(Information for this essay comes from the following books: “Becoming Human” by Jean Vanier and “The Lessons of St. Francis” by John Michael Talbot with Steve Rabey)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
If a church claims to have community, is there a place for an atheist?
Is there room for someone who is mentally challenged in a group of highly intellectual people?
Can you have community and not know the other peoples’ names?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
According to the internet site “freedictionary.com,” community is a body of people living in the same locality or having a common language or interest.
But is it genuine community?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So what are the dynamics of genuine community? Here are my principles of genuine community:
According to Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arch, a network of homes where the mentally challenged live “community is a place of belonging, a place where people are earthed and find their identity.”
In community, the purpose and the pace of life is geared toward one thing: our members’ growth. Our talents and gifts are nurtured and developed.
The cornerstone of genuine community is a sense of connectiveness among its members. There is an interdependence among the members. Each member has a responsibility to each other’s welfare. Each has a duty to help members reach their full potential. We support one another. We don’t belittle one other. Some people cannot get it together without the help of others.
In community, we are of one body; each has a part to play. When one fails or falters, we all suffer.
Community should echo the words in practice of English poet John Donne: "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine. Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind."
Or the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he said that he could never be what he ought to be until those around him could be what they ought to be.
Or the wisdom of Albert Schweitzer: "As long as there was a man in the world who was hungry, sick, lonely or living in fear, he was his (Schweitzer’s) responsibility."
In community, we become whole. And there is always room for growth.
But community is more. Community should be a place to soothe our emotional wounds. A place to find comfort. A place to find wisdom.
In community, one is there to help another when one falters and get him back on his feet. We share our pain. We have empathy for people’s suffering or, at least, willing to learn. A trouble shared is a trouble cut in half. A life shared is twice blessed.
The foundation of community is “to love.” And the cornerstone of loving can be reflected in the Golden Rule. And the best interpretation is Taoism: “Treat your neighbor’s gain as your gain; your neighbor’s loss as your loss.” We have to show to true love for one another.
But what we may think about loving someone is more about control based on fear. We must let people be who they are. So many times we try to mold them in our own image.
Community means surrounding ourselves with people who will build us up and not put us down, who truly love us. We need to be around people who will encourage us and not pay lip service to our wounds. We can not soar like eagles when we are surrounded by turkeys.
We all need community where we have a sense of belonging. We all need community for our survival. We all need community to become fully human. But we also need to have our quiet space, alone.
Sadly, community is rare. We exchange pleasantries with those around us but we don’t ask about their crosses that they maybe bearing. Nor do we care.
If we had community, our churches would not be closing down in droves. They would be busy serving out their mandate, according to the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Sowing love where there is hatred, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair etc., etc.”
If we had community, we would not have a homeless crisis. The weak and the vulnerable would find their place in society. We’d take care of their needs. They would find their calling, their identity.
If we had community, the psychological hurting would not leave fragmented lives, despondent, depressed, wanting to kill themselves. They would say “yes” to life.
If we had community, we would not need sex phone lines, internet dating sites and anything else that is to relief our loneliness.
If we had community, we would not have a surplus of self help books that simply stress that by changing our attitude, we can have our hearts’ desires. Instead people would find meaning, purpose and the by-product - happiness - by participating in community.
If we had community, many of our social problems would not exist or, at least, be reduced, since many are linked to loneliness. Problems like alcoholism and other addictions.
If we had community, people would not be standing “outside the circle” looking at all of life’s challenges and problems, shrugging their shoulders in dismay, wondering what to do. They would be in the circle addressing these challenges.
In community, everyone would knowledge that they are partly to blame for these challenges by doing nothing and willing to create solutions despite the odds that they must confront.
If we had community, we would not fear people of different backgrounds but rather embrace the differences, making us richer, stronger, making us a better people. We have much to learn from other cultures.
If we had community, we would not live by the mentality of “survival of the fittest.” We would acknowledge our survival, our prosperity is often aided by those around us.
If we had community, we would see those around us not as competitors and not to be feared. We would see them as allies, acknowledging their losses and hurts as our losses and hurts; their gains and victories as our gains and victories.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Getting back to our original questions: is there room for an atheist in a church? I say yes. Though he may not believe, church members have much to learn from a non believer. The atheist is still part of the “Body of Christ”. He just doesn’t believe. Unfortunately many religious say worship God our way or leave.
Does a mentally challenged person have a place among highly intellectual people? Yes. According to Jean Vanier, the less fortunate have a lot to teach the rest of us. The highly intellectual have much to learn from those less fortunate.
Can you have community and not know the other people’s names? I know organizations who claim to have community but the members don’t know each other’s names. It just seems mandatory to claim community, members should know each other’s names among other things.
We show more respect to strangers; we know more about strangers.
munrokb2003#yahoo.com (Replace # with @)