Connections Recover The Lost Art of Community
By Brenda Black
There was a time of back porch singing. Aunts, uncles, cousins and kinfolk of every generation gathered regularly. Relatives grew up in the same neighborhood or trickled throughout a county. Family and childhood friends remained near, available to lend a hand when needed. The modern era looks considerably different. It is one of isolation and intentional independence. Families scatter across the globe and cousins are those people you meet every ten years at a dreaded reunion of strangers.
Sure, there are means of immediate contact no matter the geographical distance. Still, a warm hug or firm handshake is hard to acquire through cyberspace. A reassuring look or knowing advice often comes after the fact, diminishing it's timely significance. Spontaneous laughter or a trail of conversation that meanders through family jokes and legacies is hard to recreate apart from direct contact and in-the-moment opportunities.
Humans were created to connect. Science confirms the necessity of community and some have determined that survival of the fittest is not all it's cracked up to be if it means you are left alone in your particular species. LiveScience's Human Nature Columnist Meredith F. Small explains the conflict in her article, “Single Parents: Not What Nature Intended.”
“For decades, evolutionary biologists have claimed that all organisms are basically selfish. The game of reproductive success, they have explained over and over, is won by those who are successful at passing their genes onto the next generation. As such, every animal, including humans, should be self-centered. At the most basic, the biologists say, our selfish genes compel us to stay alive, find the best mates, and have the most babies, and to always think of ourselves before others.”
Small refers to Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's new book, “Mothers and Others; The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding” (Belknap Press), when she refutes the evolutionary mindset. “Hrdy, a staunch evolutionist, is the first to admit that this now traditional view of individual behavior is ready for revision. The new view, she and others claim, must include the fact that cooperation, not just competition and selfishness, is also part of our nature.”
It took a thesis, and a group of neuroscientists, anthropologists and psychologists years of study to discover one of God's fundamental aspects of creation – our need for others. He designed us to desire fellowship. God established the bonds of marriage and instituted the network of family. Christ modeled fellowship and friendship, while the Holy Spirit offers constant companionship.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Community is critical in days of convenient tehno isolation. Interaction is a fleeting social skill being lost by a generation that would rather bond with a blog than play catch with the neighbor kid or learn from a grandparent. Loneliness is the consequence for indifference toward family ties and the people next door. When you need someone in a moment of tragedy or triumph, who are you going to call? With whom will you share your sorrow and grief? How can you celebrate exciting news if you don't have people – crucial, important, loving people in your life.
Here are three actual circumstances that I think emphasize the obvious necessity for community. They also demonstrate areas of ministry.
Situation one: A young family is searching for a church home. They think it is important to attend a church with lots of other children the age of their own. At the same time, an established church longs for younger families to attend their aging congregation. But when visitors discover they may be the only ones under 30, they hesitate to commit.
Suggestion: Young families need to consider the loving influence of older adults in their child's life. There's more to learning than what same-age peers can provide. Sports and school and scouts can fill the void for youthful interaction while senior saints can embrace young families and provide a support system with eternal benefits. Take a second look at not only what you get from a church, but what you bring. The affection and attention of a child to a lonely widow may be the best thing in her life. True community is mixed generations not just cookie-cutter families of one age and status.
Situation 2: This young family is out on their own as brand new parents thousands of miles from home. With fear and anxiety and no relatives nearby, a new mommy needs a mentor.
Suggestion: The Scriptures say it best: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children...” (Titus 2:3-4) Years ago, when I was far from close family help, the Lord provided godly “moms” and “grandmas” when I needed them most. I'll always be grateful for their love and influence.
One final situation: A friend is facing an empty nest. She's been a mother most of her life and is struggling to face with joy what comes next.
Suggestion: Again, let's consider God's perfect advice. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) Women who have walked the road and discovered their destiny beyond children at home need to assure those who follow in their footsteps that life does indeed go on.
Robert Roy Britt makes a powerful statement in his article Kids are Depressing. “Community is critical to successful parenting.” I would add: Christian community is the key to balanced living in every generation. We are a body, we are family and we need each other desperately.