No Community

This is not a post primarily about Covid, lockdowns and political decisions. It is a post about the impact of those decisions and others on a society. One definition of a society is “The totality of people regarded as forming a community of interdependent individuals.” There are a couple of key words in that definition, interdependent and community. Both of these are logical if you are going to function as a true society. While every individual isn’t interdependent with every other individual, to live in society does mean you have a degree of interdependence on some other people in that society.

The other word is community, and that is probably the more important word for the development of a healthy society. It is also a part of God’s plan for His followers. We were created by God to live in community, hopefully a healthy community in which we are able to practice the New Testament “one another” commands as a part of that community. Through this, we are able to more capably follow Christ by challenging one another and “spurring one another on in love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

Personally, I can testify of the benefit I have received from having people involved in my life, both through the Church and through my local community, neighborhood or in the Greek oikos. I am more healthy, happier and better able to function as I regularly interact with people. Our society has shifted a great deal of community interaction to the digital realm and I have found this is okay, but not a 100% replacement for in person interaction. It is better for some people than it is for others.

Outside of the Church, healthy society depends on the ability to interact with others without constant conflict or stress. When people have little to no healthy interaction with others in society it tends to push them even further away from mental health. Instead, it is easier to assume the worst of others and society as a whole. This is a topic I addressed in this article. Healthy social interaction is usually tied to our common ground and interests in areas that are non-controversial.

At work and at school, we have “water cooler talk” that people engage in. It is usually focused on things like movies, TV, sports, music and things as mundane as the weather. Having regular interaction about these kind of things, helps us to be able to keep a friendly perspective on life with the people in our lives who are more acquaintances than friends. These are often the people in our lives that we have the least in common with, but we are brought together by the normal rhythms of life. These interactions allow people who might completely disagree about one thing to find common bonds in another area.

Human interaction like this is the foundation of the community part of society. I grew up in a small town and when it came to school events like ball games or community events, people came out of their smaller, defined groups that might have been based on religion or politics to join together to support the activities of the community. In larger cities, you find other community focused activities around civic events, major sports teams, the arts and helping other people. Society is formed and strengthened by the unity that is found in community when people come together for reasons like these.

Regardless of your opinions about the wisdom of some of the measures we have seen over the course of this last year, it is obvious to me that much of what I’m talking about above has been disrupted. Most “community” was cancelled for significant lengths of time. In some places, almost every event is still cancelled or tentative. After a year of preventative measures, people don’t gather like they used to. Casual gatherings are discouraged and in some places, illegal. People are more isolated in society than they have ever been. For the most part, all of the events that would draw us out to enjoy life together haven’t happened.

Even when interactions do happen, they are often awkward. Masks and other distancing measures have made most face to face interactions uncomfortable. Every person you interact with whom you don’t know personally is a potential cringe-worthy moment as people worry about violating each other’s new post-Covid social norms. Professionally, I know that a face to face interaction is preferred, especially when dealing with a difficult topic. We need to be able to see each other’s faces and expressions in order to properly understand what it is that they are trying to communicate. When you can’t see someone’s face, it is very easy to miss the nuances in communication.

None of this is ideal when it comes to forming community that will be the foundation for our society. Instead, we have the perfect breeding ground for suspicion and division. If you never have a stress-free, positive interaction with the acquaintances in your life, where does that leave your community with them? Instead of a personal framework to develop that community on, we have an impersonal environment built on hearsay, snippets of information gained from social media, and our own opinions of the person’s motivations and thinking. If your plan was to divide a society and turn people against each other, you could hardly have come up with a better plan than what we have actually done.

When you add to this the fact that many people are consuming a daily diet of news and social media that for most people is an echo chamber telling them that they are right and anyone who disagrees with them is the worst “ist” of their choice (fascist, racist, terrorist, white supremacist, etc.), you have an environment built for division. It is only natural when people hear all the bad about anyone who has a different opinion from them and have almost no opportunity to have personal interactions with people like that in their community, they will be driven in more extreme directions away from any unifying positions. There are people who haven’t had a single stress-free personal interaction with one of their regular acquaintances in their community in the last year. That will have an impact.

This leaves us feeling like our society is on the brink of permanent division and breaking apart. That once vital local community feels like it will never be there again. We must be honest that this is a real possibility. Things are not going to just go back to normal. You can’t just take people who have been living in solitary confinement and expect them to immediately jump back into society. It is going to take real effort to repair the damage that has been done to our societal psyche. I’ve talked to many Christians and Church leaders who have greatly mourned the missed opportunities of the last year. With so many people hurting, it is only natural that the Church would want to lead the way to reach out to them and provide comfort and hope. Unfortunately, some of the restrictions have led Christians to be unsure of themselves about what they are able to do.

Now is the time to put aside our fear and step up to help lead the way in building our communities back together. Points of division still exist and it seems like politics will continue to try and push communities apart including churches. All believers should not accept this as our ultimate destination. As followers of Jesus, we have a unique opportunity in this difficult, seemingly hopeless time to point to the only place that we really have hope, in Christ. We are divided from society by our faith, but we should not be divided because of these other points of division. Instead, we should be those who cross this great divide just as Christ crossed the divide in order that we might be called “out of the darkness into His glorious light.”

Now is the time to re-enter our communities, purposefully, and lead the way in re-building that which has been being destroyed.

9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 10 “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

1 Peter 2:9-12 NLT

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