What Community Is NOT

Since I’ve written about — and lauded — Christian community before, I should be clear about something: Community is NOT a matter of doing as much as possible together.

Quite the opposite. It’s about being independent together. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his marvelous little book Life Together: “Along with the day of the Christian family fellowship together there goes the lonely day of the individual. This is as it should be. The day together will be unfruitful without the day alone, both for the fellowship and for the individual.”

Call me a raging introvert if you want (because that’s what I am), but I think Bonhoeffer is saying we all need time alone. It’s not for the outcasts, the tired, the socially sick; it’s for the healthy. So that we can prevent tiredness and promote community.

Bonhoeffer goes on to describe some potential activities of “The Day Alone”: solitude and silence, meditation, prayer, and intercession.

(For balance’s sake, here’s his potential activities of “The Day With Others”: reading the Scriptures, singing, saying our prayers together, the fellowship of the table, and the day’s work.)   Time of Quiet

Solitude, silence, and meditation give us time and space to be attuned to God’s work in our own souls and, yes, in our communities. Prayer and intercession give us the chance to pray for God to work more and more in our communities. Such practices foster the forgiveness and compassion necessary for healthy community. (As I’ve heard it said, it’s hard to hate someone when you’re praying for them.)

Stranger still, such practices foster the self-knowledge necessary for selflessness. If I don’t know myself, I won’t be comfortable with myself and, when I’m around other people, will likely be self-conscious. The more I know myself, though, the more comfortable I’ll be with who I am and the more comfortable I’ll be with other people.

Finally, solitary practices fuel us with the energy necessary for healthy community. At the simplest level, we need sleep. Further on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have self-actualization needs which can include reading, writing, creating art, running, swimming, pursuing goals that make us uniquely ourselves.

Recently, I was entering a two-week period when my Google calendar had notably less blank space than usual due to preparing for a very large event at work followed immediately by attending an out-of-town conference. After a mild panic attack and meeting with a priest, I made plans — and marked them on that increasingly full Google calendar — to have “a day alone” (or at least a half-day or so) during the busy period and shortly after the busy period. The day alone during the busyness gave me energy and the day alone after the busyness gave me hope.

Perhaps the best part: The days alone made me thankful for the days with my community. I had the energy and ease then to laugh at their jokes, listen to their stories, and lay aside my worries.

Because we were independent. Together.

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2 thoughts on “What Community Is NOT

  1. I love this article. Maybe because I too am a convicted introvert. Many in my family are extroverts and I use “convicted” here tongue in cheek, but I am often accused of being anti-social. I am not. I am a physician and every day I spend a great time of my day caring for others and listening attentively to their needs,marrying to respond to them constructively. By the end of the day, I am fairly spent. Some of this is just the busy day, but some of it is I am an introvert and energized by solitude more than people. So I need to recharge by spending time alone. I am also a composer. So much of my fulfillment and self-actualization or even commitment to God is to create beautiful things that inspire people. This is mostly an “alone-time” vocation. But I would be shirking my responsibility, if I did not continue to create and cultivate my skills to create.
    We live in a world that is biased for the “extrovert”. Strong personality is often confused for leadership or competence. Charisma is not only overvalued, but often misleading and manipulative. Community can also be used as a weapon to “guilt you” out of your passions and purpose sanctioned by God himself. So introverts beware. Be giving and considerate, but do not undersell your value to the community.

    Like

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