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Tuesday, July 31, 2007
The Society Page
I inherited an old trunk that sat in my grandma’s basement. It had belonged to the generation before, who had used it to bring their possessions across the sea from Sweden. It sits in my dining room. It smells a little musty, but I treasure it as a link to my heritage.

I was thrilled to receive the trunk, but even happier when I opened it and saw my bonus surprise. The bottom was lined with pages of a newspaper from May 14, 1912. I framed these pages and hung them on a wall in my house. Whenever I look at these pages, I find something amusing. They’re full of advertisements for remedies to cure everything from kidney trouble to headaches, dandruff, and excessive perspiration. They contain news stories that remind me of the fleeting nature of some of the things that seem newsworthy today. They also remind me that some things never change. But Page 7, the Society page, makes me a little sad.

The Society page contains updates about the travels of Mrs. Northrup, Mr. Graham, the Brooks family, others. It tells who has out-of-town guests. It provides announcements for bridge parties and an upcoming Cooking Club get-together. It gives tips for hosting a perfect dinner party or afternoon tea.

Big deal, I know. So Colonel and Mrs. William Allaire had a bridge party. What’s so sad about that? Well, it’s not the bridge parties that make me sad. It’s my feeling that we have lost something these turn-of-the-century folks had. They actually cared to read about these things in their city newspaper.

I know, we can read plenty of gossip in the newspaper any day. But this seems different. These aren’t stories about movie stars, sports stars, criminals, famous addicts, or people who are famous for no particular reason. These were people they actually knew. People they wanted to keep track of. They belonged to a community.

I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately. I’ll confess I believe I’m missing a skill set. I don’t really know how to form community. Is this a lost art, or is it just me?

Sure, I know how to make friends. I have terrific coworkers, whom I consider friends. I have friends at church, I’m friendly with my neighbors, and we get together regularly with other families we consider our friends. Many of our friends are scattered throughout the country, and some of them overseas, but we keep in touch.

But I don’t think a network of friends necessarily equals a living, breathing community of people. Come to think of it, most of my friends don’t even know each other. I can bounce from one friend to another—or one group to another—without a second thought. Even my church feels like a nice weekly gathering of people I barely know. I am not surrounded by a tightly woven web of people who experience life together.

This is what the Society page on my wall reminds me of. Perhaps community life has become a lost element of our society, its formation a lost art. Where are the bridge parties, ice cream socials, dinner parties, barn dances, and block parties hosted by people who actually live on the block, rather than sponsored by Pepsi?

I used to think it was weird to see silver serving sets, complete sets of beautiful china, ice buckets, crystal glasses, and other entertainment accessories in the homes of people who had been around for a while. Seemed like a waste—all those beautiful maybe it was a waste, I don’t know. I’m not planning to go out a buy a silver set anytime soon. But something about it actually makes sense to me. It suggests that people valued hospitality and community and saw those special occasions as worthy of something extra.

As Americans in the 21st century, we tend to undervalue the sacred nature of community. We’re all about the family and the rugged individual, the lone hero. And we are a lonely people. I wonder if we realize how desperately this loneliness eats at our souls.

Was it just out of convenience that God chose an entire nation of people and taught them how to live well in community? What it a coincidence that Christ created the church and gave us sacraments to practice in community? Should we be surprised that as we watch communities and their institutions disintegrate, the world feels like a more dangerous place?

In community we ground each other, encourage each other, hold each other accountable. When the Holy Spirit is present in a community of people, that community is sacred. We form the body of Christ. By ourselves we’re just isolated body parts. And like body parts without a body, we struggle to survive.

Could it be that the most important job of Christian leaders is to foster strong healthy, Christ-like community?

So how do we seek community in this individualistic society? How do we foster it among people who are so starved for time and rest, they don’t feel their needs? God has called us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-5). How do we do this?

by Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson is Executive Director of the Leadership Media Group at Christianity Today International. She also serves as Executive Editor of Gifted for Leadership (www.giftedforleadership.com), a resource for Christian women called to leadership. This article first appeared on Gifted for Leadership.

