April 26, 2009
25.5: Reconsidering the consequences of community
I never understood half of what the Beatles sang about, but I always appreciated their music. Their use of abstract analogies and their references to historical or personal events seem to allude me constantly. I just don’t really connect to music like so many people I know do. Either way, I still appreciate the music as my feet brush across the pavement on my iPod.
I can’t stop thinking about community. I wonder how many other people are out there wondering about the implications and consequences that community has on lives and the world. The more I think about the idea of community, the more I find myself growing in my obsession of it. Its one of those things that whether we choose to acknowledge its importance, we will have to face the realities that whether we accept shallow community or put enormous efforts into deep communities will make a significant difference in our lives – as well as those that we are connected to (and remember, we are all only separated by 6 degrees).
So community, how would one define it? After all, our definition of one thing will determine how it plays out in our lives – especially if we have an internal locus of control where we believe that to some degree that we can create our environment through our effort. I believe that community today, as accepted by most people, is nothing more than people experiencing stuff together. It doesn’t have to go much deeper than dinner, a shopping trip, a day at the beach, a hike up a mountain, or going to an event together. Heck, if you know someone slightly more than that, you can just do the same things for several consecutive days and laugh at the various experiences and humorous thoughts that people have. However, I think that we sell ourselves short when we do so.
I’m obsessed with John Piper and Tim Keller. Anyone who has more than 10 conversations about my Christian faith will quickly find out that I would gladly marry either of them (even though they are old, balding men). I am totally straight, but I find their depth incredibly sexy. In fact, I almost asked Tim Keller if I could rub his belly and kiss his head. I refrained myself because I thought myself to be a little intoxicated by the message he gave when I visited Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. But one thing I constantly hear them challenging people to do is to think deeply. They want people to have substance to their life as a whole – from the emotional, to the mental, to the spiritual. After all, what good is it if we are like the weak branch that just blows with the wind; we must thrive to break the wind as the wind is fickle and does not know itself where it wants to go. A lot of people tend to think that faith equals the dismissal of reason, study, meditation, historical analysis, and deep thought, but that is just a contextual assessment, not the prescribed norm. A slogan I like is from Apologetics.com where they “challenge believers to think and thinkers to believe.”
And that is what I feel like is lacking from our communities today. Living in LA (or most of the developed world), it doesn’t take much to realize that we have choices. We have the opportunity to meet so many new people that people have become disposable in this world to us. Think about the divorce rate and it doesn’t take much to be convinced. Everyday in LA, as you walk the streets, listen for the buzz, or go online to Metromix or Goldstar, it isn’t hard to find new places to meet new people. I went online once for speed dating events in LA and in one week, I calculated that I could meet 300 people if I worked the scene diligently. Just take 10% of that and you still have 30 people! On top of that, you can find interest groups – almost like sub-culture cults within any major city. People with a certain type of car can find a race club, there are motorcycle clubs for those who like everything from Harley’s to Hondas, there are dance studios for the beginner to the expert, the art scene is open for people to join its circle, religious circles are always looking for people to join their congregation, and the list is endless. The options for community are beyond measure and if you want to go a step further, there are denominations of each thing. Take a look at the amount of car clubs out there or denominations of churches within Evangelical Christianity (although with Christianity, I do think that the priority should be based on Truth). The options are limitless.
In Panama with the Peace Corps, you get the total opposite affect. Living in a small village, you can’t escape the community you are a part of. If there is anything I do, the entire town knows about it by the evening. Goodness forbid that I fall on my butt while walking through the mud or fall off a bike, the gossip chain is unforgiving and I will hear about it for the rest of my time there. “Ray, do you remember when you fell off the bike into a puddle of mud and it looked like you pooped your pants? Ha! That was a funny day, Ray!” But as much as it can get annoying, there is something incredibly beautiful about it. People aren’t focused around events so much as they are focused on people. In LA, events keep us busy (we meet based around things to do), but in my village in the Peace Corps, we meet based on who will be there. There is nothing that goes on anywhere without me hearing about it from 10 people before I hear about it from the person that it happened to – unless if it happened to be me. Its to the point that family consumes several hours of the day, no, it consumes the majority of the day. The amount of time parents spend with their children here would be unheard of in the US (except with homemakers). On average, I estimate that the family will spend at least 8 hours a day together in the same physical space. If you spend 8 waking hours with anyone, you are forced to interact with them. That interaction benefits people because it causes them to become people centered instead of event centered.
Think about the last time you went out? In America, we have a fascination with going to places like baseball games, going out to eat dinner, going to clubs where you can’t hear people talk, or watching a movie. The sad thing is, the same spirit exists in my village. They try to find things to keep themselves occupied from being bored. How do I know this? One guy said it best when I asked him why he got married so young, “I was just bored and thought I might not be if I was with someone.” I recently asked someone from the US how many deep friendships she had, and the amount of them shocked me. We discussed the definition of deep friendships and when we were both satisfied with what we considered to be deep, she said, “Zero.” What am I trying to get at?
We lack depth in relationships. I hesitate to call it intimacy, because even the word intimacy doesn’t quite capture it – although only 2 in 10 couples really reach a level of intimacy that both are satisfied with in marriage (no wonder people are getting divorced!). The difference between intimacy and depth is that intimacy is subjectively objective where depth is objectively objective. Two shallow people may find each other and go as deep as they have ever gone before and consider that intimacy, but if you think and pry hard enough, you will be quick to determine that they are not deep. Depth is objective in every way, and we know that because depth can be tested – especially through time. Depth is the ability to think beyond the experiences and the fun stuff of life, the emotional stuff of life, and the hard stuff of life, and find the objective meaning behind it all. In other words, we have to find a reason that supersedes reason in everything. This can only be done through a measurement of depth that everyone would agree upon, and that includes the agreement of the really deep people. We are not deep if the really deep people don’t think we are.
But can we live without being deep? Of course! Most of the people that live are like that. They aren’t rooted so they sway. Or they are so defensive and rooted in themselves that they never really let anyone in. Either way, they lose the end game because they never experience the freedom of peace that the ability to breathe lets you have. The thing about depth is that it allows us to grow thick roots and thick trunks. It allows us to weather the storm and control the hurricanes of our lives. It guides us and helps us not make the silly mistakes that we shouldn’t make, and the mistakes that we have no control over, we learn to quickly rise from them. It shows us that life has meaning and always keeps us finding unique expressions of that meaning. We discover truth, love, and hope in something we may not have thought existed in the past. But most importantly, it teaches us to love others as a person worth an infinite amount. It gives us the ability to put ourselves aside and put the other person ahead of us. It helps us to be the challenge to the world to be better, to love better, to help, and to lead. Depth creates a hunger for more of the good, wisdom, and truth. Depth develops into a love that goes beyond what we see today.
We need depth in community. I think about the differences and similarities in my community here and my life in the US. There isn’t much. In the US, we have options so we have no excuse because we can find people who really “fit” us well. Here, we don’t have a choice but to focus on people, but even then, we try to find other points of focus because, well, depth takes tremendous effort. I want to see people move towards a love that only comes from reaching deep into truth and extracting everything that it has to offer. Then, I want to see it exhibited in love and service to other people. What do you say? Anyone with me?
One life, trying desperately to make it deeply count.