What Happened to Community?
Do you remember about 20 years ago what it was like having people “pop in” for a visit? Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco talks about growing up his mom had purchased a Sara Lee or Entenmann’s coffee cake just in case guests stopped by. The doorbell would ring and the whole family would run to the door to see who it was. “Hey! How are ya? We were just in the neighborhood and thought we’d drop in and see you and the kids!” Urban, suburban and rural- it didn’t matter. People dropped in all the time. Now when the doorbell rings, we panic. Who could that be?! Did someone order a pizza? Turn off the lights!
How did our culture swing so sharply? What is happening to us as a culture where we would rather binge watch Netflix alone than share an evening glass of wine with someone we care about?
Referring to Alexis de Touqueville’s quote that Americans suffered from a “strange melancholy,” Mark Mitchell in The Homeless Modern, states: “This sense of longing is not explicit and generally has no definite object. It is, rather, an underlying dissatisfaction that today manifests itself in a variety of ways: restless mobility, consumerism, frenzied sexuality, substance abuse, therapy, and boredom… a condition the Desert Fathers called acedia: they are both bored and uneasy.”
Most Americans are effectively rootless. Our excessive individualism has led to a rejection of family and neighborhood as too limiting. Economic gain tends to trump meaningful relationships and responsibility to the community. The average American will move 13 times in his/her lifetime. With our amazing technology we ignore the people we are actually with to text or email people we aren’t with (who will forget what we are saying in a few seconds anyway). T.S. Eliot said we are “Distracted from distraction by distraction.”
And we are not happy. All the money, comfort, access and privilege and yet we’re still despairing. The human heart has two huge holes in the middle of it: one is for God and the other for community. When we fill it with anything else we might get by, but we don’t get happiness. French writer Simone Weil said, “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul… A human being has roots by virtue of his real, active, and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape certain particular treasures of the past and certain particular expectations for the future.”
Our cultural influences are also pulling us away from a rooted life in real community. Mark Mitchell in another article, Home-Making for Home-Coming, nails entertainment’s contribution to rootlessness: “Take, for instance, the news, which often is merely entertainment for those with a taste for the grim. With the advent of cable television, news became a 24/7 barrage. Through this medium, we become intimately familiar with strangers in far flung places. We know the details of the latest earthquake in Indonesia (Richter Scale and all), while the single mom down the street remains unknown to us… In aspiring to love the world, we end up neglecting our neighbor. In neglecting our neighbor, we neglect our neighborhoods as concrete commitment is replaced by abstract awareness.”
Asked why the $36-billion Gates Foundation was ignoring the local homeless living around their $500-million building. “We’re trying to move upstream to a systems level to prevent family homelessness…” Jeremy Beer, author of Satan was the First Philanthropist, comments that “Only the naïve would walk outside and help the homeless men and women shivering right there!”
In closing, let me challenge this parish. Will you take a dare from me, one that I am currently struggling with in my own household? Will you invite people over once a week to share a meal, a game of cards, or a bottle of wine with, and just be together? I don’t know about you, but I’ve displaced loving good people with consuming entertainment for too long. It’s undoing us as a culture, as a nation, and as a parish. Let’s take the risk. Inconvenience yourself for the sake of community. Invite a young adult or a single parent family over for a meal. Do a Bible study in your own home. I’ve got free materials for you! The point is, we need community. God created us for community. But we must swim upstream today if we are to have it .
“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Pt. 4:8-10