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posted by Julie at 9:26 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


5 Comments:


  • At 7/31/2007 11:14:00 AM, Blogger Kimberly

    Amy,what a beautiful post. I could relate to so much of it as I too received a trunk from my grandparents who came from Sweden. Both of them grew up on farms in the Iowa/Nebraska and growing up I was showered with all sorts of stories about farming community. I'm a long way from that now, though, living on a boat, a very transient lifestyle. I'm fortunate to have the internet and have discovered rich community in that arena. But the thing it has encouraged me to do is to broaden my definition of community. Strangely I've experienced it snorkeling, hiking, in the historical sites we visit. Also found it attending a lovely Anglican church in Bermuda last month who welcomed us and made me more aware of the global and historical community I'm a part of. I do miss the intimacy of an ongoing relational group of folks, but in this season of my life, am learning to appreciate an expanding view of the defintion. Thanks for your great post.

     
  • At 7/31/2007 11:22:00 AM, Blogger Dianne

    Good thoughts to questions that have been on my heart as well. You're so right in pointing out the difference between friendships and community. I think we are in need of community more than we realize, both to make it for others and find it for ourselves.

     
  • At 7/31/2007 05:53:00 PM, Blogger Heather W. Reichgott

    you're so right.

    Do you think part of our hunger for community has to do with how often we move? Col. Allaire et al probably lived in the same community with the same people they'd grown up with. Whereas, esp. in the urban setting in which our church is located, people move in and out all the time. A "born and raised" San Franciscan is a rare thing. People don't know their neighbors, because why bother if they're just going to move again?

    The closest thing I've experienced to the community you describe is the way life was at seminary. Everything I did had to do with the same ~200 people, and the God we were all there to serve. Even my off-campus job had me serving food to seminary people almost every day. And now? We've graduated and gone off to different things. Even though I now TA on campus I rarely see or hear from any of the people from my class. Except for one best friend, and we put a lot of effort into making time for phone calls etc.

    It's not the same as having the same people around all the time.

     
  • At 7/31/2007 10:32:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Wow this pulls at my heart. I really long to find a sense of community, but it seems that in our society, that is hard to come by. Sure I have many people I associate with at church, schools, work, etc. but it sure seems at the "surface" level.

    I am in a church community that is struggling with this. I know many people that just long for community. Unfortunately I think many of us long for it, but can't commit. We have way too many things going on in life, our church community stays at the bottom of our priority list.

    It happens in general though. I was talking to a friend recently about our parents friendships. Growing up, my parents had a big group of friends that they "did life with". Every Friday night we would have a house full of families. During the summer these families would go camping together, or pary together. I have such wonderful memories of that. Now days, it seems like a monumental feat to get a couple of friends together a couple of times a year.

    It's a sad fact for me, that I have felt more connection on this blog or even through my "myspace" with people I wouldn't even recognize on the street. Ironically, I have reconnected more regularly with old friends that drop a note through myspace than any other people I see regualarly in person.

    Sometimes I wish it was different, and other times I think it is inevitable, so we just have to embrace "our" present day community. I embrace what I can, but do sense a deep loneliness many times for a connection with a face, voice, and regular meetings.

    In regards to the question of moving around, I am sure that has something to do with it. However, I have lived in the same city my whole life and the same zip code for the past 20 years and am still not feeling a great sense of community. So who knows exactly...

     
  • At 8/03/2007 01:27:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I think people are tired, depleted, self-protective and overworked/whelmed from being isolated, overworked, lonely etc, so it's a catch 22: People don't feel equipped to invest or commit to community because they don't feel like they have anything to give or the energy for it, yet a lack of community contributes to the root of the problem. I've heard so many people talk about how they live close to old friends that htye never see because everyones so busy -- esp if they have kids. And I think of my time in Costa Rica and how people's kids would often eat in other family's homes and there was a mutual sense of helping care for the kids, so the burden wasn't all on the parents...

     

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