Monday, August 11, 2008

On Community

(this may be a bit disjointed, as the roof is swarming with workers, ripping, nailing and running the nail gun compressor. I should probably just go sit down and watch a movie, so the cats can sit in my lap, and stop freaking out.)

In the parish newsletter yesterday, there was some boiler-plate article about how our cohesiveness as a community enhances the Eucharist. Makes it 'realer' or something.
Now, ignoring for a moment that this is really close to that heresy whose name I forget about the holiness of the priest affecting the effectivness of any sacrament, the author is way off on community.

Community, as a wise spiritual teacher once said, cannot have itself as its object. It will fall apart if it does. A community is a group organized to achieve a goal. Let me give you an example. In years of volunteer work, I've seen disparate groups of people form many communities. Usually, these are short-lived- their goal is to sort a truckload of canned goods or toys or to fill food boxes. But they are communities nonetheless, at least for an hour or so.

I find that in any community of over five people, there will almost always be at least one natural leader, a troublemaker of some sort (the slacker, the ADHD kid, the klass klown, etc.) and the rest will be solid citizens. Pretty much like society in general. Which is why societies are only as strong as their littler communities.

This is why 'community building' exercises that the business world make employees go to involve reaching a goal. They're bogus, because they're not real goals, but they understand the principle, at least.

But the community college professor I saw on access TV in Arizona didn't. His complaint was that white people didn't have enough friends of color and that was unnatural and should be stamped out. Ignoring the universal evidence that preferring their own group is a human default position, he put the blame for A-A , Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern kids hanging in their own lunchroom enclaves squarely on the Anglo kids.

In his world, you pick your friends by a paint swatch, not by shared interests or likeability. Someone get that man a copy of C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves.

What he misses completely is if you give those kids a goal- win State, put on a play, kick the others choirs's asses in UIL competition, build houses for the homeless- they work together fine.

Community is organic.


WordGirl said...

On a side note: After eucharist yesterday I thought about how all those people, myself included, would leave the sanctuary with Christ inside us. And so would millions of people around the world. But what are we doing with it? Why isn't the world better?

And then it occurred to me that maybe we're the reason the world isn't totally gone. Because there would be no light at all without us.

Community indeed.

Sal said...

We all know whether we're doing the best we can or not- and I think many of us are acutely aware of our failures to co-operate with grace.

And are thus in awe that anything works, spiritually. So, I think you may have hit it.

As Waugh replied to a critic who wondered why his religion had not made him a nicer person: "Madam, without my religion, I would scarcely be human."

The thinly-disguised thrust of the article was that if we were really trying to be holy, it would be in a highly visible, social justice kind of way. Or else it didn't count.

I forgot to mention your child's exquisite apricot skin when I was there, didn't I? What a great age that is.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Well said, Sal!
The idea that a community or any group of people can "enhance" the Eucharist shows an express ignorance on so many levels one knows scarcely where to start addressing it, but you do a good job here, by defining what a community is and what it's for.

I might add that we can do things individually to improve ourselves (and certainly, accepting God's grace is more effective than anything we can do on our own) in a variety of ways, but we can't "enhance" the Eucharest through our own power be it individually or through a community.

That line of thinking is dangerous and full of hubris, IMO.

Not that I'm against encouraging community works, but definitely not in this manner.

I hope you get some peace and quiet soon, Sal, as I'm sure your cats are too!