Is Community a Fad?

Thursday in class, our professor was talking about Scripture and how (I can't remember the exact words) Scripture is meant to be read, interpreted and implemented "in community."

And he's probably right. And I probably agree with him.

But hasn't "community" been a little overkilled since sometime in the late '90s? I mean, aren't we all a little "communitied-out!?"

I hear the word community so overused in Christian circles that I'm almost as tired of it as I am of "relationship." Remember relationship? As in: "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship!" Yeah, that's played out too. I'm so sick of "relationship" that I think Christianity needs to go back to being a religion for a little while!

We overuse specific ideas about Christianity that may be relevant but are not foundational. They lead us to imbalanced and overstated positions that are transitory and maybe a bit kitschy. The biggest danger is that what truth was in that position (be it the value of community, relationship, being "born again"... listening to Christian radio, etc...) becomes meaningless as we numb ourselves through habitual overuse.

Many of the great monks, mystics, scholars and philosophers throughout the history of our faith were downright hermits - antisocialites. I don't think Martin Luther was "in community" while translating his first Latin Scripture to German (someone correct me here if I'm wrong) and I know Kierkegaard was a sad, creepy loner. So I believe that genuine Christian faith can emerge in isolation. I wouldn't preach, teach or encourage that sort of Christian living (it doesn't "catch on" well, care for widows or feed orphans...) but it's still valid...

I think.


nate said...

I've felt like puking at the mention of that buzzword for the past few years.

Maybe the new monastic movement is a reaction against this? Or maybe it was just a natural development towards balance.

Don said...

By my perception, I thought the word "community" was on the decline. Back in the late 80's, I had friends that were doing a lot of M. Scott Peck, the "Road Less Travelled" guy. Peck also did a lot of work around community - he wrote books, did seminars and so on. That stuff could leave me feeling a little oversaturated...

I still think it's a useful word and in my work as a quality manager, I often consider community in the workplace.

But one of the defining characteristics between Eastern and Western Religion is that Western Religion usually happens in congregation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all congregational religions. In Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto, etc, you're pretty much on your own. That is, you're out on a personal search looking for that all-conclusive teacher, book or philosophy. That personal search works for a lot of people, or else these religions would have failed thousands of years ago.

Conversely, community seems to work for Christians. Christians have to meet in groups in order receive key sacraments like baptism and communion. As long as there are Christians, they will congregate. And from congregations come personal and community missions -- it's that "feed the hungry, clothe the naked" thing that we claim to be so good at.

Peter, I challenge you not to discount the idea of community. Sure, it's a buzzword. But it's a useful idea. You don't have to use the buzzword, but you can be cognizant of the idea in your everyday practice.


James said...

I had to think about this one for a while. So Let me start with my first reactions.

Luther was cloistered away while he was translating the bible into German but this was by no means normative for Luther. Much of Luther's theology would not have developed had he not been in community, and his translation of scripture was no doubt guided by the theology that developed within community.

I think that the real problem is not that community is overkilled but that community is misunderstood. Community is one of those phrases that people take for granted and many people don't really have a good idea what it means. The idea of community needs to be discussed, but discussed in order to unpack what community really means and why it is so necessary.

Another issue that I think this brings up is how many words just don't have a lot of synonyms. When a word normally gets played out we just think of another word to replace the played out one. IE churches don't talk about evangelism, that's so last century, now we have missional churches. The problem is I can't think of a catchy enough phrase to replace community.

As for community not being foundational I am going to have to sit on that one for a while.

2Pete said...

Good points gentlemen. Nate, I think you're feeling this at the same gut-level I do.

Don and James, you're being far more balanced and analytical than I - which I appreciate. I know the overall argument was weak - though I wasn't intending to make a full out "anti-community" treatise by any means. Only to assert that fad mentalities often burn us out on vital aspects of our faith.

e.g. I'm sick of community, not because it's unimportant, but because I've heard too much about it in too-casual terms.

Don, thanks for the visit - and don't worry, I have no intentions of abandoning community. But you yourself offered some very important insights into the role of the "personal journey" in Eastern religious practices. Perhaps we would benefit by incorporating more of those disciplines more into our Christian lives.

And you may be right about "community" being big even in the 80s. Actually, I'm sure my Jesus-People parents talked plenty about "community" in the 70s when they converted. But I've witnessed some sort of resurgence firsthand, in the last five years. Seems to often go hand-in-hand with emerging church convo...

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