Community is something that we all seem to want but have a hard time finding. From the people who are looking for the neighborhood bar where, “everybody knows your name,” to the atheist communities who have created the Sunday Assemblies as basically churches without any belief in God, it is obvious that people want to have forums where they fit in.
Historically, this has been done geographically. A few hundred years ago, travel was not easy, so if you wanted to see other people, even if you were a lot different than your neighbor, you were somewhat more limited to who you could create a community with. I play power soccer with a team that is over 30 miles away from my house. I don’t think anything of going up there for practice, but 100 years ago, that would be impossible. Besides the obvious problem of not having power wheelchairs 100 years ago, that particular community would not be accessible to me at such a great distance. I am not limited to the same extent by geography in the way that people in the past would have been.
This is similar to the atheist Sunday Assemblies or any type of religious community. Our power soccer community comes together based on a shared interest. Just like members of different religious communities come together to worship God, Allah or apparently nothing in the case of the atheists, there are communities that are built on these types of ideological bases.
At the same time though, I still live in the community that I am geographically situated in. It is great for me to have friends 30 miles away, but they are not the people I run into in the grocery store. They are not the people that I work with in my office every day. Even though I am part of a power soccer playing community, it does not replace the town I am in. I am inevitably a part of the community that I live in. My church is much more local, but even so, I do not live in a gated community where only members of my church are allowed in.
People in my geographic area might not have the same interests I have. Even beyond the sport of power soccer, the people who live around me might be nothing like me. Religiously, they very well might not be Christians. I am interested in politics, but my neighbor might not be, or my neighbor might be diametrically opposed to me religiously or politically.
I was reading an article called “The Geography of Community” by Jerry Frug that was published in the Stanford Law Review in 1996, and he wrote the following:
Frug is right that this is hard work. It is easy for me to go hang out with my power soccer team or my church community. We have a lot in common, and there is something to bring us together on the level of shared interest. I don’t know if I can say the same about everyone who lives on my road. Without any ill intent on anyone’s part, there might be some people I simply do not have very much in common with aside from the fact that we live on the same road.
What are we to do with this then? Do we simply forget about the people who live around us? Do we continue building interest-based bubbles? That might be part of the answer, but we still have this problem that there is a community of people who live right beside us. If you live out in the woods like I do, you might not have a lot of people around, but I think you take my point.
This idea of community has been of interest to me lately, so I think we’re going to talk a little bit more about that for a while. I am convinced that a Christian perspective on community will lead us to not build bubbles where we do not interact with anyone. There is a very special role for Christian community in the context of a church that is very important and vital, but I don’t think that is the only type of community that Christians ought to engage with. I don’t think the answer is to withdraw from the people around us even if they might not be Christians or might see the world entirely differently than we do. We can’t simply withdraw into communities based on interest, and we need to remember our geographic community as well.