relatively short amount of time (less than 100 years), is it possible that we are suffering a sort of societal whip lash? Older generations have experienced dependent community, and mourn the lack of it today, while younger generations have no concept of dependent community.
We've been able to disconnect with one another physically, but now, in our technological age, we are able to disconnect with one another in ways never before experienced.
With the advent of the internet has come the opportunity to create online "sort of feels like real" virtual communities. We can fine tune them, pick and choose, opt in, opt out, determine our level of involvement and generally create whatever world/community we desire without any real sacrifice or investment. A person can write a blog, people can interact and respond, and we sort of get the erroneous feeling that we are doing community (irony alert).
Or, maybe we know we need community, but we simply don't pay attention to it anymore. Sort of like the flight attendant at the beginning of the flight while s/he gives the safety speech. We know its important, but we ignore because we think we'll never need it.
What remains, though, is an emotional, psychological and/or mental deficiency in connecting and committing to others in a real way. Just as a newborn's heart rate and breathing can be regulated by simply placing him or her on their mother's chest, I believe our emotional/psychological/mental health depends on personal, present and tangible connection and dependance on others beyond the scope of our immediate families.
So, how do we go about living out community in this modern world?
Perhaps a solution is to change the word "community" from a noun to a verb and place it within the context of the real, living and present world.
As I've wrestled with my own longing for community I've looked for it many different places. I've had expectations go unmet and I've become skeptical and critical. However, I've learned that my focus has been too much on the outside when it needs to be on the inside. If I want to find community, I need to be community - to live it out in my life. It becomes an action on my part. Intentional action.
How do I do that?
The Practicality Of It All
I've determined to intentionally look for and become aware of opportunities to offer support and encourage to those with whom I interact, live alongside and serve. To literally spend time thinking about the needs of others and then responding.
I've determined that community is not dependent on proximity alone, but community can happen anywhere and with anyone. It develops in deeper conversations, in positive encouragement, in traveling difficulties with someone, in sharing blessings and sacrificing time and energy for the betterment of someone else.
I realize the living out community involves building trust. I hope people can see me as someone they can trust and rely upon.
I accept the risk that comes with opening myself up to others. I might get hurt when community is not reciprocated or when someone simply walks away.
I determine to set boundaries. Let's face it - things can get weird pretty quick. Community does not mean we don't have private lives or personal space.
I will allow others to live out community in my life, too. That means I accept help when its needed and offered. I accept, graciously, those who desire to connect with me and my family.
I accept that there will be disagreements, differing views/ideologies/theologies, and opinions, but I choose to live in the tension of loving a person despite differences.
And, because its sort of a foreign concept these days, I realize that connecting with another person or group may feel strange. Deeper living calls for a certain level of discomfort. My neighbor might think I'm strange if I call to offer a meal or help when I get the sense that that might be helpful.
There will be some sense of "giving up" or loss or sacrifice as I spend resources of time, money and energy on others - though the reward is of greater value than that which is given.
Oh, and community is messy. Really messy.
The Heart of the Matter
Maybe, at the heart of it, we just desire to be loved, appreciated and included. That we see ourselves as part of a larger, beautiful painting created by the Master's hand. That despite our differences and disagreements we would stick together through thick and thin. That we realize our deep need for one another. I believe we have a real, felt need for one another that can only be met in community.
I can only realize the solution when I become part of the solution.
Where do you see community happening in real ways around you?
How do you invest yourself in your community?
How do you do community?